It’s 2021. The Beatles broke up officially in 1970, though the dye was cast a year earlier. Why did they end?
Paul McCartney’s given an interview to BBC4 Radio saying it was John Lennon’s idea. Paul says, John came in and said he was quitting. Paul wanted to continue, but John was out. So it was John’s fault, McCartney says.
According to “The Love You Make,” the very good Beatles memoir now available at long last on Kindle, Lennon did come into a meeting and was furious with McCartney. Lennon came with Yoko Ono, and his new manager/ attorney Allen Klein. Paul was accompanied by his father-in-law, the very astute copyright lawyer John Eastman. Authors Peter Brown — the group’s long time press agent — and writer Steven Gaines recount the incident. Paul and John had always had an unwritten agreement that neither of them would own more shares than the other in their music publishing company. It was that simple. At the meeting, the numbers of shares and who owned them was read out. It seemed that McCartney had been buying up more shares unbeknownst to Lennon.
Lennon became enraged, no doubt egged on by Klein. Barbs were exchanged. Brown recalled Lennon slamming a table. And walking out. He felt he’d been betrayed.
From “The Love You Make” page 317:
When the Beatles’ Northern Stock holdings were tallied, it was disclosed that Paul had 751,000 shares of Northern Songs versus John’s 644,000. At Paul’s direction, I had been purchasing shares secretly for him in his own name. Paul had recently learned a greater appreciation for the value of a copyright, especially his own. As he put it, “It was a matter of investing in something you believed in instead of supermarkets and furniture stores… so I invested in myself.” “You bastard!” John spit. “You’ve been buying up stock behind our backs!” Paul blushed and shrugged limply. “Ooops, sorry!” he smiled. “This is fuckin’ low!” John said. “This is the first time any of us have gone behind each other’s backs.” Paul shrugged again. “I felt like I had some beanies and I wanted some more,” he said.
And that was it.
In 1990, I asked Paul about this incident. Did he regret it? “No,” he told me. “I was investing in myself.”
Time heals all wounds. As we know now, once the Beatles were legally divorced, John and Paul made up. Lennon got rid of Allen Klein. Paul and the Eastman family grew closer, and remain happily intertwined to this day. And maybe it was all for the best. If the Beatles had continued, we’d never have had the best parts of the members’ solo work. The Beatles themselves might have drifted into complacency. They were never going tour again, like the Stones or the Who. Their breakup forced an ending that in retrospect left them with a sterling legacy.
Anyway we’re about to have the final box set of remixed, remastered Beatles music with the “Let it Be” anniversary set. It no longer matters why the group broke up, just that we’re left with this extraordinary collection of music.