In numerous interviews, from 1969 through the end of 1971, Lennon, Ono and Klein explicitly labeled McCartney and his in-laws “conservatives,” “bourgeoisie/middle class,” and establishment figures, while identifying themselves as “counter-cultural” or “anti-establishment.” As the official, singular Beatles narrative splintered into opposing versions, this politicization of the breakup impacted press coverage, prompting the rock and roll press in particular to choose sides. In addition, during the breakup’s most fraught period, Lennon argued that McCartney’s establishment leanings essentially caused the schism which led to the band’s end. In this interpretation, the Beatles primarily broke up not due to heavy drug use, leadership struggles, contrasting musical differences, or increasing personal tensions. Instead, the argument was that McCartney’s middle-class sensibilities and political conservatism encouraged his “selfish” and “unreasonable” refusal to follow Lennon’s lead in accepting Klein as Beatles manager.
This version was promoted by Lennon, Ono and Klein throughout the crucial breakup years of 1970 and 1971, and initially went unchallenged by everyone excepting McCartney, who argued that his aversion to Klein was motivated by legitimate concerns regarding Klein’s legal and financial affairs. By 1972, Lennon was quietly retreating from many of his 1971 claims. By 1973, drastic changes in the American political scene, as well as in the lives of the ex-Beatles, and their respective relationships with Klein, abruptly ended this official politicization of the band’s split. In 1980, perceptions remained that class tensions had inspired animosity within the Beatles, but Lennon’s initial claims that these political differences caused the band’s split had largely been forgotten. Although significant contemporaneous evidence indicates that the straights vs. establishment political issue initially played a key role in framing the reasons behind the Beatles breakup, this crucial political element is rarely to never identified as a primary cause in the majority of the band’s post-1973 literature. How and why did this politicization first become a cornerstone of Lennon’s version of the Beatles break up? And how and why did it then essentially vanish from Beatles historiography within such a short period of time?
In 1971, the press and many fans were ubiquitous in their belief that the tensions between Lennon and McCartney resulted, to a significant degree, from political differences: “Rolling Stone” reviewer Ben Gerson attributed at least part of the motivation for the “character assassination” in “How do you Sleep,” to “the traditional bohemian contempt for the bourgeoisie.” 1972’s Apple to the Core is the first book to attempt to chronicle – and assign blame for – the Beatles breakup. In the work, for which Lennon, Ono, and Klein provided extensive interviews, (McCartney declined), author Peter McCabe blames the Eastman’s and McCartney’s middle-class sensibilities for the band’s split, and concurs with the widespread accusations in the rock press that McCartney had betrayed the counterculture: “Paul made no attempt to defend himself against the accusations of the underground press.” Nicholas Schafner, author of the influential late 1970s work The Beatles Forever, concurred: “Most of them [rock critics] were already inclined to take John’s side in the Beatles Civil War; Paul was viewed as a traitor to the counterculture who had broken up the Beatles.”
- J. Lennon “John Raps Paul,” Melody Maker, December 4, 1971, The Beatles Interview Database, http://www.beatlesintervieworg/db1971.11jp.beatles.htlmel (accessed February 7, 2018).
2. Wenner, Jann. Lennon Remembers. New ed. (London: Verso, 2000)., 129.
3. McCabe, Peter and Robert Schonfeld. Apple to the Core: The Unmaking of the Beatles. (London: Martin, Brian and O’Keefe, 1972)., 151.
4. Frontani, “The Solo Years,” The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles, 164.
McCabe and Schonfeld, Apple to the Core, 139.
5. Ibid., 168.
6. Numerous examples include Lennon’s testimony at the Beatles March 1971 Trial, the December 1970 Lennon Remembers Interview, Peter McCabe And Robert Schonfeld’s Apple to the Core, Lennon’s December 1971 letter to Melody Maker, The John Lennon Letters, which includes personal correspondence with McCartney, John Lennon’s November 1971 St. Regis Interviews, Allen Klein’s November 1970 Playboy interview, and “How Do You Sleep.”
7. Peter Doggett’s essential evaluation of the band’s breakup, You Never Give Me Your Money (2009), acknowledges the growing political differences between Lennon and McCartney but does not identify them as the key reason for McCartney’s resistance to Klein or the band’s split. Numerous group and individual biographies, including Joe Goodden’s Riding So High (2016) and Peter Brown’s memoir The Love You Make (1984), argue that Lennon’s heroin use was a key factor. In The Beatles Anthology, the band’s producer George Martin identifies the introduction of Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman into the band’s orbit as spurring the breakup, because they altered the previous core relationship within the band: “They [Yoko and Linda] were more important to John and Paul than John and Paul were to each other.” (The Beatles. The Beatles Anthology, (Apple Corps, 2000)., 352). McCartney argues in his semi-autobiography Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now (1997) that Lennon’s psychological issues and heavy LSD and heroin use, along with his consuming artistic relationship with Ono, prompted the split. Jonathan Gould, Ian MacDonald, Bob Spitz, Mikal Gilmore and Mark Lewisohn, among others, also all offer versions of the breakup that reject the original, politically motivated narrative.
8. McCabe and Schonfeld, Apple to the Core, 202.
9. Doggett, Peter. There’s a Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars, and the Rise and Fall of the 60’s, (Canongate, New York, 2007)., 395.
10. Frontani, “The Solo Years,” The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles, 162.
11. Nicholas Schafner, The Beatles Forever, (Common House, Harrisburg, Pa. 1977)., 151
This is the second excerpt from the MVHC presentation/paper I presented in March. There should be other excerpts; hopefully posted soon, my grading schedule permitting. For anyone who’s particularly interested in this topic but has not yet had a chance to delve into it, I highly suggest Doggett’s “There’s a Riot Going On” as a well-researched analysis of the intersection of the politics, the rock press, and the counterculture occurring within the same time frame as the Beatles’ breakup. However, Doggett’s view of the issues extends beyond the Beatles. Thoughts and comments are welcomed.