Given the pioneering nature of their work, the fandom and hysteria that came with ‘Beatlemania’ and the resounding commercial and financial success that propelled their fame, The Beatles continue to dominate music headlines even to this day. If you couple the aforementioned reasons with the chaotic, volatile and somewhat mysterious demise of the band, you’re left with a wealth of rumours, tales, fantasies and more to detail every minute aspect of the Fab Four and the relationships that came with them.
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 major discussion points that has always lingered for all Beatles fans is the genuine moment that Saturday Night Live nearly reunited the four bickering band members in 1976.
In the hugely popular first series of ‘Saturday Night Live’—America’s home of alternative weekend entertainment—the show’s legendary producer, Lorne Michaels, set himself an unrealistic challenge: to reunite The Beatles. He started as any SNL act would, with an unflinching piece direct to camera.
While Michaels’ ambition of reuniting the most enigmatic songwriting partnership in the history of popular music had more than hint of comedic sarcasm, his sketch shared the sentiment of a nation and managed to pique the interest of those closely affiliated with The Beatles.
At the time of his address, The Beatles were still on the radio with prolific regularity and, to add more flavour to their legacy, all four members of the group found solo success in their own right. In truth, the desire to see the Fab Four together at once was still too much to avoid, and Michaels knew it all too well.
In his initial appeal, Michaels speaks undeviatingly into the camera, discussing 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 said.
Taking what appears a more genuine approach, Michaels then 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.”
At that moment, the collective music world held its breath. Michaels continued, “The National Broadcasting Company has authorised me to offer you this cheque to be on our show,” he added, as anticipation began to build…until he added: “A certified cheque for $3,000.” It was no clear that Michaels was never really serious on his proposal, his tongue was firmly in his cheek and that the chance of Beatles reunion was as far away as ever.
In typical comedic fashion, the producer continued the bang the same drum, repeating the sketch, insisting that he only requires the band to come into the now-iconic studio to perform 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.”
While Michaels humoured the audience in the studio with his skit, the millions of folks watching at home were likely laughing away with them. However, little did he know that the joke would manage to reach John Lennon’s New York apartment in the Dakota building. Sat back alongside his partner in crime, he and Paul McCartney were well and truly in the midst of mending their broken relationship, letting the past issues flow under the bridge as they looked to a brighter future.
Unbeknown to Michaels and the rest of the watching world, the Beatles duo were just a mile or so away watching the show together. “Paul was visiting us at our place in the Dakota,” Lennon previously said in 1980. “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 later 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.”
Now though, while appearing as a guest on the Adam Buxton podcast, McCartney has been discussing the truth behind the story in more detail: “As with all of these stories, it’s kind of true, but it’s not. I did visit John and Lorne didn’t actually come on the TV, Lorne was on the TV the week before, and John told me about it.
“He explained the thing to me, and John said: ‘We should go down there now, it’s live!’ and for five minutes we were like ‘Yeah, lets’ go down there, it’d be great, what a hoot!’ and then we went ‘No, let’s not’ and then we didn’t.”
McCartney concluded: “So yeah, it’s kind of true but facts have been mangled to protect the innocent.”
In a classic story of ‘Oh, what could have been’, the nearly moment was skipped over. However, as he did so often, George Harrison stepped up to the plate and 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!”
Below, see Paul McCartney reliving the moment in a later interview. Further down, listen to Macca discussing the incident with Adam Buxton.