In 1970, John Lennon claimed that he wanted to leave the Beatles as early as late 1966, after the end of touring. George Harrison was writing more songs than could be contained within the Beatles, and growing resentful. Could they have broken up in early 1969 instead of April 1970?
Years later, it was revealed that tension during White Album sessions nearly broke up the group. While Paul and Ringo were, by far, the most content members of the Beatles, even Ringo reached a breaking point during recording sessions for the White Album, leaving the group for two weeks. Later in January 1969, George walked out amid disagreements with Paul and indifference from John.
The sessions in early 1969 revealed the breakdown of the relationships between the individual members occurring in real time and captured on film and audio. The prospect of ending the group then and there was placed on the table. The Get Back project was designed by Paul to bring the group together, while in fact, it did the exact opposite. In September 1969, following the release of Abbey Road, John left the group for good.
Post-touring, and particularly after Brian Epstein’s death, despite continued international success, the group was gradually falling apart. If not for Paul’s efforts is it not unimaginable that “All You Need Is Love” would have been the group’s last effort? Remember, John was already disenchanted with the group, and only writing songs as needed (which he later complained about). George was moving further into Eastern religion and contrary to John, writing more songs than ever. Paul brought the others along through sheer persistence and love of the group. The others had yet to come up with a better alternative. This was before the time when members of a group could be both solo artists and members of a group.
It should be noted that Paul wasn’t solely responsible for keeping the group alive. The others probably needed only a little nudging to get into the new projects and recordings. Again, in later years, particularly in Lennon’s Rolling Stone 1970 Lennon Remembers interviews, resentment over Paul’s “nudging” was aired. George made his opinions about working with Paul throughout the entirety of his solo career. Yet, it’s hard to imagine either John or George suggesting Magical Mystery Tour, Get Back, or Abbey Road, or anything comparable. Wouldn’t some of these alternatives have been revealed over the years had they existed? We don’t know if John had any other ideas. George’s main idea, as far as we know, was to include more of his songs on the albums.
Paul became de facto leader out of necessity, and possibly his own fear of the entire thing falling apart if he didn’t keep going with new ideas. To get an idea of Paul’s mentality, consider that in September 1969, Paul was unaware of John’s feelings to the extend that he was still pitching Beatles projects such as playing small clubs, prompting John to finally announce that he wanted his “divorce” from the group and calling Paul “daft” in the process. In hindsight, Paul’s lack of insight into John’s state of mind was a bit daft.
The irony of Paul doing the most to keep the group together was that he, of all them, was best positioned to be a solo artist, if need be. Had the group broken up sometime in 1968 or early 1969, McCartney was overflowing with songs and production work.
What would a Paul McCartney solo career have looked like in 1968 or 1969? We’ll explore this hypothetical, and somewhat ridiculous, possibility in a future post.