You never give me your money: the battle for the soul of the Beatles

Peter Doggett

They spent their 20’s making fantastic music and charming the world. They formed Apple Corp which was going to both look after their interests and change the way the music business worked. Then the band imploded for a variety of reasons and they got to spend the rest of their lives in and out of courtrooms and defending or tearing down the Beatles reputation as they, their lawyers and their publicists saw fit. They were also trying to disentangle their personal and corporate relationships. Many lawyers dined well on their slice of Apple.

No-one really gets out of this saga all that well. The four men at the centre of the storm became rich at a young age but were in many ways divorced from what the rest of us regard as real life by their celebrity. And even paranoids have enemies, as the Beatles discovered in December 1980 when John Lennon was shot by a loony “fan” with a gun. Certainly their first marriages all ended badly. One supposed supergroup featuring Harrison, Starkey and Eric Clapton was touted in the early 70’s at a time when Harrison had slept with Maureen Starkey and Clapton was moving in on Patti Harrison. It would have been an interesting tour if it had happened.

Allan Klein gets to be the villainous Nooyorka trying to separate the Beatles from their hard earned.  He plays the part well, though perhaps not so well as John Belushi portraying Ron Decline in The Rutles.

Corporate litigiousness meant that The Rutles songs were taken off t hem and half of the royalties were assigned to Lennon and McCartney. Cool, rip off the satirists! The other toxic piece of litigiousness down the years was the continuing pursuit of Apple Computers by the near moribund Apple Corp for any money they could extract from them. Maybe the Beatles weren’t really rich assholes out for a quick buck any way they could get it trading on their past glories, but they certainly hired lawyers who fit that job description.

Yoko gets to be Yoko; more so after John’s death and her rewriting of history to pass over the creativity of the lost weekend phase when Lennon produced two of his strongest solo albums. Jagger reputedly phoned a day or so after John moved back in with Yoko and said to May Pang – “Looks like I’ve lost a friend”. And surely it is just petty of Yoko to whinge about Paul claiming that Yesterday and a few of his other songs were written by McCartney & Lennon, instead of vice versa.

George sounds like he had some legitimate beefs with Paul about his being disregarded as a songwriter within the Beatles, and then he just went a bit too trippy on the Hare Krishna stuff. His long time manager screwed him over in the 1990’s. Tragically, he was viciously assaulted in his home a year or so prior to his premature death from cancer. His best moments outside the Beatles were at the start with the Bangladesh concert and the triple album All things must pass, and later with the all star Travelling Wilburys. George’s veto ensured that we have to date been spared the VW Beatle.

Richard Starkey (lose the stage name) seems only to have been able to deal with the world through an alcoholic haze for a long period of time after the Beatles, prior to stabilising his life somewhat in the 1990’s. Getting 8% of the Thomas the Tank sales was a very nice little earner. He was able on occasion to pull down favours from friends to produce some passably pleasant albums, none of which springs directly to mind.

Paul of course turned Wings into a good recording band and continued to turn out apparently worthwhile solo albums over an extended period. Following Linda’s early death he made an unfortunate second marriage and saw his life trashed across the tabloids during his divorce case. His position as the outsider in the Alan Klein years led to all sorts of continuing issues with his fellow band members, and later with Yoko.

There were only four Beatles inside the bubble and the experience was so intensely creative and operated so far from the usual constraints placed on the rest of us that it is unsurprising that breaking up proved very hard to do for the four men involved.

This is yet another book which proves that you can find out too much about the fallible human beings hidden behind the mask of heroic celebrity.

As to their musical legacy; a first pass might suggest that the ratio of dross to quality material even four decades later is a lot lower than for all but a very few popular musicians. A second pass would be grateful that they did not turn into their own cover band, as the Ronnie Wood Stones did.


One Response to You never give me your money: the battle for the soul of the Beatles

  1. Pingback: Beatles or the Stones? | Greg Tangey

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