BARRY LEVINE: The end of Beatlemania

The Beatles (Special photo)

The Beatles (Special photo)


Barry Levine

The most famous date in the history of rock ‘n’ roll is unquestionably Feb. 3, 1959, when an early-morning airplane crash in Iowa claimed the lives of three young singers, Buddy Holly, 22, Ritchie Valens, 17, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, as well as the craft’s young pilot.

All three already had multiple Top 40 hits with Holly having eight and Valens and Richardson two each.

The deadly crash was so profound that movies were made about two of the singers, “The Buddy Holly Story” starring Gary Busey in 1978 and “La Bamba” starring Lou Diamond Phillips in 1987.

If Feb. 3, 1959, is the most memorable date in rock history, then challenging for the runner-up spot is April 10, 1970, when Paul McCartney of the Beatles announced that he was leaving the most successful group in rock ‘n’ roll history.

From their initial appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 until their split in April 1970, The Beatles charted 52 songs, third all-time behind Elvis Presley (114) and Elton John (59). They had 20 No. 1 hits, an all-time record, two more than Presley. Fourteen of their hits reached the Top 10, four fewer than Presley’s record. Presley’s chart history spanned from 1956 to 1981, four times longer than The Beatles.

Rumors had persisted about the breakup of the “Fab Four” for eight months prior to McCartney’s stunning announcement as John Lennon allegedly had told the other Beatles in September 1969 that he was planning to leave the group.

After the split, there were occasional collaborative recording efforts among the Beatles, most notably Ringo Starr’s 1973 album “Ringo” which was the only time that the four - although on separate tracks - appeared on the same album after April 10, 1970.

Starr’s 1976 album “Ringo’s Rotogravure” is the last album after 4/10/70 on which all four Beatles contributed and are credited. Starr’s contributions were drumming and songwriting. John Lennon, McCartney and George Harrison all composed one track apiece.

After Mark David Chapman gunned down John Lennon in front of the singer’s Manhattan apartment building on Dec. 8, 1980, McCartney and Starr appeared on Harrison’s single “All Those Years Ago” and the trio reunited for the “Anthology” project in 1994, using two unfinished Lennon demos — “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love”- for what would be the final new songs to be recorded and released as the Beatles.

But why did the breakup occur and what kind of success did they have immediately following the split?

They broke up for the same reason why they experienced unparalleled success — they were extremely talented musicians who became interested in trying new things.

The discord actually started in 1967 with the death of Brian Epstein, who had managed the group since 1961. Epstein was the one who kept the Beatles working together, resolving disputes, soothing bruised egos and handling the group’s money matters.

After Epstein’s death, McCartney tried to act as the group’s leader.

His first major decision backfired when he got the group involved in the “Magical Mystery Tour” film. While the associated album did well, the film was a disaster financially and artistically. Lennon mocked McCartney for the failure, and while McCartney still ostensibly led the group, the others did not follow him.

In a split vote with McCartney in opposition, the Beatles decided to hire American businessman and record executive Allen Klein as their new manager in 1969. He failed to succeed in this role.

Meanwhile, the members of the group began moving in different directions.

Lennon became more interested in the art scene. At an exhibit in London, he met artist Yoko Ono. They fell in love, got married in 1969 and planned art projects together. In the beginning, he tried to get the other Beatles to join, but they had little interest for these projects, and eventually Lennon worked with Yoko on their artwork without them.

Harrison, meanwhile, was unhappy with his role with the group and began preparing for life after The Beatles. He felt that he had the same songwriting skills as Lennon and McCartney, but was only allowed two songs per album, which placed him in a subordinate role.

In retaliation, Harrison began working on solo projects — including the album “Wonderwall Music” which was released in 1968 and was the first solo album by a Beatle.

Harrison then released “All Things Must Pass,” a triple album consisting of two discs of his songs and the third of recordings of Harrison jamming with friends. Considered his best work, the album topped the charts. It also produced the No. 1 hit “My Sweet Lord” and the Top 10 single “What Is Life.”

After The Beatles’ break-up in 1970, McCartney continued his musical career with his first solo release, “McCartney,” a No. 1 album. Despite some vocal contributions from Linda McCartney, “McCartney” is a one-man album, with Paul providing compositions, instrumentation and vocals.

1971, he collaborated with Linda and drummer Denny Seiwell on a second album, “Ram,” a Top 5 seller. The No. 1 single “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” came from that album. Later in 1971, ex-Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine joined the McCartneys and Seiwell to form the band Wings, which became highly successful.

McCartney, who is still touring, had enjoyed one of the greatest careers of anyone in the music business. He has had 32 No. 1 hits and 60 gold discs. An incredible 2,200 artists have covered his copyrighted hit “Yesterday,” a record.

Starr released two albums before the end of 1970: “Sentimental Journey” and country-inspired “Beaucoups of Blues.” In 1973, Starr earned two No. 1 hits with “Photograph,” that was co-written with Harrison, and “You’re Sixteen.”

Starr also is still performing.

Barry Levine writes entertainment stories for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at dot0001@yahoo.com.