Paul McCartney Shares Why He Was Blamed for the Beatles Breakup
It was actually John Lennon's doing, he told Howard Stern.
The Beatles unofficially broke up in 1970, but fans are still debating who was to blame for the band's demise more than a half-century later. Was it John Lennon's relationship with Yoko Ono? George Harrison's maturing into his role as a songwriter? Or could it all be traced back to the chaos that followed the 1967 overdose death of manager Brian Epstein? For years, many fans latched on to the idea that Paul McCartney had sealed the deal by going solo in 1970. But in a candid 2018 interview with Howard Stern, McCartney said that explanation for the split is dead wrong. Read on to learn why he says he was wrongly blamed for the breakup and whose fault it really was.
McCartney said Lennon was the first to call it quits.
In 2018, McCartney went on The Howard Stern Show to talk about his Egypt Station album and his life with the Fab Four. During the conversation, the now-81-year-old singer set the record straight about the band's demise. When Stern posited that "everyone has a theory [about the breakup]," McCartney interjected to say that he knew exactly who broke up the Beatles: "John." He went on: "The was a meeting where John came in and said, 'Hey guys, I'm leaving the group.'"
He said Yoko Ono was there, but that it wasn't her fault.
Ono, whom Lennon met in 1966 and married in 1969, was present for the announcement, just as she was for many of the Beatles's recording sessions, according to McCartney. While Lennon's band members then found her presence "a bit intrusive," McCartney said he grew to respect Ono's place in his bandmate's life.
"John loved strong women," McCartney recalled to Stern. In contrast to Lennon's first wife, Cynthia, who McCartney said told him she simply wanted a "pipe and slippers" guy, McCartney felt Ono suited his bandmate.
"Looking back on it, the guy was totally in love with her, and you know, you just gotta respect that," he said. "So we did and I do."
McCartney said "it just turned out" he got the blame.
As for why McCartney was blamed for instigating the split? "I don't think anyone tried to pin it on anyone. It just turned out that way," he told Stern. "Long story."
That "long story" likely includes the 1970 release of his solo album McCartney and the stunning press packet issued alongside it on April 9, 1970. Announcing that he was taking a "rest" from the Fab Four in an interview-style release, McCartney said the decision was due to "[p]ersonal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family," according to The History Channel. Asked in the Q&A if he could ever see a Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership in the future, he simply responded, "No."
Headlines were ablaze the next day. The story was framed in the Daily Mail's front page headline as "PAUL QUITS THE BEATLES." One month later, Lennon was quoted in Rolling Stone saying of himself and the other band members, "We're not even communicating with or making plans about Paul, we're just reacting to everything he does. It's a simple fact that he can't have his own way so he's causing chaos."
By year's end, McCartney filed a lawsuit to dissolve the band's partnership, and—despite Lennon noting in the same article that the members had been essentially recording as individuals for years—the burden of the complicated breakup came to fall on the shoulders of 28-year-old McCartney.
"I had to live with that because that was what people saw," he told The Guardian in 2021. "All I could do is say, no."
McCartney said it "hurt too much" to keep the band going without Lennon.
In a subsequent interview in 2020, Stern asked McCartney why he didn't choose to keep the band going with Harrison and Ringo Starr after Lennon announced his departure. McCartney explained that there was simply too much pain to go on.
"I hear what you're saying, but the thing is… that's like a family," he responded. "When families break up, it's to do with the emotion and the emotional pain…You're hurting too much, and so it wasn't going to happen. We'd been through too much, and I think we were just fed up with the whole thing."
He said they "got over it" before Lennon's death.
Part of that pain took the form of lashing out at his former bandmate. Saying both he and Lennon "weaponized songs" against each other, he admitted to Stern in 2018 that his 1971 song "Too Many People," which includes the lyric "You took your lucky break and broke it in two," was a dig at Lennon.
Fortunately, the two got over their differences and would see each other whenever McCartney was in New York City. McCartney said he was grateful for the opportunity to resolve things with his old friend before his death in 1980.
"We got over it luckily," he told Stern. "I feel very blessed that we got over it because if we hadn't, and John goes and gets killed, I don't know how I would have dealt with that…We sort of got it back together, and it was beautiful."
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