In not much more than a handful of years, The Beatles had changed the world. When the news broke on April 10th, 1970, that the musical force that had turned the monochrome world multicoloured as if flicking on a light, had suddenly blown a fuse, mourners took to the streets. “Nobody will ever replace The Beatles,” one fan remarked, “It’s just one Beatles group. We grew up with them. They started when they were younger and we were younger, and they belong to us in a way. There could never be another Beatles, never!”
In truth, that declaration said a lot in itself. It doomed them. They didn’t belong to anybody, they were just young lads trying to work their way through an entirely unprecedented life, and the pressure that there genuinely couldn’t be another Beatles was yet another magnet destined to pull them apart. Nevertheless, the whys and wherefores of the particulars have always been of interest.
“I know who broke up The Beatles,” Paul McCartney proclaimed in a recent Howard Stern interview. “John did,” he says bluntly. “There was a meeting when John came in and said, ‘hey guys, I’m leaving the group’, he had found Yoko.” However, as Lennon himself put it just after the breakup: “[Yoko] didn’t split The Beatles. The Beatles were drifting apart on their own.” Later adding: “A long time ago I said that I don’t want to be singing ‘She Loves You’ when I was 30, I said that when I was about 25.”
Perhaps this tit for tat will mean that it will forever remain a mystery, but if there is one thing the recent Get Back documentary proved, it wasn’t as acrimonious as some might have believed. In fact, even though their days were numbered, and tensions may have arisen, their music came from a place of friends relishing in the joy of creativity. We will forever be the benefactors of that boon. After all, Paul, John, George Harrison and Ringo Starr could never have achieved what they did without some degree of harmony. Just look at ‘Something’ when things seemed to be in tatters!
If the whole picture that Get Back provided helped to put that mystery to bed, then doing the same with the split itself should also prove illuminating. With that in mind, we have collated a timeline of the culminating events that led to hordes of fans weeping in the streets and the upside of a slew of superb solo records.
A time of The Beatles split:
The end of live shows
After years of being hounded by screaming fans and endless work, a terrifying tour in the Philippines meant Harrison, Lennon and Ringo could finally convince McCartney to give up the road.
A change of direction
The band enjoyed a break returning to friends and family, but Lennon couldn’t settle back into relaxed civility, so he decided to shoot a film in Spain. “I was always waiting for a reason to get out of The Beatles from the day I made How I Won the War,” he later said.
Personal problems begin to spiral
Recording of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is well underway when it becomes clear that Lennon is dissatisfied with his marriage and his drug use spirals. “I think we didn’t really realise the extent to which John was screwed up,” Harrison later reflected.
A devastating death…
The band’s manager and lynchpin Brian Epstein passes away on August 27th. “After Brian died, we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration,” Lennon said.
A commercial flop
The Beatles have their first critical disaster after the release of the Magical Mystery Tour film. As producer George Martin explains: “When it came out originally on British television, it was a colour film but shown in black and white, because they didn’t have colour on BBC1 in those days. So it looked awful and was a disaster.”
Harrison’s Indian influence
Harrison encourages the band to travel to India to study Transcendental Meditation. Harrison isn’t impressed by his bandmate’s actions during the stay. “There were some flaky people around back then,” he later said, “and we were four of them.”
John Lennon’s relationships…
Divorce proceedings begin between Lennon and his first wife Cynthia, as he looks to set up a new life with Yoko Ono. “Suing me for divorce? On what ground is he suing me?” Cynthia would exclaim before pursuing her own claim.
The White Album woes
The Beatles record The White Album, and the situation is divisive. McCartney is recording songs on his own, Harrison thinks the only way to be heard is to introduce guests to the studio, and Yoko Ono’s constant presence is irking. Ringo walks out, “I felt I wasn’t playing great,” he recalled, “and I also felt that the other three were really happy and I was an outsider.”
The Ringo return
After a successful TV performance of ‘Hey Jude’ and Ringo re-joining the band, the ‘Fab Four’ live to fight another day. But despite being upbeat they seem to know their days are numbered. When Ringo was later asked whether he thought The Beatles were basically done by now he simply responded, “Oh yeah.”
Harrison storms out
During recording sessions of Let It Be, Harrison thinks the same unresolved problems were being perpetuated. Harrison would later say: “At that point in time, Paul couldn’t see beyond himself.”
He then has a blazing row with Lennon and quietly says: “I’m out of here. Put an ad in [the papers] and get a few people in. See you ’round the clubs.”
Private personal complaints begin to boil
A meeting is called, and things are patched up enough for Let It Be to continue but issues remain unresolved.
While Ringo opines on the Ono issue “She’s not a Beatle, she never will be.” Lennon privately thinks, “That old gang of mine. That’s all over. When I met Yoko is when you meet your first woman and you leave the guys at the bar and you don’t go play football anymore and you don’t go play snooker and billiards.”
Business relations scupper creativity
It becomes clear that since Epstein’s death, the finances of the band have not been managed correctly, Lennon meets with the controversial Allen Klein. A business meeting is later called.
McCartney recounted, “Lennon looked at me in the eye and said, ‘Well, I think you’re daft. I wasn’t going to tell you till we signed the Capitol deal…but I’m leaving the group!”
After a disagreement over the release timing of McCartney’s solo effort, he decides to make the split public. Prior to his famous press release, amid the squabble McCartney recalls turning to the band and “I said, ‘There’s been a clean break. Let’s just admit it. Let’s just tell the world now. Isn’t it time?’”
The rest is history.