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On This Day In Music… April 10, 1970: Paul McCartney Quits the Beatles

'The event is so momentous,' reported CBS News, 'that historians may, one day, view it as a landmark in the decline of the British Empire.'

paul mccartney
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Paul McCartney broke the news to a stunned world as part of a Q&A accompanying his solo album.

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On April 10, 1970, Paul McCartney, arguably the greatest songwriter of his generation, announced in a press release that he had quit the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time. “I have no future plans to record or appear with The Beatles again, or to write any music with John,” he said in a statement.

The news was broken in a Daily Mirror splash, and had come from a lengthy Q&A sent to journalists as part of the promotional material for McCartney’s solo album, set for release the following week. In that interview, McCartney’s terse answers seemed unequivocal about the fate of the Fab Four.

In response to the question, “Is your break from the Beatles temporary or permanent, due to personal difference or musical ones?” he replied: “Personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family.”

When asked, “Do you see a time when Lennon-McCartney becomes an active songwriting partnership again?” the answer was a simple, “No,” and when prompted for his thoughts on “John’s peace effort? The Plastic Ono Band… Yoko’s influence? Yoko?” he responded with the deeply cutting: “I love John and respect what he does – it doesn’t give me any pleasure.”

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beatles ed sullivan
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Only six years had passed between the Beatles' Ed Sullivan performance and their split.

After receiving the press kit, a journalist from the Mirror had called John Lennon. As reported in The Beatles: Off the Record by Keith Badman, McCartney’s former songwriting partner was equally scathing:

“I received a phone call from Paul on Thursday afternoon. He said, ‘I’m going to leave The Beatles as well.’ I was happy to hear from Paul. It was nice to find that he was still alive! Anyway, Paul hasn’t left… I sacked him.”

If the world reeled, the truth was that the Beatles had effectively broken up over six months before. The band who had invented (and then reinvented) modern pop music over the course of 11 studio albums (plus limited releases) in seven years, spawned hundreds of imitators and mastered every genre from bubblegum pop to experimental psychedelia in the course of a single hectic decade, were, by 1970, barely speaking – with each of the other three members having quit at some point in the previous two years anyway.

As McCartney revealed in 2016’s Conversations with McCartney by Paul du Noyer, “I issued the album and did this press release, which virtually had the announcement. I finally blew the whistle. And John was annoyed. He told me later that he wanted to be the one who announced it. But I felt that three or four months was enough to wait around. Either we were going to f--k about for another year, or we had to actually say to people, ‘You know what? About three or four months ago we actually broke up. I haven’t worked with them or spoken to them since then’.”

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The news of McCartney's departure was splashed on the front page of the Daily Mirror.

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The first signs of discontent had come as early as 1966, when during a tour of the United States, George Harrison had told manager Brian Epstein that he wanted out; he was persuaded to stay on the assurance that there would be no more grueling tours. Two years later, during sessions for the White Album, Ringo Starr also walked out for several weeks, claiming he felt isolated from his bandmates.

In January 1969, during the Get Back rehearsals, Harrison left again, complaining of feeling patronized and ignored as a songwriter, later stating that he offered songs “that were better than some of theirs and we'd have to record maybe eight of theirs before they'd listen to mine”.

The Beatles gave their last public performance on the rooftop of Apple’s headquarters on January 30, 1969, and the final time they recorded together was at an Abbey Road session on August 20. Exactly one month later, John Lennon privately informed his bandmates that he wanted a “divorce”… but, perhaps mindful of Harrison and Starr’s previous short-lived departures, the news was kept from the public, presumably in the hope that he’d have a change of heart.

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Over the following months it became increasingly clear that Lennon was not coming back – and as well as finishing work on Let It Be, McCartney retreated to his home studio, where he wrote and recorded a collection of lo-fi songs that would become the solo album McCartney.

“We were finishing off Let It Be and I was working on my own album,” he revealed in a 2004 MOJO interview. “The problem was that, when I came to release my thing, I suddenly realized I had to do something about publicity. Someone suggested I just fill in a Q&A and send it out with the albums when they went out to the papers. In the Q&A, I just decided to come out and say it. I was pi--ed off at having to hide from our fans the fact that we weren’t coming back. Maybe what I said was a bit succinct but, what the hell, everyone else was being succinct. There was no point in me beating around the bush. After all, they’d already broken the group up. George and Ringo had left, then come back. John had left and not come back. How f---ing succinct is that?”

beatles mccartney lennon
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John Lennon had unofficially left the Beatles in September 1969.

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If McCartney’s frustration at “having to hide from our fans the fact that we weren’t coming back” prompted his decision, his erstwhile bandmates viewed the manner of his announcement – packaged as part of the promotional material for his solo album – as insensitive at best, and a betrayal at worst.

“A few people said, ‘This is outrageous!’ and John, I think, was very hurt,” he explained in the book Many Years From Now by Barry Miles. “I personally think he was hurt because he wanted to tell. I don’t think it was anything more than that, I think it was just straightforward jealousy. He wanted to be the one, because he’d been the one to break up the Beatles and he hadn’t had the nerve to follow it through… But we’d not seen each other for three or four months and I had been ringing, calling George and Ringo and asking ‘Do you think we’ll get back together?’ ‘Well, I don’t know, what about John?’ and I’d ring John. ‘Oh no! F---ing hell!’ So it was obviously not on. So I let the news out. So I was not loved for that by the other guys and that started a war between us.”

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'When the spinning stops – that’ll be the time to worry. Not before. Until then, The Beatles are alive and well and the Beat goes on, the Beat goes on.'

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As the news spread, reporters and fans besieged the Apple offices in London, with CBS News reporting: “The event is so momentous that historians may, one day, view it as a landmark in the decline of the British Empire... The Beatles are breaking up.”

In response, Apple issued what would be the final press statement about the group.

“Spring is here and Leeds play Chelsea tomorrow and Ringo and John and George and Paul are alive and well and full of hope,” it read. “The world is still spinning and so are we and so are you. When the spinning stops – that’ll be the time to worry. Not before. Until then, The Beatles are alive and well and the Beat goes on, the Beat goes on.”

In 2002, McCartney reflected on the moment. “It doesn’t matter who broke the Beatles up – the Beatles were ready to breakup,” he said in Wingspan: Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run. “We’d come full circle and now we had to get on to something new, all of us.”


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