A lot of focus on the break up of The Beatles tends to centre on the fraying relationship between John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and rightly so. The two principle songwriters of the group were bound to be the focus of the split. But they weren’t the only members of the fab four baying for blood by the end of the sixties.
In fact, shortly before the bands infamous split letter arrived at anyone’s door the band almost split following a fight between George Harrison and John Lennon. It was a fight which led Harrison to quit the band in January of 1969 before returning to see out the rest of the band’s obligations.
It’s alleged that the argument, and Harrison’s subsequent departure from the band in January of 1969, came during the Let It Be sessions. The Beatles were hot off their epic release The White Album and their fame and notoriety was only matched by their growing talent as songwriters, both collectively and individually. This was an apparent source of confrontation as Harrison spoke of Paul’s dictatorship over songwriting, as he later told Rolling Stone, “My problem was that it would always be very difficult to get in on the act, because Paul was very pushy in that respect. When he succumbed to playing on one of your tunes, he’d always do good. But you’d have to do 59 of Paul’s songs before he’d even listen to one of yours.”
This was often put to the fans as the main reason for Harrison’s sudden departure but the truth is that it likely lies at the feet of Lennon. Harrison and Lennon were possibly the closest friends in the group at the time but their relationship was dramatically withering. Not only had Harrison become tired of Yoko Ono’s involvement with not only The Beatles but day-to-day life but Lennon had grown increasingly jealous of Harrison’s improving songwriting ability. David Stubbs points out in his Uncut article “Prior to [Ono’s] arrival on the scene, George and John had become tight LSD buddies, at one point to the alienation of Paul and Ringo. Yoko had usurped George’s place in John’s affections. As he admits in the current Beatles autobiography, he ‘lost contact’ with John. That hurt.”
Harrison later reflected on the argument “They were filming us having a row,” he recalled. “It never came to blows, but I thought, ‘What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.’ Everybody had gone through that. Ringo [Starr] had left at one point. I know John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this any more. I’m out of here.'”
But while Harrison denied any physical altercation, the fifth Beatle and the man behind the band, George Martin insisted that the pair did have a fistfight. A Beatles biographer wrote that George Martin described the fight as “completely hushed up at the time.” Something that with their multitude of business opportunities would make sense to keep the band’s image happy and smiling.
The fight left Harrison leaving the band and Lennon more determined than ever to be centre-stage. It appeared that Lennon would be his usual stubborn self and promote a ‘good riddance’ attitude to George – even allegedly singing derisory songs in reference to the band’s lead guitarist.
However, the band simply couldn’t go on without Harrison as their principle guitarist – it just didn’t work. So after only 10 days away from the band they agreed to ask Harrison back. George would agree on two conditions: firstly, that they moved out of the studio where the fights had taken place and secondly, that they put the kibosh on their proposed comeback live show.
It was to be a triumph as the band would go on to provide some of their most impressive and illustrious work with Abbey Road and Let It Be before their eventual split. Harrison would keep his friendship with Lennon as tight as ever following their reconciliation and would remain close friends until Lennon’s untimely death.
Yes, there were issues, yes there were punches thrown, but as they say, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. And my, oh my, what a beautiful fucking omelette.