By Andrew Magnotta
A tape of one of The Beatles‘ final meetings, recorded weeks before Abbey Road was released, is shedding new light on tensions within the band and providing a fascinating revelation about how and when The Beatles actually decided to go their separate ways.
Conventional wisdom in Beatledom has long said that the band members agreed to break up following their final studio project together, Abbey Road, with John Lennon eager to pursue the next chapter in his career.
(Though Let It Be was released eight months later, it was recorded prior to the Abbey Road sessions.)
The tape, Lennon explains at the start, is for the benefit of drummer Ringo Starr who was unable to attend the meeting due to illness. In it, Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, discuss the possibility of releasing a single in time for Christmas and, yes, their next studio album.
“The books have always told us that they knew Abbey Road was their last album and they wanted to go out on an artistic high,” Lewisohn explained. “But no — they’re discussing the next album.”
He continued, regarding Lennon: “And you think that John is the one who wanted to break them up, but when you hear this, he isn’t. Doesn’t that rewrite pretty much everything we thought we knew?”
On Lewisohn’s tape, Lennon leads the discussion, suggesting a more equal-than-ever formula for the sessions, that he, McCartney and Harrison contribute four songs apiece, and if Starr is interested in writing, he’ll get two.
Lennon also suggests that he and McCartney abandon their custom of crediting their songs to “Lennon-McCartney,” acknowledging that the two had not written collaboratively in years.
McCartney meets the suggestion with a cringeworthy comment about Harrison:
“I thought until this album that George’s songs weren’t that good,” he says, despite Harrison having authored pre-Abbey Road Beatles classics like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Taxman” and two solo albums.
To the back-handed compliment, Harrison replies: “That’s a matter of taste. All down the line, people have liked my songs.”
Lennon then reminds McCartney that no one else in the band liked “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which was on the Abbey Road album. He suggests that in the future, McCartney pass songs of that nature on to other artists.
Lewisohn utilizes the revelatory tape in a new stage show called Hornsey Road, which uses a multitude of Beatles artifacts to tell a more complete story of their relationships, their lives and their eventual break-up.
The show is a prelude to a series of books Lewisohn is working on, The Beatles: All These Years, which aims to tell the whole story of the band.
The first volume, Tune In, covers the band up until its first hit song. He says it’ll take him 14 or 15 years to finish the next two titles, Turn On and Drop Out.
The 50th anniversary edition of Abbey Road is due out September 26. Earlier this summer, fans crowded the world-famous intersection again to celebrate the golden anniversary of the album’s iconic cover photo.