And In the End: The Last Days of The Beatles
And In The End: The Last Days of The Beatles
By Ken McNab
[Thomas Dunne Books]
“More words have been written about The Beatles than any other band in the world. But the purpose of this book was to examine month by month the various threads that took on a life of their own from the first day of 1969 until the last and then to form them into a cohesive show.” So, begins And In The End: The Last Days of The Beatles, Ken McNab’s new addition to a vein of music history scholarship that has been mined to the last bit of Beatles ore. For many, there were either one or two musical Beatles events in 1969, the Let It Be/Get Back sessions, which supplied the famous rooftop concert, and the release of Abbey Road. And since Let It Be wasn’t released until 1970, for most Abbey Road encapsulates 1969. There was so much more and McNab does a heroic job at compiling 12 months of Beatles activity in 12 chapters.
It is no secret that The Beatles broke up in 1969 but during that time they still made wonderful music – Abbey Road is considered by many to be their finest long player. There was love and a little bit of hate but through it all their embrace of their musical superiority allowed them to do so much more than become tabloid fodder. McNab must simultaneously chronicle The Beatles’ musical, personal and legal output without losing the reader or the thread of it all. For those who have seen the Let It Be film, the January tensions are well documented. Yoko Ono had become a constant fixture and Paul McCartney was trying to keep the band on track. George Harrison, often filled with good vibes, tried to apply a soothing salve/balm during an exchange with McCartney. “I’ll play what you want me to play,” he said. “Or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.” This approach often worked but on January 10 it didn’t. “Harrison’s tolerance snapped,” writes McNab. “[John] Lennon was sabotaging the sessions, putting his own self-interest before that of the band, was continuing to patronize him personally and was treating them all with contempt. He railed bitterly at Lennon for his put-downs of George’s new songs, and brusquely added that he was leaving the band. ‘When?’ asked a startled Lennon. ’Now,’ snapped Harrison. ‘See you ’round the clubs. Put an ad in the NME.’”
None of The Beatles had ventured much outside of their own bubble but in 1968 Harrison had visited Bob Dylan near Woodstock, NY and had been exposed to another way of band operation. “Harrison marveled at Dylan and The Band’s egalitarianism,” McNab writes. “It was the complete antithesis of his own situation.” Regarding the famous rooftop jam, McNab interviewed both a cameraman and a police officer who was sent to shut it down.
In between the end of Get Back and before the Abbey Road sessions there was a lot of activity. Both McCartney and Lennon got married and “Old Brown Shoe,” “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” and “Give Peace A Chance” were recorded. All of Lennon and Ono’s antics are revealed including their travel from London>Gibraltar>Paris>Amsterdam>Montreal. For the Montreal recording of “Give Peace A Chance,” an interview with the recording engineer who set up gear in the hotel room is included. Abbey Road is thoroughly examined, especially all that went into the creation of the famous cover photo. There is even an interview with one of the painters who witnessed the whole event – and appears on the cover.
For those interested in the sale of Northern Songs, Lennon & McCartney’s publishing company, to ATV (and eventually to Michael Jackson years later) or how NEMS was lost or how Allen Klein manipulated the narrative will delight at McNab’s thorough research. Yes, New Yorker Klein did turn out to be rotten and yes, Lennon (as well as Harrison and Ringo Starr) was charmed by his similar “street” upbringing. Klein figured that the best way to Lennon was through Ono. When the three met, “Klein had arranged for the hotel to serve Yoko the macrobiotic rice he knew she liked, and he lavished attention on her throughout dinner,” reports McNab. Klein was responsible for so much: the re-release of all the US Beatles LPs on Apple, Harrison getting his first A-Side, and the breaking of the longstanding Beatles tradition of not releasing singles that had already appeared on albums.
There is so much more here, from Angus McBean’s recreation of the Please Please Me album cover, to Lennon & Ono’s performance at Cambridge University; from Apple’s creative designer reveal that “It was my decision to not have the word ‘Beatles’ on the cover [of Abbey Road],” to the Plastic Ono Band’s debut in Toronto; from Lennon returning his MBE to the Queen to Harrison’s brief tour with Delany & Bonnie (with Eric Clapton). McNab’s collaring of the DJ who helped spread the “Paul is Dead” rumors is as essential as the realization that “Ringo would be the first pop star to cherry-pick his way through the Great American Songbook” with is Sentimental Journey LP.
There are some inexcusable errors (George Martin being called “a silent musical collaborator”) and needless liberties taken (Harrison is referred to as “The Quiet Beatle” four times and a “Dark Horse” once) but one can get past these when presented with the indefatigable effort McNab put into his research. There is an air of finality throughout the book. McNab notes that “on August 1, Lennon presented ‘Because’ to the band. It was the last new song that all four would work on from scratch.” “‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’ was the last song that all four collectively worked on under The Beatles banner, and August 21 was the last time these four musicians would gather in a recording studio together at the same time.” A photo shoot “on August 22 was the final time John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr would be pictured together.”