The Beatles in ‘69 - The long and winding road to breaking up
PUBLISHED: 13:33 27 January 2019 | UPDATED: 18:52 27 January 2019
Nick Richards takes a journey back 50 years to 1969 when the biggest band in pop history were falling apart.
Although The Beatles didn’t officially split until 1970, 1969 is crucial in the history of the band. Fifty years ago right about now, huge internal damage was occurring within a band adored by millions.
Fractures had appeared in the relationship between the Fab Four towards the end of 1968.
Within days of the release of album The Beatles (now widely-referred to as the White Album), John Lennon told his bandmates he was leaving, insisting he felt confined in having to carry on playing a role he’d outgrown.
As 1969 dawned The Beatles were coming off a gruelling summer and autumn with recording The White Album taking its toll on the band’s relationship with each other.
Despite deep-routed affection it had become increasingly difficult to work together as Lennon and McCartney began to lose respect for each other’s work and Harrison got so fed up with them both to the extent that he temporarily walked out of the recording studio in January 1969.
In an age when minds were expanded and enlightened through both spiritual and narcotic means, the four members had their heads turned by the idea of simply not being in the band anymore and seeking happiness elsewhere.
However, they had a new project on the go – a stripped-back return to their R’n’B roots, performing a mix of covers and returning with some kind of live performance for the first time in three years. A live and televised one hour concert was planned for the Camden Roundhouse at the end of January.
Against the backdrop of Lennon’s decision, a heavily-bearded McCartney attempted to galvanise the band, becoming the driving force of this project, determined to show Lennon that being in the band still meant something – although whether that something would mean serving up one last hurrah or a way of bonding the band back together, nobody then knew.
It was key for them to literally Get Back to where they once belonged.
In 1995’s Beatles Anthology, George Harrison offered an insight into the problems of the band in early 1969 and the reason he temporarily walked out of their January recording sessions. He said: “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.
“Everybody had gone through that. Ringo had left at one point. I know John wanted out. It became stifling, so that although this new album was supposed to break away from that, it was still very much that kind of situation where he already had in his mind what he wanted. Paul wanted nobody to play on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!’”
Harrison’s return saw the band change direction. Billy Preston was invited to perform with them at Twickenham Film Studios on Get Back and the grand finale was eventually shelved and became the short roof top concert performed on Thursday, January 30, 1969 in near gale force winds.
That gig on the roof of the Apple Corps building 50 years ago this Wednesday was the last time the band played live together. Most of the material recorded throughout January 1969 lay dormant for well over a year, only emerging in May 1970 on the band’s final original studio album, Let It Be.
Despite internal issues, throughout 1969 though, the band had kept a pretty united public persona, leaving their bickering largely in the studio.
Commercially and publicly all seemed well with the band. There was chart success throughout the year with The White Album, Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road, while they also topped the singles charts with The Ballad of John and Yoko and Get Back – the last two of their 17 number ones.
In January ’69 one of their White Album tracks, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was topping the charts – although this version was by Scottish band Marmalade – and the McCartney-produced I’m The Urban Spaceman was creeping up the charts for the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.
At the end of January a fatal rift in the band occurred when Lennon, Harrison and Starr asked The Rolling Stones’ American manager Alan Klein to take over the band’s affairs. McCartney, who favoured fiancé Linda Eastman’s family firm of management consultants opened up court proceedings and a legal battle ensued. The other three later signed a deal with Klein, creating a divisive split.
It’s fair to say by 1969 the band were moving rapidly in separate directions. Lennon and McCartney both married within eight days of each other in March 1969 with Lennon’s divorce from first wife Cynthia being confirmed early that year.
He soon married Yoko Ono in Gibraltar and quickly turned his life into performance art. They became a travelling circus of slogans, causes and banners, staging their bed-in for peace on honeymoon at the Amsterdam Hilton in March and repeating it in Montreal three months later. World peace was their ultimate dream and they would record Give Peace A Chance later in 1969, Lennon would return his MBE towards the end of the year, partly as a peace protest against wars in Vietnam and Nigeria.
The pair’s Plastic Ono Band seemed to be Lennon’s real focus with Ono being by Lennon’s side for most of the previous year while recording the White Album and throughout January ’69. The relationship between Ono and the other three Beatles was icy at best. Harrison said that Ono’s continued presence carried with it negative vibes.
“John and Yoko were out on a limb,” he said in The Beatles Anthology. “I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, in as much as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.”
McCartney had wed Linda Eastman just before Lennon’s wedding and was himself working on new material, as was Harrison.
1969’s one bright spot was the release of the excellent Abbey Road, a shoo-in for the top five list of the band’s albums for any fan, this deceptively sunny swan song including the sublime Something, which Lennon called the best thing Harrison had ever written. The famous picture of the band on the pedestrian crossing outside the studios on Abbey Road was taken on August 8 and 12 days later the band would spend their last day recording together at the studio.
A week before the release of the album, to generally mixed reviews, at the end of September 1969, Lennon told the band he was leaving but a public announcement was kept back.
In April 1970 Paul McCartney would announce the band’s split with the official dissolving of The Beatles partnership coming on December 31, 1970.