Saturday, 10 April 2010

The End of the Beatles

One would think that major, world-shattering events are clearly recorded and documented for posterity, especially when they take place in the modern media era. This however, as I have just discovered, is not always the case.

When did the Beatles break up? That’s the question. And, before anyone presumes to ask, it’s an event which I do regard as something major and world-shattering. After all, nobody can seriously argue that the Fab Four were the greatest rock group in history with an influence on contemporary music and wider culture unmatched by any other before or since. Easy, you may say. 1970, everyone knows that. But when exactly?

In fact, the break-up of the group was a long, complicated process. Their last live concert was in San Francisco in August 1966, although they did perform “All You Need Is Love” on TV in the first live global satellite link in June 1967 and some of the album Let It Be was performed on the roof of the Apple building in Saville Row on January 30th 1969. But basically, from August 1966 onwards, the Beatles were a studio group.

But what a studio group! Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The White Album, Yellow Submarine and the break-up duo Abbey Road and Let it Be all come from this period, albums which contain dozens of songs which were works of genius, Sgt. Pepper (1967) being arguably the greatest rock album ever recorded. Nevertheless, throughout this whole period the tension in the group, and particularly between the two creative geniuses Lennon and McCartney, was growing steadily.
By 1969 it must have been clear to most observers that the band was moving towards an end. Lennon had begun his relationship with Yoko Ono and the fans, sensing that the centrifugal tendencies within the group were escalating reacted, for the most part, with deep suspicion and hostility towards John’s new Japanese muse. But the differences were deeper and more complex than Yoko’s influence. For fans, however, the prospect of the group breaking up remained unthinkable.

In September 1969 Lennon announced to the rest of the group that he was leaving but this announcement was not made public. He had already released his first single without the group, “Give Peace a Chance,” two months earlier. He never played with the other three together again. But there was still an album, Let it Be, in the works. It was released in May, 1970.

By then, though, the group was gone. On April 10th 1970, forty years ago today, Paul McCartney announced his departure from the group. Although various legal wrangling postponed the final wind-up of the group’s affairs until 1975, if any one incident can be defined as the definitive end of the Beatles, it was that public announcement.

Now you know.

“And in the end, the love you take/ Is equal to the love you make”
(The last line of “The End”, the last song all four Beatles recorded together, on the album Abbey Road)

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