Paul McCartney dropped the bombshell during an April 1970 interview to promote his first solo album. His band, the Beatles, had broken up due to “personal differences, business differences, musical differences, but most of all because I have a better time with my family,” he revealed.
His comments, which made headlines around the world a little more than 50 years ago, led many to lay blame for the split squarely on Paul, 79. But in a new interview with BBC Radio 4, he insists he never wanted a “divorce” from his fellow bandmates, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
“I didn’t instigate the split. That was our Johnny … John walked into a room one day and said, ‘I am leaving the Beatles,’” Paul recalls, adding that he was upset because he thought the group was still “putting out pretty good stuff” when they called it quits. “This was my band, this was my job, this was my life, so I wanted it to continue.”
John’s dissatisfaction with being part of the world’s most popular and successful band grew as he developed a bigger social conscience. He wanted to “lie in bed in Amsterdam for peace. And you couldn’t argue with that,” says Paul, who does not blame John’s wife, Yoko Ono, for his change of heart. “The point of it really was that John was making a new life with Yoko,” he explains. “They were a great couple. There was huge strength there.”
But John’s departure left the others scrambling for a new path. Paul recalls it as “the most difficult period of my life.” He particularly hated the need for lawyers and secrecy.
“Around about that time, we were having little meetings, and it was horrible. It was the opposite of what we were. We were musicians not meeting people,” he remembers, adding that he just wanted it all to be over quickly. “For a few months, we had to pretend. It was weird because we all knew it was the end of the Beatles, but we couldn’t just walk away.”
Next summer, Paul will celebrate his 80th birthday. As one of the two last surviving members of the Beatles, he has often been asked to write his memoirs, but “the time has never been right,” he says. Instead, Paul has put together The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, a two-volume tome in which he reminisces about the creation of his songs, including his work with the Beatles. “These songs span my entire life,” he says, noting that the book, which is due out in early November, is “as close to an autobiography” as he “may ever come.”
Digging through his archives also led him to some unreleased treasures from his long partnership with John, who died in 1980. Among them are the lyrics to an unrecorded Lennon-McCartney song called “Tell Me Who He Is” and a script for a radio play.
“It is quite a funny thing called Pilchard, and it is about the Messiah, actually,” says Paul, who can’t help but look back at all of it — even the uncertainty of the Beatles breakup — with a sense of wonder. “I was actually working with the great John Lennon, and he with me,” Paul says. “It was very exciting.”