Why the Beatles Split Up

Jim Al asks: Why did the Beatles break up?

the-beatlesWell Jim, most failed marriages didn’t end because “I found Bill wearing my dress,” or “Sam lost the kids’ college fund in a poker game,” or “I discovered Amy in bed with my best friend Rick.” Some do, I’m sure, but most breakups, on any level, occur over a period of time, whether short or protracted.

Let me clarify right now: only four people could ever explain exactly why the Beatles broke up as a band, each probably had his own reasons, and two of these guys have passed on. As for the other two, I’m sure they have said all they ever will about their band splitting up.

I am just a major Beatles fan who has read many, many Beatles books, articles, interviews, watched Beatles film clips, and happily lived the past almost 40 years as an extremely devout student of the Beatles and their history.  O.K., that said, I’ll answer your question by starting with a quick look at the beginning of the Beatles and then I’ll outline the major known events that led up to the Beatles breakup.

By mid-1957, John Lennon had started a band called the Quarrymen and on July 6, 1957, he met Paul McCartney at a church fete.  Paul officially joined the band on October 18, 1957.  George Harrison joined the band a few months later on February 6, 1958.  And four and a half years later, the Beatles unceremoniously dropped their luckless drummer, Pete Best, with Ringo Starr brought aboard as the band’s new drummer.  Ringo took over for Pete on August 19, 1962.

From mid-1962 until the end of 1964, the Beatles released records, albums, played scores of gigs, came to America, toured various countries, made a very successful movie, made several great TV appearances and became the most popular, successful, influential band in rock music history.

But by early 1965, the rot started setting in- very slowly, almost imperceptibly.  On George’s 22nd birthday, February 25, 1965, the boys were in the Bahamas filming their second film Help! when an Indian cycled up to the Beatles out of nowhere and pressed a book on his religion on each of them.  Three of the boys dismissed the book instantaneously, but for George, this was a clue directing him to “the way”.  Later on during the Help! filming, the boys were in an Indian restaurant and George cast his eyes on a new instrument he saw in the scene: a sitar.  George’s mind was astir, and slowly but surely, the wheels of the Fab Four’s split were turning.

After returning to London following the Help! shoot, John and George, along with their wives, were having a quiet, casual dinner with George’s dentist, when, for dessert, he slipped some L.S.D. into their cups of coffee.  This first totally unexpected L.S.D. trip was to have huge repercussions on both George and John.

Over the next two to three years, John became a full-fledged acid head, taking “thousands of trips” (probably an exaggeration on his part), but the figure is indicative of his acid-taking frequency during these years.  For George, taking acid was “the first time I wasn’t conscious of ego”.

By 1966, George didn’t even want to tour as a Beatle anymore, but was convinced to go along, as the dates had already been set.  Although George was the first Beatle to sow the seeds of dissatisfaction, by the end of August 1966, the Beatles had played their last official concert together.

Each was to go his own way and the merry days of all four wearing the same suit and having the same “Beatle haircut” were over forever.  John left to film a movie called How I Won the War.  While shooting on location in Spain, John got his Beatle locks shorn down, wrote his classic song “Strawberry Fields Forever” and later admitted that even then, “I was looking for a way to get out.”

Arriving back in London after his film shoot, John wandered into the Indica Art Gallery and looked over the bizarre works of art in an exhibition being given by a petite, very strange Japanese avant-garde artist named Yoko Ono.  John was looking for his “calling” in life, and he may not have realized it at the time, but he had found it that night.

George’s later obsession with Indian culture and religion would soon be matched in ferocity by John’s overwhelming passion for his soon-to-be beloved Yoko.  Meanwhile, George left London to study sitar with his soon-to-be mentor Ravi Shankar, a virtuoso sitar master.  George, like John, got his world-famous Beatle hair cropped and he also grew the first official Beatle mustache.  George’s strong interest in Eastern culture and religion grew and he fell madly in love with everything Indian; he was hooked for life.

In June of 1967, the boys released their landmark album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album based on Paul’s idea of the Fab Four becoming a fictional band instead of “The Four Mop Tops”.  George was estranged from the others during a good part of the album’s recording and only contributed one song, his mediocre “Within You, Without You”.  John, although he contributed some great songs to Sgt. Pepper was to say he was “going through murder” during this period.

At George’s suggestion, the boys went to India to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in August of 1967. But just as they’d arrived, shocking news came to them in a phone call: their manager Brian Epstein, had died of a drug overdose.  According to John: “I knew we were finished” as soon as he heard the news.

After Brian’s death, Paul tried to take over as the band’s ersatz-leader and dreamed up the TV film Magical Mystery Tour as well as rallying the others into recording new albums.  John and George would both grumble, each in their own way, but the projects got done mainly because of Paul’s force and insistence.

By 1968, when the four gathered together to start recording their new album The Beatles (later better known as The White Album) Paul, George and Ringo were completely surprised to find Yoko Ono sitting beside John in the recording studio throughout the many weeks of recording.  There had always been an “unwritten” rule between the Beatles, that none of their wives or girlfriends were to be allowed into the recording studios while the boys were working.

John was very “in your face” about his love for Yoko and almost flaunted his breach of agreement with the others.  Much dissent and a clear lack of harmony soon ensued and oddly enough, the most easy-going Beatle, Ringo, was the first to actually “quit” the group.  On August 22, 1968, Ringo left for a “holiday in Sardinia”, leaving the remaining Beatles drummer-less. (Paul was to fill in for Ringo on a few White Album songs during Ringo’s absence.)  Ringo was convinced to return in a few days and the catastrophe of a Beatle break-up was avoided.  But John was still “The Chief Beatle” and the others barely tolerated Yoko’s intrusive presence everywhere and anywhere.

By January of 1969, the band gathered together to film their documentary film Let It Be.  But tired of Paul’s bossiness, intrusiveness, lack of getting to record his own songs and actually sick of the whole Beatle trip, George became the second Beatle to leave the band.  (It was later revealed that by 1969, John and Yoko had become heroin addicts and this too contributed greatly to the band’s accelerating disharmony and disaffection.)  Right in the middle of shooting, on January 10, 1969, after an on-camera tiff with Paul, George curtly told the others he was leaving and said goodbye, adding “See you ’round the clubs.”  John unsympathetically said that was fine and recommended getting Eric Clapton in to replace the now missing George.  However, after intense negotiations, George was convinced to return on January 15th and Let It Be was completed.

Paul was to marry American photographer Linda Eastman on March 12, 1969. (John quickly followed suit and eagerly hitched up with Yoko eight days later.)  Next, Paul recommended his father-in-law and brother-in-law, Lee and John Eastman, take over management of the group.  John thought this was too close to home and pointed out that Paul would be the favored Beatle by his new relatives, giving he and the others short shrift.  Instead, John, George and Ringo signed on with Allen Klein as their manager. (Klein had been hungry to take over the Fab Four since Brian’s passing.)

The boys recorded their final album Abbey Road during mid-1969 and it was released in September of that year.  George, at this point deeply entrenched in his Indian journey, composed what most consider to be his two best-ever Beatle songs, “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something”.  George had always resented taking a back seat to the brilliant songwriting team of Lennon and McCartney and the success of these two songs undoubtedly gave George more confidence that he could go it alone and have success as an individual songwriter and musician.

But on September 13, 1969, probably the final straw that broke the camel’s proverbial back occurred.  It happened when John and Yoko joined fellow musicians Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard and several others for the “Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Festival” concert in Canada.  John played and had the time of his life, feeling liberated from the constraints of being a Beatle and finally gaining confidence that he could, indeed, go out on his own.

On September 20th of ’69, John, Paul, and Ringo (George was not present) and several friends and business associates gathered together in a meeting to discuss the band’s future.  Paul, as usual, spoke at length, and put forth his idea of the boys “going on the road” as perhaps a new entity, taking a new identity, and call themselves something like “Ricky and the Red Streaks” and “get back to their roots” by playing small out-of-the-way venues.  “I think yer daft!”, countered John angrily.  “I want a divorce…”

John, Yoko and manager Klein then left the shocked onlookers to have a meal at a local restaurant.  Paul and the Eastmans later convinced John to keep his decision to leave quiet and he did.  Finally, on April 10, 1970, Paul made the official announcement that the Beatles were finished as a unit and that he was leaving the band.

John was reportedly furious at Paul getting credit this way when he knew it was “his band” and he had started it and he should be the one ending it.  But although John had, in reality, ended the Beatles as a working unit, Paul’s public announcement really made it official.

The above is, in a slightly large nutshell, a synopses of some of the events that led to the Beatles breaking up.  I am sure I have omitted some factors, some incidents, other “reasons” for the Beatles breakup. But just as I said in the introduction to this article, only four people could ever truly explain why and how the most popular and beloved band in rock music’s long history had to split up.  And each of them probably had their own specific reasons, leaving countless writers and amateur psychologists to wonder about the roots of said split.

But I guess I could neatly sum up the Beatles break-up by quoting one of my comedy heroes, Mr. Jerry Lewis.  Following Lewis’ break-up with his partner Dean Martin after ten hugely successful years together, someone told Jerry he loved him and Dean together and asked how the two could possibly have split up.  Jerry answered with parable: “A man said ‘those are beautiful shoes you’re wearing’ to another man and the second man answered back, ‘yes, but I’m the only one who knows how much they hurt’.”

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  • Great job detailing the reasons why the Beatles broke up. I’m glad you talked about Yoko, because although I don’t think she’s the ONLY reason they split, she certainly hastened the process. And that asshole Klein sure didn’t help. I’m sure Paul felt vindicated when it was revealed how much of a crook Klein was!

    • Yoko, herself, had nothing to do with it, Einstein. It was JOHN who got fed up with his friends once he had someone trusted he could turn to. The heroin he was taking at the time didn’t help his attitude and judgement, either. The KEY reason for the split was the very serious management dispute… and the fact that they were growing up and apart. Paul wanted to keep the group going, but John and George had other things to do with their lives. As evidenced by the paths they all took after the split. Paul continued his career, almost as if nothing had changed. And John and George broadened their lives, relegating their careers to a less important status.

      • So, EINSTEIN, if Yoko “had nothing to do” with the Beatles’ split, how do you explain the fact that the others HATED the fact that she made herself right at home in their studio (which broke an unwritten rule they’d had about letting wives or girlfriends in their sacred sanctum), told the others how their songs could be “improved,” and constantly butted in during their recording sessions? Do you think that didn’t cause a lot of tension between John and the others, and exacerbated an already nasty atmosphere? Because if you truly think that, you’re exceptionally delusional!!

      • I, don’t know Paul personally, sadly have never had the chance to meet him, but just watching videos of him performing with his two bands, personally I think that he was born to be a performer. Maybe that is what keeps him so young.: Heaven knows he doesn’t need the money. Some how, I think if he ever had to quit singing an playing he would just sort of die inside.

  • Back in Winfield, we all thought Paul was the cutest Beatle. Great article, Eddie!

  • Judy Goldsworth Petranek

    The Beatles did not go to India to study with the Maharishi until 1968. In late August of 1967, they were on their initial visit with the Maharishi in Bangor, Wales, when they learned of Brian Epstein’s death.

  • Awesome article! I’ve read countless books and articles on the subject, but your assessment has been the most comprehensible and best written. Bravo!

  • Excellent write up about the fab four, but wasn’t they going to North Wales to see the Yogi not India?

  • I too am a bit of a Beatles Nut. One thing that I recently heard Paul say that made a lot of sense is this: “The beginning of the end came in 1966 when we had an awful experience in the Phillipines.” This was where they were literally chased out of the country in fear for their lives, due to an unintended flap with the then ruling Marcos family. This sad 1966 travelling experience, coupled with death threats in America from the Ku Klux Klan, and real related security events there, first began to put a “chill” on the “nothing can go wrong” streak of luck that the Beatles had seemingly been enjoying up until then.

    (Now the “psychologist” in me kicks in.) My guess is that at that point, John began to prepare in his mind for the possibility that the “gig was up”. None of the other members appear to have yet been entirely ready to “take the lead” in this, but John then began to get into disagreements with Epstein and McCartney, that were far more intense than anything that had happened before.

    His disagreement with Epstein apparently became so intense that it ultimately even resulted in Epstein’s suicide! He never again was able to easily work out his differences with McCartney either. I believe that it was this “contrarian streak” in John that ultimately led to the band’s disintigration.

    There is the old saying: “If mamma ‘aint happy, ‘aint nobody happy.” In this case, it was: “If Lennon ‘aint happy, ‘aint no Beatles happy.” In this world, all good things apparently must come to an end. Too bad…

  • The Beatles were artists of the highest magnitude and they had to self-destruct because they wanted to go different ways literally and artistically.

    That’s it.

    But their whole story is compelling… Just amazing really… To say they were something special is an understatement.

  • You know, as much as I read about the beatles, and I grew up with them, I keep learning so much more about them as a group and individuals.
    To this day, they still are the most amazing musical group I’ve ever heard.

  • I’ve always thought that being rock stars, especially being The Beatles, will do something imperceptible to their minds. Almost every one they meet treats them like they can do no wrong. About the only people who will criticize them are the other members of the group. To us they were The Beatles. To each other they were nothing special. So they would sometimes say hurtful things to each other and they would feel like they didn’t deserve it and that the others were terrible people. So after a while the last people on earth that they want to spend time with is each other. And maybe that’s what happened to Dean and Jerry, too.

    • The most important thing about them is. Even though the beatles in person went away. There music stayed big as if they never broke up. How many groups does that happen too. None. I think Paul’s band Wings was partly responsible. John had become an ass. George a cult nut and well Ringo was just the drummer.

  • i think they broke up becuz they grew up who is the same way has the same life or dreams at almost 30 that they did at 15 they werent little boys pretending to b elvis anymore they had not only achieved that dream but surpassed it, ant times had changed music had changed they had to adapt 3 out of 4 by may 69 had wives and kids tht changes thingsgeorge was the only one with no kids paul had lindas daughter heather and mary on the way it wasnt yoko and it wasnt ono it wasnt even ego