There are a lot of ‘nearly’ moments in rock and roll history, a chance meeting or decision that almost descended into something iconic. One of the aforementioned situations that has always lingered is the very real moment that Saturday Night Live nearly reunited The Beatles on this day in 1976—had John Lennon and Paul McCartney been bothered to get up from watching it on TV.
In the famed first series of ‘Saturday Night Live’—America’s home of alternative weekend hilarity—the show’s legendary producer, Lorne Michaels, set himself a fairly big challenge: to reunite The Beatles. He started as any SNL act would, with an unflinching piece direct to camera.
Whether Michaels was performing with the real intent of reuniting the most enigmatic songwriting partnership to have ever existed in Lennon and McCartney, or he was just doing a sketch, Michaels shared the sentiment of a nation. Perhaps even the globe. At this time, The Beatles were still fresh in the memory and despite having seen all four members of the group found solo success, the desire to see the Fab Four together at once was still too much to avoid.
In the initial plea, Michaels talks directly to the camera about how The Beatles had affected so many lives, “In my book, The Beatles are the best thing that ever happened to music. It goes even deeper than that — you’re not just a musical group, you’re a part of us. We grew up with you.”
He sincerely suggests an offer to the pair at the heart of The Beatle split: “Now, we’ve heard and read a lot about personality and legal conflicts that might prevent you guys from reuniting,” he said. “That’s something which is none of my business. That’s a personal problem. You guys will have to handle that. But it’s also been said that no one has yet to come up with enough money to satisfy you. Well, if it’s money you want, there’s no problem here.”
Audiences across the country gasp in hope that maybe this might just happen, with network money anything is possible, surely? Michaels continued, “The National Broadcasting Company has authorized me to offer you this cheque to be on our show. A certified cheque for $3,000.” It now becomes a little clearer that Michaels’ tongue was firmly in his cheek and that the chance of Beatles reunion was as far away as ever.
The producer continues with the sketch and explains how all the band need to do is sing three songs “‘She Loves You,’ yeah, yeah, yeah – that’s $1,000 right there. You know the words. It’ll be easy. Like I said, this is made out to ‘The Beatles.’ You divide it any way you want. If you want to give Ringo [Starr] less, that’s up to you. I’d rather not get involved.”
Here it is, that ‘nearly’ moment we promised. While Michaels entertained the audience in the studio with his skit the millions of folks watching at home were likely laughing away with them—John Lennon and Paul McCartney included. Unbeknown to Michaels and the rest of the globe, the duo was just a mile or so away watching the show together in John’s apartment in the Dakota building.
As Lennon said in 1980, “Paul was visiting us at our place in the Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired. He and I were just sitting there watching the show, and we went, ‘Ha ha, wouldn’t it be funny if we went down? But we didn’t.”
Paul McCartney would confirm the story saying, “John said, ‘We should go down, just you and me. There’s only two of us so we’ll take half the money.’ And for a second. But It would have been work, and we were having a night off, so we elected not to go. It was a nice idea – we nearly did it.”
Oh, what could have been. It’s an ‘almost’ moment so tantalising that a TV film was made about what would have happened had they of reunited in 1976. The film is called Two of Us and first aired on VH1 in 2000.
George Harrison would go on to be a musical guest on ‘Saturday Night Live’ later in the year and carry on the joke. Arriving to collect the previously offered cheque, he and Michaels discuss the split. With the producer’s hands tied Harrison agrees that for an extra $250 he would say the show’s iconic opening line, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
Sadly the show would never be able to reunite The Beatles. Lennon and McCartney were just a mile and a half away from the studio and the world was just as close to a historical moment.
Below, see Paul McCartney reliving the moment in a later interview.