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The dream was over.

John Lennon didn’t say those exact words today. He hadn’t even been planning to tell the other Beatles he was quitting; Allen Klein had convinced him that it was better to keep the band together, at least in theory, until their various legal issues could be brought onto a more favorable footing. (And there were a lot of those, involving publishing, record contracts, royalties, and so on. I’ve skipped over most of them here because I’m a fan of art, not accounting.)

But when the four Beatles got together at Apple HQ today to sign their new contract with Capitol Records, and Paul started pitching ideas for a new project like a TV special or a club tour, John snapped. Various accounts are given of how exactly he expressed it, but Paul quotes him as saying:

I think you’re daft. I wasn’t going to tell you till we signed the Capitol deal, but I’m leaving the group!

This was not the first time one of The Beatles had quit, and at first there may have been some thought — especially on Paul’s part — that John was just venting and could be talked down. George later said, “Everybody had tried to leave, so it was nothing new.” But deep down, they all knew it was over, and really it was a relief.

John:

It’s rather exciting. It’s like I remember telling Cynthia I wanted a divorce.

George:

I wanted out myself. I could see a much better time ahead being by myself, away from the band. It had ceased to be fun, and it was time to get out of it.

Ringo:

We all wanted it, because we’d all grown up a little more, and we weren’t prepared to put in the time and energy for each other.

Paul:

I must admit we’d known it was coming at some point because of his intense involvement with Yoko. John needed to give space to his and Yoko’s thing. Someone like John would want to end The Beatles period and start the Yoko period; and he wouldn’t like either to interfere with the other.

Among the four of them, George was clearly the least sad about the breakup. He was sick and tired of being the junior partner in this enterprise, and ready to move across the street and hang out his own shingle. As to who was the saddest, well… Paul had fought the hardest to keep the band together. Ringo was the most lost, the least sure of his future prospects. But deep down, even though he was the instigator, John may have taken it hardest of all. It’s all there in the howls of anguish he unleashed in “God,” recorded Sept–Oct 1970. This blog will be long done by the time that anniversary rolls around, but it’s always worth another listen:

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