“We were pretty good mates until The Beatles started to split up and Yoko came into it.”
— Paul McCartney
“I just got so fed up with the bad vibes. I didn’t care if it was The Beatles; I was getting out.”
— George Harrison
When you talk to Beatles fans about the breakup of the world’s most popular music group, they will almost universally point to Paul McCartney’s April 1970 announcement that he was done with the group as being the “official” end of The Beatles. In reality, the end came much sooner, and this past Wednesday, Jan. 30, marked the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ last public performance.
The band’s last tour had been in 1966, and the members had increasingly gone in different directions musically, with Paul continuing on a more mainstream pop music course, John moving into more experimental music, George pursuing more songwriting and eastern influences, and Ringo developing his acting career.
Still, the Fab Four found themselves able to get together and record Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band in late 1966, and the White Album in early 1968. By late 1968, they were pulled back together by a contractual obligation to record a new album and convert the music from it into a movie. The project, originally called “Get Back’”would eventually become the film “Let it Be,” for which the group would win an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score.
The album was originally going to send the band on tour again, but on Jan. 10, 1969, frustrations among the group led to George Harrison walking out of the recording sessions. Overtures from the record label and the band’s other members eventually convinced Harrison to return, but not without the group agreeing to scrap the tour.
In place of going on the road, The Beatles decided that they would do a single, live performance of the songs for the new album and movie. When they hit an impasse on where that concert should occur, the decision was made to simply ascend to the roof of Apple recording studios’ Saville Row offices and jam away at midday.
So it was that on Jan. 30, 1969, the Fab Four, along with legendary keyboardist Billy Preston, ascended to a cold London roof at lunchtime on a Thursday to perform together for the very last time. The set included nine takes — three of “Get Back,” two of “Don’t Let Me Down,” two of “I’ve Got a Feeling” and one each of “One After 909” and “Dig a Pony.” Twelve months later, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr would come together again to record “I Me Mine” and “Let it Be,” and finish the album, but Lennon would not be present for that session. As a cohesive group, The Beatles were done as of January, 1969.
The official announcement of the band’s demise would be held in order to avoid damaging the release of the movie and album in 1970, and was made only when McCartney began the press push for his self-titled first solo album. But, of course, this is a legal column, and so the law must make an appearance somewhere, and here, its appearance was swift and ugly.
Among other things, it involved McCartney throwing Starr out of his home following a shouting match, McCartney eventually suing for the dissolution of The Beatles as a legal entity, and Lennon, Harrison, and Starr delivering affidavits to the court detailing the sometimes unpleasant nature of their working relationship since 1966. McCartney’s original affidavit that began the lawsuit sold last year at auction for $125,000.
During the trial, McCartney testified that The Beatles had not been a functioning band in the real sense of the term for several years, and the other members told the court, via their affidavits, that McCartney had been difficult, but that the band could certainly continue. The court ruled in McCartney’s favor, but the joke was on him — the dissolution came with massive tax consequences which spurred more litigation, drawing the band’s manager and Apple records into the legal fray as well. Finally, in 1974, the group drafted what came to be known as “The Beatles Agreement” and the legal entity that was ‘The Beatles’ was officially dissolved on Jan. 9, 1975.
Of course, one good thing did come from all that legal wrangling — in 1973 we got George Harrison’s “Sue You, Sue Me Blues” from his Living in the Material World album. And let’s be honest, there aren’t a lot of songs about lawsuits by legendary recording artists!