The Beatles’ tumultuous ending has become one of the most fabled events in music history. Although for fans, it seemed like the split came out of nowhere, the tension had been bubbling for a while before they officially called it quits on April 10, 1970.
But almost a year earlier on January 10th, 1969, it seems George Harrison did quit— for a moment at least— following the lead of Ringo Starr’s dramatic exit a few months prior. Of course, he would eventually come back a week later after spending some time on Peter Sellers’ yacht. In a rare audio clip below, we can hear Harrison quitting.
By the ‘Get Back’ sessions, Harrison’s growing frustrations with Lennon and McCartney’s iron grip on the songwriting slots was growing and the creative differences were becoming too much to handle. On that January morning, The Beatles were at Twickenham Film Studios rehearsing, which was all being captured by cameraman Tony Richmond.
In the audio clip, John Lennon begins by playing the intro to the song, ‘I’m Talking About You’, a Chuck Berry song that the Beatles recorded for the March 1963 edition of the BBC radio show Saturday Club. Behind the guitar, Harrison’s muffled voice can be heard saying: “I’m leaving the band now.” Lennon then replies, “When?” George answers, “Now.” Then the tapes cut out, giving us only a short 13-second window into the argument.
Although Harrison didn’t leave directly after that squabble, whatever the initial trigger was, only got worse as the day progressed. Following several attempts at working ‘Get Back’ into shape, The Beatles moved onto ‘Two Of Us’. However, after breaking for lunch, Harrison walked out of the studio.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg, a director who was hired by the band to capture them recording a new album and rehearsing for a concert appearance, remembered about the day: “We’d finished the first course when George arrived to stand at the end of the table. We looked at him as he stood silent for a moment. ‘See you ’round the clubs,’ he said. That was his goodbye. He left. John, a person who reacted aggressively to provocation, immediately said, ‘Let’s get in Eric. He’s just as good and not such a headache.’”
Lindsay-Hogg also said: “Paul and Ringo would not be drawn in, and after lunch, we went back to the studio where Paul, John, and Ringo improvised a ferocious riff, half an hour of anger and frustration expressed with guitars and drums. Yoko sat on the edge of the rostrum on the blue cushion which had been George’s and howled into his mic.”
Harrison later recounted his side of the story for the 1995 Anthology series, revealing: “They were filming us having a row. 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.’”
He continued: “Everybody had gone through that. Ringo 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 anymore. I’m out of here.’ So I got my guitar and went home and that afternoon wrote ‘Wah-Wah.'”
Listen to the curious moment that George quit the band in the rare audio clip, below.