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Could The Beatles have reunited before John’s death?

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.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Could The Beatles have reunited before John’s death?”

  1. Hello Michael,
    Great subject -could The Beatles have reunited there is an old saying leave well enough alone I remeber in 1976 there were rumors going around that The Beatles may do a concert and also that they were offered a lrge sum of money from Sid Bernstein if they would follow through they declined I truly wonder if it would have ruined the magic that was The Beatles had they performed together as a group again it was 6 yrs after they broke up that this was going to happen I truly think leave weel enough alone, do you remember the band Klatu the rumors were that it was The Beatles we all know it wasn’t in a way I’m glad they bowed out gracefully it’s like these bands the Who or the Rolling Stones that do come back tours they don’t sound as good or the magic is gone from the days they were on top of their game!!!!

  2. Willie. There sure were offers around 1976 (Sid Bernstein, Bill Sargent, SNL) but the fabs had no interest other than merely pondering the dollar amounts and then declining. SNL might have been the most suiting especially considering the hilarious $3000 offer. It just wasn’t going to happen. And yeah, I do remember the Klaatu rumors which of course turned out that Klaatu was not the Beatles, though after hearing Klaatu, I’m not sure how anyone could have confused the two groups. I do think John and Paul would have played or written together at some point because I think they would have felt compelled towards trying again. And George and Ringo would most likely have contributed as well. I can only speculate that while it would have been considered an enormous event in whatever capacity they worked together, I don’t believe that they would have been able to produce music that would have shook the world as they had in the 60’s because the world and music moved on.

    I think the Beatles hit their expiration date in 1969, were well aware of it, and moved on from that era of their lives on a big-time high note (Abbey Road). Their break-up while still on top of their game has become a part of their stature and the type of legend of which none of their contemporaries could claim equivalence.

  3. Hello Michael,
    What do you think a Beatles reunion would be like if it was Ringo on drums Paul McCartney , George Harrison’s son and Julian Lennon not The Beatles but as close as we will ever see, what is your view on this!!!!

    1. Hi Willie. To be completely blunt, the magic can’t be recaptured. It’s over. The DNA of John Lennon in either of his son’s nor George Harrison’s cannot in any way bring it back. Besides, Paul and Ringo in their middling 70’s can’t either. The ship has passed. It’s nice when Paul and Ringo play together publicly but the Beatles as a viable functioning entity ceased to be 45 years ago and all hope for anything reasonably close to it ended on December, 1980.

      I’m interested in what you think?

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