Here, there and everywhere this week I am reminded that it is the 50th anniversary of The Beatles ceasing to be, at least if you observe the logic that their dissolution dates from April 10, 1970, the day Paul issued the notorious press release promoting his first solo LP. This document famously contained the first public statement that he no longer envisaged working with the other three again, or reactivating what was actually a long dormant writing partnership with John.
Taking the form of a questionnaire between Paul and Apple executive Peter Brown, it was enclosed within advance promo copies of his album, thus guaranteeing its widespread distribution and readership, and, although Paul has subsequently revealed that it was not his intention to split The Beatles by this action, he must surely have foreseen its consequences. I’d have been amazed – maybe – if he hadn’t.
This unhappy circumstance, which attracted headlines throughout the world, occurred precisely three weeks before I joined the staff of Melody Maker, so I narrowly missed out on being able to report the biggest pop music news story of the decade in the biggest weekly pop paper. At the time, of course, it came as a shock. In those days no one really knew what was going on behind the scenes in the world of The Beatles; that the break-up had been on the cards for a while and that Ringo, John and George – in that order – had all quit before Paul made his announcement but had been persuaded by the others to either change their minds or keep schtum, largely for business reasons. John, of course, was mightily miffed that Paul had let the cat out of the bag, not least because he had formed the group in the first place and believed quite strongly that this gave him, and only him, the exclusive right to terminate it.
Nowadays we know – or think we know – so much about what was going on behind the scenes in the word of The Beatles that we don’t know who or what to believe any more. But not many serious books about The Beatles had been published by 1970 and even the best of them, Hunter Davies’ 1968 authorised biography, steered well clear of suggesting anything was ever amiss between the four individuals. Fifty years and hundreds of books – I own a modest 35 – later we are in a world of information overload but at the time it was greeted with disbelief and worldwide sorrow.
But does it matter? Of course not. What matters is the ongoing love and respect for The Beatles and the music they made, and the enjoyment it continues to give to succeeding generations. I’ll never forget how my son, born in 1995, loved Yellow Submarine as a youngster, nor how seriously my daughter, born in 1992, coloured in a picture of George to leave among the tributes at Abbey Road when he left us in 2001.
The mere fact that this 50th anniversary is being celebrated – if that’s the right word – is surely as profound a symbol as any of the affection in which they are and always will be held. The Beatles remain the yardstick by which success in the music industry is measured, no matter that many of their accomplishments have been statistically surpassed simply because the business they did so much to create has grown so much bigger in their absence. Still, can you imagine the dissolution of any other music group ever being noted in the way this anniversary is? And still more, can you imagine the discovery of a hitherto unseen photograph of any other group besides John, Paul and George as teenagers, playing their guitars, making the news as the one below did last week?
So here’s hoping that those worthy Scouse Knights of the Realm, Paul, now 77, and Ringo, 79, survive the hardships of 2020 and, along with Yoko, who’s all of 87 now, are still here, there and everywhere in 2021.