It’s become somewhat of an age-old question: did Yoko Ono really cause The Beatles to break up? While it would be somewhat naive to point to one person as the sole cause for a band’s split, throughout the years, there was some concern expressed most notably by George Harrison and Paul McCartney, that her presence in the studio during their sessions created too much tension. Out of all the impressions Ono made upon The Beatles, her influence on Lennon was truly unequalled; she simultaneously saved him from himself, pushed him to be a better artist and dared him to be himself, unapologetically.
Despite frequent comments by all members of The Beatles, popular opinion seems to be that Yoko Ono was a big reason for why The Beatles broke up. While Lennon does acknowledge that Paul McCartney may have had, at one point, strong feelings of disdain towards her, McCartney is overall a fair guy. “You can quote Paul, it’s probably in the papers, he said it many times at first he hated Yoko, and then he got to like her. But it’s too late for me. I’m for Yoko,” Lennon would comment about McCartney’s attitude towards her in a Rolling Stone interview. Lennon felt at the time that he was put in a difficult situation of either choosing Yoko or The Beatles, “I had to either be married to them or Yoko, and I chose Yoko, and I was right.”
To pinpoint exactly what this negative influence Yoko had on the band that may have, hypothetically speaking, broken up The Beatles, one just needs to watch footage of some of their sessions. The environment of a Beatles session was very much a closed off affair, not allowing too many people in while they worked. Lennon had infamously shamed their manager in front of everyone for bringing a friend in. Some could consider this somewhat hypocritical, as now Lennon was the one breaking the rule.
Yoko followed him around everywhere he went and would sit in the middle of the studio and constantly whisper comments into his ear. McCartney would snidely remark, after hearing her make a comment about a vocal take: “Did somebody speak? Who was that? Did you say something George? Your lips didn’t move!”
While the tensions did grow in her presence, they had already been there for The Beatles. By the time they began recording their self-titled album or otherwise known as The White Album, Lennon and McCartney, or anyone else within the band for that matter, were not collaborating in the songwriting process.
More than anything else, Yoko Ono’s influence on John Lennon was hugely positive and powerful. As an artist, Yoko brought an entirely new element to the group whether the other lads wanted to acknowledge it or not. The artist brought sophistication, a new way of thinking outside the box and, most of all, pushed Lennon to be a better, more honest person. Paul McCartney noted in an interview with David Frost, “When Yoko came along, part of her attraction was her avant-garde side, her view of things,” McCartney revealed in 2012. “So, she showed him another way to be, which was very attractive to him.”
Lennon wrote a lot of his greatest songs with Yoko, including ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, ‘Julia’, and of course, ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’. McCartney later commented on her influence on him, “She wanted more, do it more, do it double, be more daring, take all your clothes off. She always pushed him, which he liked. Nobody had ever pushed him. Nobody had ever pushed him like that. We all thought we were far-out boys, but we kind of understood that we’d never get quite that far out.”
On The Howard Stern Show, Paul McCartney spoke on Yoko Ono’s involvement in the studio, “John had met up with Yoko, and even though we thought, god, a bit intrusive, you know, she used to sit in on the recording sessions, we never had anything like that. But looking back on it, you think, the guy was totally in love with her, and you just got to respect that, so we did… I do.”
If you love The Beatles, and truly adore their work, then you would have to admit that, without Yoko Ono, the band’s later work — arguably their better work — would never have reached the heights it did. Whether it was a hand in the band’s eventual break-up or the hand that pushed Lennon to his creative peak, one thing cannot be denied; Yoko Ono changed The Beatles forever.
Listen to ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ by The Beatles, below.