This question floats around through Beatles fans and rock music circles constantly, probably on a daily bases. Yes, we have no lives.
But really, isn’t the idea that the fabs could have reunited at some point between 1970 and 1980 and done something as magical as what they did in the 1960’s, kind of like believing in Bigfoot or unicorns? Maybe not that outlandish but still highly unlikely. John, Paul, George and Ringo, despite all being earthly present (until December 8, 1980), would have had to work through an Everest sized mountain of conflicts of interest both personal and legal, in order to reconvene as the Beatles, in order to function and work with the same energy and sense of purpose and be something like they once were.
The cold reality was…
They were not on the same page anymore nor would they be by 1980.
This is undeniable. As younger adults, until their touring days ended in 1966, the four Beatles would spend most of their waking hours together whether in vans, trains, planes, automobiles, the recording studio, hotel rooms, radio stations, backstage, etc. They were tied together at the hip and developed a bond that could only come through being together on a daily basis for years. Their connectedness set the table and created the chemistry that was integral to their working process, one that distance from each other could have not have sustained over time. When the touring days ended, a natural separation evolved with more and more time spent away from each other except when they needed to convene for recording or writing sessions, and other band business meetings. Subsequently, while drifting apart, and enjoying exploring life as independant adults, tensions started developing between them as each of them felt the need to have more control over their own lives and assert their individual artistic expression. This was also the inevitable result of growing up.
George addresses some of this in this 1970’s Dutch TV interview.
The first domino falling was when Brian died.
When Beatles manager Brian Epstein suddenly passed away in the summer of 1967, it hit the four Beatles and their whole organization like a major earthquake with aftershocks that lasted years. Though finding himself feeling useless after the Beatles gave up touring, Brian really was the glue that provided structure and stability to the group. (Had he only known how useful he really was!) With Brian at the helm, all the Beatles business affairs were handled in such a way as to give the group little to worry about except creating great music to record. And for the four Beatles, Brian was a trustworthy member of their inner circle and team. After he died, the whole organization just went into a meltdown mode with the group, having zero experience operating any sort of business venture, deciding to manage their affairs themselves. With John, George and Ringo ensconced in their lives in the suburbs outside of London, Paul, still living the bachelor life of a young man in his middle twenties, put much of his obsessive energy into pushing the group forward. This resulted in the hastily put-together and somewhat ill-conceived TV film “Magical Mystery Tour” which while having some great music, was a critical flop for the fabs, and planted seeds of resentment by the other three towards Paul for corraling them into such a poorly developed project.
Managing their own affairs without Brian turned out to be like steering a Ferrari without a steering wheel. Heading to India in early 1968 provided some rest and relaxation from the some of the chaos within the ranks and a nice environment to create a catalog of songs which subsequently turned up on the double album The Beatles (aka The White Album) released in November, 1968. It has to be noted, significantly that the trip to India to meditate with the Maharishi was the last time all four Beatles spent significant time being with one another. And while the White Album proved monstrously successful, the sessions grew tense at times during the recording sessions with John, Paul and George each focusing more on their own tracks than they had in the past, and with of John promoting his new girlfriend within the ranks of the group to opinionator at large, and sourness really began to set in. Then the group took almost no time off and showed up at Twickenham Film Studios in London in January, 1969 to begin filming Let It Be. What happened during Let It Be has been largely documented and between the temporary exits from the group by Ringo (in 1968) and George (1969), the adhesive holding the band together was losing its stick. After convening throughout the summer of 1969 to produce their last album of songs, Abbey Road, John decided it was his turn to quit as he had no desire to return for the forseeable future and told the other three he was done being a Beatle. And unlike George and Ringo, he wasn’t coming back after a week or so.
It also can’t be ignored how deeply wounded Paul was after John’s successful advocacy of Allen Klein to manage the Beatles business affairs along with George and Ringo’s approval despite Paul’s protests to the contrary. This set up another long legal battle beginning in 1970 setting Paul against the other three and although Paul was subsequently proven correct regarding his stance against Klein, the fallout from the lawsuits that stemmed from Klein’s involvement in the Beatles’ business affairs continued for years and put a large chasm in their warmth towards one another. Concurrent to the Klein fiasco, there was also the fallout from bad feelings all around brought on by the 1969 sale of their publishing catalog to ATV Music by their music publisher Dick James. Surrounded by betrayal and bad feelings, the whole vibe of the group became a large bummer for all of them.
Summarily, it’s not a stretch to say that Brian Epstein’s death set upon the group a chain of events that propelled the band into a death spiral that they not yet recovered from by December 8, 1980. And while John’s tragic early death at the hands of a psychotic former Beatles fan with a gun ended all hope of a real Beatles reunion, it’s still highly debatable that had he not been killed, and had they been able to free themselves from all their legal entanglements, that the four Beatles would have been able to get back on the same page artistically and socially, that they had in in the sixties, despite the changing times, and despite their changing attitudes brought on by maturity and independence, and produce future work bearing the same magnitude as their original body of work. Not only had things dramatically changed between them, but so had the music business and the public’s taste which is sort of another story in and of itself.
And despite some enthusiasm and warmth towards the other three and the Beatles as a group as expressed by John around 1974 and early 1975 during his separation from Yoko, there was really no similar feelings expressed by George towards the idea of reuniting, nor really any from Paul or Ringo at that time. And while I don’t doubt John did miss and love his former bandmates, and they him, some of these comments expressed to interviewers were fleeting thoughts akin to missing one’s siblings with whom one hasn’t spent much time with lately. There was really no real sense that they had reached the same page at all and absolutely no common drive to work together again.
Between 1975-1980, John’s time at home with his family became his primary focus while Paul, George and Ringo were forging on with their solo careers to different degrees of success. They were moving on with their lives and only casually had much to do with one another except for few occasions where Ringo enlisted the others individually to assist him with his recording work. The Beatles were essentially no more than, to paraphrase George, old suits they didn’t really wear anymore.
As John sang in 1970, “the dream is over”. I wouldn’t have argued with him. Now would they have reunited had John lived post 1980 is another story all together and I’ll get around to discussing it at some point.
Regardless of conjecturing about all of that, the Beatles were truly finished by 1970, and a possible reunion after that had a firm expiration date of December 8, 1980. There’s no doubt in my mind that there was little traction or basis in reality for that idea by all of the principles.