The Beatles were invited to play Woodstock — which started on this day, Aug. 15 being a Friday in 1969 — but it doesn’t seem like there was ever any realistic chance of it happening. They were in the process of breaking up, after all, and though they had played a concert of sorts just seven months before, they were hardly in shape to go out on the road. The most they’d traveled together all year was out the door of the studio, across the street, and back.

Different sources give different accounts of what went down. Woodstockstory.com says that

promoters contacted John Lennon to discuss a Beatles performance at Woodstock. Lennon said that the Beatles would not play unless there was also a spot at the festival for Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band. He was turned down.

It seems unlikely that John could have delivered The Beatles if this offer was accepted, assuming it was ever made. He might have been planning to just show up with the P.O.B. and say “Like it or lump it.” But immigration issues would have made it difficult if not impossible for him to get into the U.S. at this juncture in history.

Wikipedia suggests that

When enquiries were made about The Beatles possibly appearing, it was also suggested that a recent signee to their label Apple Records should also get an invite. That artist was James Taylor. When the group declined their invitation Taylor’s invite was withdrawn as well.

Maybe so, maybe so, who can say… in any case, it’s probably just as well that The Beatles didn’t make it. Imagine the insanity of Woodstock multiplied by a Beatlemania factor… the mind boggles. And it can only be considered a blessing that the acid-addled massed were spared the horror of James Taylor.

Though they may not have been physically present, The Beatles were represented on this first day of the festival by Richie Havens — whose opening set included covers of “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Strawberry Fields,” and “Hey Jude” — and a by Friend of the Band (Specifically George) Ravi Shankar.

Meanwhile, across the pond, this was a busy day at Abbey Road. Says Geoff Emerick,

So far, every instrument on Abbey Road had been played by one of the four Beatles – in contrast to Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour, and the White Album – there had been no outside musicians involved at all. That was fine with John, but not with Paul or George Harrison, both of whom wanted orchestral instruments added to some of their songs. Accordingly, George Martin wrote some arrangements and booked London’s top players for a single marathon session.

Paul’s songs were done first, of course, with 12 violins, four violas, four cellos, four horns, three trumpets, a string bass, a trombone, and a bass trombone adding overdubs to “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” and “The End.” The evening session was devoted to George’s “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something.” When it came time to do the latter, according to Emerick,

George… announced that he wanted to redo the guitar on “Something.” We were perfectly willing to accommodate him, but the problem was that there was only one track available, and we needed to use that for the orchestra. The only solution was for him to play it live, right along with the orchestra, so we could record them simultaneously on the same track.

George himself remembered it this way:

I remember doing the solo to “Something” and it was dark in the studio and everyone was stoned. But Ringo, I think, was also doing a drum overdub on the same track, and I seem to remember the others were all busy playing. And every time I said, “Alright, let’s try another take” – because I was working it out and trying to make it better – they all had to come back and redo whatever they’d just played on the last overdub. It all had to be squeezed onto that one track, because we’d used up the other seven.

The lengthy session finally ended at 1:15 A.M. London time, around the time Havens finished his festival-opening set at Max Yasgur’s farm and one Swami Satchidananda took the stage to give his blessing to the gathered hordes:

Somewhere the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was fuming. This Swami character had stolen his gig, and even gotten to fly in on a helicopter, which the Maharishi would have loved. Karma’s a bitch.

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