An uncovered Beatles recording of a conversation between John, George and Paul in 1969 sheds new light on their breakup and challenges previously accepted notions, especially concerning Yoko Ono. The Beatles are still one of the most famous bands in the world. But the way it ended for the Fab Four is viewed as far from harmonious.
It’s believed personal and creative tensions ran high, with the arrival of Yoko Ono in John Lennon’s life playing a key role in the split. However a newly-discovered recording seems to tell a different story.
Mark Lewisohn – author of The Beatles: All These Years (2013) – played the ear-opening evidence to The Guardian. Events took place in 1969, following completion of their last album Abbey Road… 50 years ago this month.
The Guardian also mentions Abbey Road’s cover, which “is now so mythologised that the humdrum zebra crossing featured on its celebrated cover picture is now officially listed as site of special historic interest”.
Fans hoping for a new track or two will be disappointed – the tape is of a meeting conducted between Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison at Apple headquarters. The absence of Ringo Starr, following an “intestinal complaint”, meant a portable tape recorder was brought along so he could hear the conversation.
For music buffs, it’s far more than just a routine discussion. The tape is history brought to life, and what’s more a revised one! Lewisohn states the accepted wisdom, which is “they knew Abbey Road was their last album and they wanted to go out on an artistic high.”
Yet far from turning their backs on future projects and consigning the Beatles to yesterday, it appears that dissolving the group wasn’t on the agenda. The Fab Three talk about a new record, for possible release at the end of the year. Lennon’s suggestion of “a new formula for assembling their next album: four songs apiece from Paul, George and himself, and two from Ringo” gives an idea of what could have been.
That involved breaking away from things like the established Lennon-McCartney partnership, which the former refers to as a “myth”. And confronting differences within the team, which had been especially bad whilst making the previous album – released last however – Let It Be (1970).
McCartney is heard saying “I thought until this album that George’s songs weren’t that good”, to which Harrison responds “That’s a matter of taste. All down the line, people have liked my songs.” The tone is described as that of a “nettled rejoinder”.
Lennon takes the opportunity to criticize McCartney’s ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, obviously not a favorite of John’s, suggesting it might be a good idea if he gave songs of that kind to outside artists.
Lewisohn says “you think that John is the one who wanted to break them up but, when you hear this, he isn’t.” The inevitable did happen, with Lennon leaving the group and blame being attributed to Ono. But as with all matters of an artistic nature, the truth is often more complicated.
In 2012, McCartney gave an interview in which he set the record a little straighter. “She certainly didn’t break the group up. The group was breaking up and I think she attracted John so much to another way of life,” he told Sir David Frost on Al Jazeera, adding “he then went on to, very successfully, add a sort of second part to his career, writing things like ‘Imagine’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance’. I don’t think he would have done that without Yoko.”
Even today that epic legacy and mutual love and respect continue. Lennon and Harrison have passed away, but McCartney and Starr have reunited for ‘Grow Old With Me’ – a cover of a track originally written by John. It will be included on Starr’s album What’s My Name.