"Paul McCartney and Wings". Jeremy Pascall
The end of the Beatles - from the ashes of which arose the Wings phoenix - was marked, sadly, by protracted legal wrangling and personal bitterness. The disintegration of the world's most successful and popular group was long and complicated but it needs to be told in order to appreciate the very considerable battles that Paul McCartney had to win in order to get Wings off the ground.
It's always difficult to pinpoint change to an exact date but if there must be an anniversary for the demise of the Beatles (and, by implication, for the birth of Wings) then Friday, April 10, 1970 will do as well as any. On that day the showbusiness correspondent of the London Daily Mirror reported: "Paul McCartney has quit the Beatles."
He went on to prophesy that "Today 28-year-old McCartney will announce his decision, and the reasons for it, in a no-holds-barred statement." However, he supplied some of the possible causes of the split in advance of the statement. The main one being that Paul was in conflict with the other three Beatles over the appointment of Alien Klein as business manager. "Since the Klein appointment," the journalist confidently asserted, "Paul has refused to go to the Apple offices to work daily. He kept silent and stayed at home... He was obviously deeply cut up."
An unnamed friend of John and Paul (who were identified as the main antagonists) was quoted as saying: "The atmosphere is distinctly cool. They do not hate one another. This is just deadlock over policy." The report also mentioned that McCartney intended to bring out a solo album imminently and that he would be declaring: "I have no future plans to record or appear with the Beatles again. Or to write any more music with John."
The news came as a tremendous shock to any Beatles fan. It just could not be believed. In fact, The Times of London reported that it wasn't true! "The Apple organization this morning denied reports that Paul McCartney had left the Beatles. Mrs Mavis Smith, of the company's public relations department, said: 'This is just not true'
"But she agreed that there were no plans at the moment for more recordings: 'This Is quite normal. Next month their new LP will be issued. It has already been recorded, so consequently, as there is already material about, there are no new plans '
"She knew that Mr McCartney intended issuing a statement today on the release of a new recording, but denied that any critical statements meant a real break-up of the group."
The press office at Apple was in confusion at that time, according to a member of it, Richard Di Lello, who chronicled those mad times in The Longest Cocktail Party (Charisma Books). Somehow the news of the split had been leaked to the press, pre-empting McCartney's original plan to issue a long statement (the one referred to in the Daily Mirror report) with the review copies of the McCartney album. To sidestep continual pressures to give interviews, Paul had instructed his press officers to compile a series of questions they thought the newspapers would most want answered, submit them to him and he would write in his responses. This lengthy questionnaire would then be presented to the media with copies of his first solo LP.
Despite press prophecies, McCartney's statement did not, in so many words, say that he was quitting the Beatles. Many of the questions/answers dealt with the making of the album (the full text appears in the Appendix) but some skirted the central issue.
Q: Are all the songs by Paul McCartney alone?
A: Yes sir.
Q: Will they be socredited: McCartney?
A: It's a bit daft for them to be Lennon/McCartney-credited, so "McCartney" it is.
Q: Will Paul and Linda become a John and Yoko?
A: No, they will become Paul and Linda.
Q: Will the other Beatles receive the first copies?
A: Wait and see.
Q: Is it true that neither Alien Klein nor Abkco (Klein's company) have been nor will be in any way involved with the production, manufacturing, distribution or promotion of this new album?
A: Not if I can help it.
Q: Did you miss the other Beatles and George Martin? Was there a moment, e.g., when you thought: "Wish Ringo was here for this break?"
Q: Assuming this is a very big hit album, will you do another?
A: Even if it isn't, I will continue to do what I want - when I want to.
Q: Are you planning a new album or single with the Beatles?
Q: Is this album a rest away from the Beatles or the start of a solo career?
A: 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 a rest. So it's both.
Q: Have you any plans for live appearances?
Q: Is your break with the Beatles, temporary or permanent, due to personal differences or musical ones?
A: 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 know.
Q: Do you foresee a time when Lennon/McCartney becomes an active songwriting partnership again?
Q: What is your relationship with Klein?
A: It isn't. I am not in contact with him, and he does not represent me in any way.
Q: What is your relationship with Apple?
A: It is the office of a company which I part-own with the other three Beatles. I don't go there because I don't like offices or business, especially when I'm on holiday.
Nowhere throughout the quite lengthy 'interview' are the fateful words "I'm leaving the Beatles" committed to paper. Perhaps, at this point, Paul thought there might still be a reconciliation or that the other three might come round to his opinion of Alien Klein. It's possible that he just couldn't say it straight out, perhaps inhibited by his well-developed instincts for good public relations. Or maybe, after 15 years of such intense work and friendship with others, he found it difficult to finish it by saying brutally: "It's all over."
Whether it was openly declared or not, the release of that statement and the McCartney album signalled, effectively the end of the Beatles. The legal end - the dissolution of the partnership - would not happen for some years, after a great deal of acrimony. The creative end had probably been reached earlier, the seeds being sown during the filming of Let It Be, the recording of that album and continued through the recording of Abbey Road. (This latter was the Beatles' last recorded work together; although Let it Be was released approximately nine months after Abbey Road, it was recorded about six months before it. Its release was delayed to coincide with the premiere of the movie in May 1970.)
The reasons for the eventual break-down are many and varied; too complex to unravel thoroughly. However, McCartney delineated the three broad areas in the “interview” when he put the split down to "personal differences, business differences, musical differences." Of these the most publicly obvious, the most chewed-over in the media and, probably, the deepest, was the disagreement over business. It was to echo down the óears and even keep Paul's Wings clipped long after he had severed every other connection with the Beatles.
The Beatles' business problems basically sprang from their incredible and unprecedented success. Also, few of the people who set out in the early '60s to find fame were capable of handling it when it came in unparalleled proportions. This included Brian Epstein who was catapulted from running a modest store chain in Liverpool to heading an international, multi-million organization within a matter of years. As John Lennon said in 1971, when the full extent of the confusion surrounding Beatles' affairs was just being exposed: "Brian Epstein was a beautiful guy. He was an intuitive, theatrical guy. He knew we had something and presented us well but he had lousy business advice. We were all taken advantage of, Brian included."
The trouble was that when Epstein died of a drug overdose in 1967, he left behind an intricate and tangled financial maze into which the Beatles were locked. That year they had signed contracts that tied them tightly together for another ten years. It was this partnership which McCartney eventually had to break. The main burden it imposed was in treating the Beatles entirely as a group, it presupposed they would do everything together, all contribute equally and so all share equally in royalties from records and profits from tours, promotions, merchandizing etc. (It did not include songwriting royalties which were dealt with separately and also became the cause of an epic business struggle.)
When the Beatles split, each to make his own records or pursue his own projects, the contract was still binding. This meant that if George earned - as he did - £1,000,000 in royalties from the sale of My Sweet Lord, each of the other three Beatles was entitled to a share of it even though they had contributed nothing to the making or recording of the song. The same went for any fees earned by Ringo as a movie actor and so on.
In December 1973, Ringo expressed this dilemma and explained why they wanted to get out of it in an interview with journalist David Wigg (and included on the Polydor album The Beatles Tapes): "It's not fair that I should share in Paul's efforts, or he should share in mine because we don't work together. We all signed those silly pieces of paper when we were lads which kept us together until '76. I could just sit down for the next two years and not work and collect. Any one of us can say… 'see you in '76, just send the cheque!' "
While the Beatles was still creatively together this arrangement posed no problem. The death of Brian Epstein welded them into a closer business partnership, forcing them to take control of their own financial destiny because they didn’t want to appoint a business manager in his place. Their idealistic and rather naive plans eventually found a focus in Apple Corps Ltd - a record/fashion retailing/movie producing/electronics developing company-cum-arts foundation. It was formed in 1968 to handle the Beatles' own business and recording ventures as well as to recruit and nurture new musical talent and sponsor, support and finance a variety of artistic endeavors that could not find backing anywhere else.
Paul - probably the most energetic in the heady days of Apple's inception - explained their dream to the press. "We want a controlled weirdness. We want to see if we can get artistic freedom in a business setting." Subsequent experience proved they couldn't.
They started with the very best of professional intentions. Each Beatle would go into the office every morning, take care of business - which might be signing Mary Hopkin, organizing heliumfilled balloons for peace, handing out money to an entertainer with a plan for children's theater on the beach of a seaside resort, arranging promotion for The Beatles (White) album, the first Beatles LP to be issued on Apple - and retur home at the end of a 'conventional' working day.
This disciplined existence didn't last very long, however. Soon the Beatles became bored with being businessmen and even philanthropist. In July 69 they summarily shut the Apple Boutique not, as Paul explained, "because it was losing money, but because we thought the retail business wasn't out particular scene." In fact, the whole Apple operation was chaos. It was run along amiably loose lines that made working in and visiting the Savile Row headquarters very pleasant but was not at all conducive to good business practice. While the record side was highly successful - thanks largely to the Beatles' own spectacular contribution but also aided by hits from Mary Hopkin, Billy Preston and Badfinger - the other branches were in total disarray. Nobody ever seemed to know exactly what was intended or who was working on what and to which end.
So ill-organized was its accountancy that by January, 1969 - not a year after opening its doors - John Lennon declared to the press: "Apple is losing money. If it carries on like this, we'll be broke in six months." It was quickly becoming evident that the Beatles had to find a strong, disciplined businessman - possessing a flair for dealing with the rather bizarre personalities and methods of the record industry - to take over the day-to-day running of their company. They cast around for suitable candidates - even considering Lord Beeching, ex-supremo of British Rail - and after a lengthy search Lennon announced in February '69 that Alien Klein had been appointed.
The next month Paul married Linda Eastman whose father, Lee, and brother, John, were lawyers specializing in show business clients. This introduced the wedge that finally rent the Beatles asunder because McCartney quite naturally sought the advice of, listened to and felt loyalty towards his father- and brother-in-law. Lennon, on the other hand, had met and been deeply impressed by Klein. The choice fell between McCartney's man, Eastman, and Lennon's protege, Klein. George and Ringo were not sponsoring any candidate.
As Lennon was to remember it - bitterly, two years later, in a lengthy interview with Rolling Stone - there was a period when the decision could have gone either way. "I think somebody said let's see Alien and Eastman together, and see how it is... John Eastman had already been in. In fact, we almost signed ourselves over to the Eastmans at one time, because when Paul presented me with John Eastman, I thought well... when you're not presented with a real alternative, you take whatever is going... Finally, when we got near the point when Alien came in, the Eastmans panicked; yet I was still open. I like Allen but I would have taken Eastman if he would have turned out something other than what he was."
Lennon went on to say that he felt that Eastman "despised" him, that the lawyer "blew it" and that he refused even to meet Alien Klein. Paul, on the other hand, was antipathetic towards Klein and his business methods. Klein's reputation was of a blunt, ruthless, trouble-shooter who would brook no obstacle put in the way of getting what he felt was best for his client and himself.
With the two dominant Beatles split into two camps, what followed was probably inevitable. Perhaps the only way the rift could have been resolved was by bringing in a third, neutral, candidate to run Apple. In retrospect - with the hindsight of about four years - Paul acknowledged to Rolling Stone that even if he had got his way in the beginning, things might not have worked out too differently. "Had the Eastmans come in like I wanted, the others would have feared I was trying to screw everyone for the Eastmans. It would have been a bit hard for the others to swallow, I'm afraid, since the Eastmans were so close to me."
Klein took over the running of Apple on a three-to-one vote and Paul retreated into his own family life. But he could not, legally, withdraw from the Beatles owing to the contractual bonds thrown around them all. Klein was now heading the company in which McCartney had a quarter-share and Klein, acting on behalf of Apple Corps and the others, set out to accomplish three tasks which, he vigorously asserted, would benefit all four Beatles.
He determined to renegotiate their recording contract with EMI and succeeded in doing this to everyone's satisfaction. He then tried to buy Nems Enterprises which had been Brian Epstein's company and which still took a 25% cut of the group's earnings. Epstein had left 70% of Nems to his mother, Queenie. She sold this interest to a City of London merchant bank before Klein could act. The bank then bought out Clive Epstein's holdings in Nems (he was Brian's brother). This left the Beatles, through Apple, with a minority holding in the very company that had once managed them.
Klein's third avowed intent was to take over Northern Songs, the company that owned the copyright of Lennon and McCartney's songs. The two Beatles owned 15% each of the company which had been set up by Brian Epstein and Dick James early in the group's success. It made very good sense for the people who created the product upon which the company was founded to own that company and reap the full rewards of their own genius. Unfortunately, however, Klein was beaten to the post yet again because in April Dick James and the chairman of Northern Songs sold their 35% holding in the company to Lord (then Sir Lew) Grade's ATV. It was swiftly announced that ATV were bidding to control Northern Songs.
There now ensued a straight fight to gain control of the publishing concern by buying up enough shares to own about 50% of the company. On one side was ranged the might of ATV; on the other, all four Beatles were forged together under the leadership of Klein. Month after month through 1969, the battle waged, each side making bigger offers for shares. At one point the Beatles were prepared to pay over £2,000,000 to secure the number they needed and it would have been worth their while because the previous year Northern Songs had made a pre-tax profit of over £1,000,000. By September, the hostilities were over; ATV announced that they had bought enough shares to give them a majority holding. The Beatles had lost.
For McCartney this was a sad blow. The fruits of his writing talent had been sold, even though he owned more shares in the company than any of the other Beatles (over 750.000 valued, since the take-over, at about £1,5 million). He had hated the endless haggling and plotting, the conferences and campaigns. His disgust with it all came out in a song on side two of Abbey Road (issued during September '69, shortly after the share battle finished). It was entitled You Never Give Me Your Money and complained that:
You never give me your money
You only give me your funny paper
And in the middle of negotiations
I break down
Talking about the song, George Harrison told David Wigg: "Whatever you're involved with rubs off and influences you. Paul wrote it during all the business things that we had to go through to sort out the past. They come out in Paul's song… It was written as what we were experiencing Paul in particular... We had meetings and meetings with banks, bankers, lawyers, about contracts and shares. It was really awful because it's not the sort of thing we enjoy."
The internal arguments had continued through this time and when Paul realized the Northern Songs fight was lost (he and the others sold all their shares to ATV in October) he withdrew further from Apple, Klein and the other three. The business fight was, for the moment, finished. But it was not resolved. That would have to wait for a court decision.
Paul McCartney had ascribed the Beatles' break up to two further differences - personal and musical ones. These were, to some extent, inter-connected and had to do with the Beatles' rapid and individual development after Brian Epstein's death. They had already stopped touring by 1967 (they made their last concert appearance as a group at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, on August 29,1966) and so were not constantly in each other's company.
Back in England they started operating as individuals with their own life-styles and interests, rather than as a closely-knit group clinging together for support against the madness of fan hysteria, imprisoned hotel living and the sheer tedium and exhaustion of being almost constantly on the move. They spent much of late '66 apart to such an extent that in November Epstein was denying rumors of a split.
By 1967 the Beatles were mainly coming together for special projects - recording, filming - and rapidly developing their own enthusiasms. George was absorbing himself in the music and philosophy of the East, John and Ringo were acting, Paul was being seen as the wealthy young man-about-town, taking in the fashionably cultural events usually accompanied by Jane Asher. All the Beatles were affected by - and, indeed, spearheading - the peace/ love/meditation/drug summer but while all four studied the Maharishi Mahesh's Transcendental Meditation, neither Paul nor Ringo were as heavily involved as John and George. (When they all went to India to receive further instruction in the spring of '68, Ringo and Paul left long before the other two, apparently disillusioned by the experience.)
After Epstein's death the group was leaderless and Paul stepped into the breach, trying to give the others a direction and purpose. This led to their involvement in the first critical flop they had experienced since stardom - the Magical Mystery Tour TV film. It was his drive and energy that went into making it and, according to Lennon, he assigned the other Beatles roles within the general, loose framework. In his years of antagonism towards Paul, following the court cases. Lennon frequently accused his expartner of attempting to dominate the group and this was a charge he laid against him in connection with Magical Mystery Tour. He did, rather schizophrenically, admit that it was Paul who had kept the group together following Epstein's death but insisted that both he and George had started to resent McCartney's overbearing attitude towards them.
This was much more marked when it came to music. Lennon once claimed that his songwriting partnership with Paul had effectively finished "around 1962." Certainly they had grown apart increasingly over the years, writing their own songs and occasionally asking for the other's help when a lyric or melody wouldn't work out. Although they shared the credits (and the royalties) it had never been a secret that Yesterday, for example, was entirely Paul's creation or Nowhere Man was written solely by John. However, it wasn't always that cut and dried and the two certainly worked together on some of the songs on Sgt. Pepper.
The trend after Pepper had been towards albums made up of the four individuals' work and this caused re-sentments. McCartney has always had the most remarkable and enviable facility for writing melodic, successful songs. It's a God-given talent that allows him to apparently snatch a hit out of the air while others have to graft away at every riff and line of lyric. It also meant that at any time he had a substantial backlog of excellent material waiting to be recorded.
This can be hard on others. As John told Rolling Stone: "Paul had a tendency to come along and say he's written these ten songs, let's record now. And I said, 'Well, give us a few days, and I'll knock a few off.' " This prolificacy led to charges by the others - particularly George - that A-sides of singles and album tracks were unfairly hogged by McCartney songs.
There was also a distinct difference in musical tastes in the later years. Neither George nor John expressed any great fondness - indeed they sometimes indicated considerable antipathy - towards such McCartney creations as Maxwell's Silver Hammer and others that leant towards the sentimental or whimsical. They felt such songs had no place in the Beatles' repertoire and John is reported as saying "Why don't you give them to Mary Hopkin? The only time we need stuff vaguely that quality is for a single. For an album we could only do stuff we really dig."
John articulated their different attitudes to music styles in an affidavit presented at court hearings in 1971. He said: "From our earliest days in Liverpool, George and I on the one hand and Paul on the other had different musical tastes. Paul preferred 'pop type' music and we preferred what is now called 'underground'."
By winter 1968, The Beatles (White) album showed how sharp the musical rift now was. There were songs instantly identifiable as Paul's (for example, Back In The USSR, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da - which John reportedly hated - Martha, My Dear, Blackbird and others); as John's (like Glass Onion, Happiness Is A Warm Gun, I'm So Tired, Julia etc); as George's (While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Piggies, Savoy Truffle and Long, Long, Long) and as Ringo's (Don't Pass Me By). George described the making of that album as "misery" mostly because of musical disagreements which were soon to come to a head over the making of Let It Be.
Viewing the Let It Be movie with the advantage of hindsight, it seems to pin-point two areas of tension within the group - the squabbles about music and the intrusion of two 'strangers' into the group - Linda and Yoko. These were dwelt on at length by George, some years after the event.
One particular incident stood out in his mind. It occurred during the Let It Be filming and hinged around the way Paul treated him. He testified about it in written evidence given before a London High Court in February, 1971. His account read: "In 1968 I went to the United States [he had been recording an album with Jackie Lomax for Apple] and had a very easy co-operation with many leading musicians. This contrasted with the superior attitude which for years past Paul had shown towards me musically."
He then went onto talk about filming at Twickenham studios. This was not an enjoyable experience because "it was dismal and cold, and we were all getting a bit fed up with our surroundings.
"In front of the cameras, as we were actually being filmed, Paul started to 'get at' me about the way I was playing, I decided I had had enough and told the others I was leaving. This was because I was musically dissatisfied.
"After a few days the others asked me to return, and since I did not wish to leave them in the lurch in the middle of filming and recording, and since Paul agreed that he would not try to interfere or teach me how to play, I went back."
George later expanded on this clash during an interview with New Musical Express in 1976: "As soon as we got back together playing (after George's return from the States) Paul went into this 'You do this, you do that, don't do this, don't do that,’ and I thought, 'Christ, I thought he'd woken up by now.' He seemed so understanding when he'd sing songs like Let It Be. He comes over as sort of hip to that, but when it comes to practicing… it was just misery."
The altercation between the two of them was caught by the cameras for all the world to see and George recalled: "That part was so awful for me to see. Where I say, 'Look, I'll play whatever you want - I'll play if you want me to play, I won't play if you don't want me to play - but just shut up with all this.' That was the day I left. For me, that was when I made my decision. It was the final straw."
This fundamental division in the approach to how the group should be making music was further highlighted in Let It Be. There's a sequence showing Paul at his most forceful, trying hard to merge the four disparate personalities into a cohesive whole. He's attempting to motivate them towards making the movie, to come up with decisions as to the sort of film they want. He accepts the role of spokesman and he does it for the best possible reasons. McCartney really believes in the Beatles and wants to drive them on.
He delivers a lecture to the others and says, in part: "We've been very negative since Mr Epstein passed away... we haven't been positive. That's why all of us in turn have been sick of the group... There's nothing positive in it. It's a bit of a drag. The only way for it not to be a bit of a drag is for the four of us to think, should we make it positive or should we forget it? ... It's discipline we need. It's like everything you do, you always need discipline. We've never had discipline. Mr Epstein, he said ... 'Get suits on' and we did. And so we were always fighting that discipline bit. But now it's silly to fight that discipline if it's your own ... I think we need a bit more if we are going to get on with it."
This desire of Paul's for organization and order, for getting on with the job and working at it until it came up to his very high standards, became an important factor in his running of Wings. He disciplines himself to work and expects others to match his dedication and insistence on meticulous preparation. He can enforce this sort of regime when the group is demonstrably his own (if the other members don't like it, they can leave). But the Beatles had always operated as a rough democracy, putting decisions to the vote with the majority will prevailing. Previously, they had united against those who tried to govern them. Frequently, they would grudgingly bow to an unpopular Epstein dictate and find relief by resorting to a mocking group humor. Now, one of their own stood up and tried to take the lead and they reacted against him.
These personal antagonisms were exacerbated by the influence of two women - Linda and Yoko. In '68 Lennon was besotted by Yoko Ono and her ideas, fired with enthusiasm to work with her for peace, to create happenings and works of art with her. This love looked, from the outside, like obsession; it was eruptive and sudden. All at once the newspapers were full of reports of their extraordinary doings and they rapidly became objects of public hilarity and abuse. The press seemed unable to grasp what Lennon saw in this "crazy Japanese woman" who shot films of naked bottoms. Their suspicions of the couple's lunacy seemed to be confirmed in November 1968 when they released their Two Virgins album which featured a full frontal nude photo of themselves on the cover.
If the press and public's reaction to the Lennon/Ono relationship was incredulous, what was that of the other three Beatles? They, after all, had known Cynthia Lennon for years and must have felt some personal emotion when she divorced John, citing Yoko. And what were they to make of the astonishing change that had been wrought in him since his meeting with this avant garde artist?
According to John, in his days of bitterness during 1971, the other Beatles "despised her. . . They insulted her and they still do." He told Rolling Stone: "You can quote Paul... he said it many times, at first he hated Yoko and then he got to like her. But it's too late for me ... George insulted her right to her face at the beginning, just being 'straightforward' . . . because Dylan and a few people said she'd got a lousy name in New York... That's what George said to her! And we both sat through it. I didn't hit him, I don't know why... Ringo was all right, so was Maureen, but the other two really gave it to us. I can't forgive them for that."
There's no doubt that Yoko's introduction to the charmed circle was resented, especially when she seemed to assume that she would work with the Beatles. John admitted in the same interview that he was all for expanding the Beatles, broadening them out, trying to turn them on to the sort of avant garde music he and Yoko were making. He also admits that "Yoko was naive, she came in and she would expect to perform with them, like she would with any group, she was jamming, but there would be a sort of coldness about it."
Years later, George looked back on those days and remembered: "Around 1968 everyone's egos started going crazy. Maybe it was just lack of discretion. But a lot of feelings got hurt and probably the biggest problem of all was that there was no way Yoko Ono or Linda McCartney was going to be in the Beatles. That really helped put the nail in the coffin.
"That's said without any bitterness against Yoko or Linda, because I can really enjoy them as people, but let's face it, the Beatles were not with Yoko or Linda. I suppose it was a result of Yoko being an outsider, coming in ... and John was pushing her… and she had such a strong ego anyway. Then Paul got Linda to get his own back."
Much of this internal dissension is exposed in the Let It Be movie. By early 1969, when it was filmed, the schisms within the group were apparent and increasing. By the beginning of 1970 the three great factors influencing the final split - business, musical and personal differences - had all reached a crisis. Most of It was still unknown to the public. But on April 10, 1970 came the announcement that Paul McCartney had left the Beatles; on April 17 his first solo album was released in Britain and barely a month later Let It Be - which seemed to show the break-up actually happening - was on view. At last, there was proof of the unimaginable, the unthinkable - the Beatles were dead. And, it seemed, Paul McCartney had killed them.