The Beatles were once the biggest band in the world – and then, they were not. Ahead of Peter Jackson’s Disney+ documentary, here’s what you need to know about why the Beatles broke up.
On January 30, 1969, four men stood on top of the Apple Corps headquarters at 3 Savile Row in London, England. Unbeknownst to those who watched, this would be the last time The Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr – would ever play together. A year later, the group would be broken up, and their final moments were seemingly captured in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary, Let It Be. Now, more than 50 years later, Peter Jackson looks to challenge that narrative and finally answer the lingering questions: when did the Beatles break up, and what really drove the band apart?
“It’s sort of that one impossible fan dream,” Peter, 60, told The New York Times about Get Back, the upcoming seven-plus hour project hitting Disney+ on Nov. 25. The documentary, divided into three parts, was made after Peter was given access to nearly 60 hours of unseen footage recorded during the Let It Be sessions. “Everyone sort of thinks it’s a whitewash,” the Lord of the Rings director told the NYT, but insisted it isn’t. “It shows everything that Michael Lindsay-Hogg could not show in 1970. It’s a very unflinching look at what goes on.”
When Did The Beatles Break Up?
April 10, 1970, holds grave significance in Beatles lore, for it is the day that Paul McCartney seemingly announced his departure from the band. Paul released a “self-interview” to the press as part of the lead-up to his debut solo album, McCartney, according to History. “Q: ‘Is this album a rest away from the Beatles or the start of a solo career?’ PAUL: ‘Time will tell. Being a solo album means it’s ‘the start of a solo career…and not being done with the Beatles means it’s just a rest. So it’s both.’”
Paul also asked himself if this break with the Beatles was temporary or permanent. He replied, “Personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family. Temporary or permanent? I don’t really know.” While this wasn’t a definitive announcement of a breakup, many in the press took it as such.
“[Paul] can’t have his own way, so he’s causing chaos,” John Lennon said in the May 14, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone. “I put out four albums last year, and I didn’t say a f-cking word about quitting.” Those albums would be Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions, the Wedding Album, and Live Peace In Toronto 1969, all collaborations with Yoko Ono.
In May 1970, The Beatles put out Let It Be, its twelfth and final studio album. It came with the documentary film of the same name, which captured the album’s recording process and the rooftop performance. The Let It Be film, Paul McCartney wrote for a new reissue of the Let It Be album, was “pretty sad as it dealt with the breakup of our band, but the new film shows the camaraderie and love the four of us had between us.” (h/t The New York Times)
While the generally accepted knowledge is that The Beatles broke up in 1970, fans and historians have argued that the group was on the rocks long before that. The rooftop performance took place in 1969, but the Beatles’ final paid concert took place three years earlier, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on Aug. 29, 1966 (h/t Newsweek).
Why Did The Beatles Break Up?
“Our movie doesn’t show the breaking up of the Beatles,” Jackson told The New York Times, “but it shows the one singular moment in history that you could possibly say was the beginning of the end.”
That singular moment is the introduction of Allen Klein, an American business manager who arrived days before the 1969 rooftop performance to offer his services. The Beatles’ longtime manager, Brian Epstein, passed away on August 27, 1967, due to an accidental overdose. “I knew that we were in trouble then,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in December 1970. “I didn’t really have any misconceptions about our ability to do anything other than play music, and I was scared. I thought, ‘We’ve f-cking had it.’”
When Allen Klein arrived, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr signed on with him. Paul McCartney declined, causing a rift that never fully healed. “I had to fight, and the only way I could fight was in suing the other Beatles because they were going with Klein,” he said in an October 2021 interview with BBC Radio 4, per The Guardian. “And they thanked me for it years later.” Paul insister that he wasn’t the one who instigated the breakup. “I didn’t instigate the split. That was our Johnny … John walked into a room one day and said, ‘I am leaving the Beatles.’ Is that instigating the split, or not?”
One element contributing to the band’s breakup was burnout and creative pressure. The group released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band in 1967, transforming the group into perceived musical geniuses. The pressure to follow that album up was immense, and Get Back captures some of those moments of creative struggle. Jackson’s new documentary also corrects the narrative that many Beatles fans already know: though Abbey Road was released before Let It Be, it was actually recorded afterward.
Let It Be was recorded in January 1969. Work on Abbey Road began that February and concluded that August. The album was released in September 1969.
Many fans have blamed the Beatles’ breakup on Yoko Ono, but as You’re Wrong About noted in their September 2019 episode, the cracks in the Beatles’ relationships were near-fissures by the time she showed up.
Ultimately, The Beatles broke over a combination of things: clashing egos, creative burnout, legal woes, and the pressures of being the biggest band in the world.
How Can You Watch The New Beatles Documentary?
The first installment of The Beatles: Get Back hits Disney+ on Nov. 25. Each episode is approximately two hours in length. The second and third episodes will arrive on Nov. 26 and 27, exclusively on Disney+. According to a press release, per Variety, the documentary has been made with “the enthusiastic support of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon, and Olivia Harrison.”