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50 years on: behind the break-up of the Beatles

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The Beatles

On 9 April 1970 Paul McCartney shocked the world by quitting the Fab Four

In Depth The Week Staff
Thursday, April 9, 2020 - 3:56pm

Fifty years ago today, the Beatles ended an era-defining decade as the world’s biggest band when Paul McCartney announced that he was leaving. 

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Asked whether he would be making more music with the Fab Four, McCartney delivered a killer blow to fans around the world, replying: “No.”

When asked if he could “foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney becomes an active songwriting partnership again”, McCartney drove home the point: “No.” 

Over ten years and 13 albums, Paul, John, George and Ringo changed the face of popular music. But what was behind their explosive end? 

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What broke up the band?

On 10 April, the day after McCartney said he would never write with John Lennon again, the Daily Mirror ran the front-page headline “Paul Quits The Beatles”, bringing down the curtain on the band that defined the 1960s.

Not only were fans shocked by the news, writes Mark Beaumont in The Independent, so too were the rest of the band.

“McCartney would later claim that he hadn’t intended his [press] release to be taken as an announcement of a split,” Beaumont says, “and was ‘devastated’ at the reaction.”

George Harrison refused to comment, Ringo Starr responded “this is all news to me,” while John Lennon quipped: “It was nice to find that he was still alive. Anyway, you can say I said jokingly, ‘He didn’t quit, I sacked him!’”

Rolling Stone reports that the break-up has been blamed on Yoko Ono, “the legendary love of John Lennon’s life”, and on the “deviousness” of Allen Klein, the band’s new manager. 

By the time McCartney departed the band, Beaumont writes that Ono had begun “answering for John Lennon in band meetings”. 

The Beatles, he adds, “had become a bristling tangle of ego, insecurity, frustration, hard-drug addiction, spiritual confusion, miscommunication and thinly veiled hostility”.

Meanwhile, Rolling Stone adds, McCartney also wanted to cut ties with Klein and the band’s record label Apple, reporting that he did not want his manager to have any “say about his music or to share in his profits”.

The Beatles, the magazine says, were divided over Klein, with Harrison reportedly responding to McCartney’s concerns by saying: “You’ll stay on the fucking label. Hare Krishna.”

Reporting on the band’s collapse on the day McCartney left, The Guardian said: “He did not have any relationship with Mr Alan Klein, the Beatles business manager [and] that Mr Klein did not represent him in any way.”

What was the reaction?

“Paul McCartney confirmed yesterday that he had broken with the Beatles,” the Guardian said at the time. “But it seems certain that even if he wants to, circumstances will prevent him from straying too far.”

The Independent reports that the news saw “fans and reporters gathered outside the offices of Apple Corps at 3 Savile Row, distraught or eulogising”.

“The event is so momentous that historians may, one day, view it as a landmark in the decline of the British Empire,” reported CBS News. “The Beatles are breaking up.”

Speaking to the Guardian, musician Paul Weller, who was 11 at the time, said: “I can remember seeing a headline: ‘Paul – I Quit’ on that fateful day. I couldn’t make sense of it. I was shattered. The Beatles were my entire universe.”

“A generation was plunged into shock and mourning,” Beaumont writes.

“For almost a decade, through the Beatles and their acolytes, music had owned the world; for many this felt like a full stop not just on the greatest band in history, but on the onward rush of an evolving, revolutionary youth culture.”

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