I have now gone through all your podcasts. I’m so grateful for your perspectives! Question: We know John obsessed about Paul throughout the 70’s, he was remorseful and apologized in some of his song lyrics, Linda said Paul “was desperate to write with John again”, they had planned to do a reunion concert in England according to something John wrote in a document, etc. So WHY do you think the Beatles didn’t reform as early as the mid- 70’s, particularly after the exit of Allen Klein?Our Tumblr Asks
Ahh, that’s a million dollar question! We think John and Paul were probably the ones who wanted a reunion the most, but nevertheless they likely both had major reservations.
From our POV, Paul had the least to gain from a Beatles reunion in the mid 70s. Wings was a roaring success by that point. Paul had finally managed to establish an identity outside of the Beatles and, for the first time post-Beatles, was enjoying both commercial and critical success simultaneously. George and Ringo OTOH weren’t doing great (after each had experienced much success in the early 70s). John was coming off a pair of successful solo albums (and a #1 with Elton John) but by 1975 he was coming up dry and making an oldies album to fulfill his contract. Paul was in a very strong position by 75-76.
This is just our take, but we believe that while John and Paul were both tempted to revive Lennon/McCartney, we’re skeptical that either was really into the idea of a re-formed Beatles. We think they were excited but nervous to work together again and would’ve ultimately used George and Ringo as buffers (this is not to denigrate George or Ringo, this is just our impression of how John and Paul thought). Predictably enough, we don’t think George was EVER enthusiastic about a Beatles reunion. Maybe if the other three applied enough peer pressure he wouldn’t want to be left out, but we don’t think he was ever eager to work with Paul again. It’s totally reasonable that Harrison would be wary of a Beatles reunion where he would get wedged between Paul and John yet again.
It’s no secret that the major rift was between John and Paul; they were the only pair of Beatles who never again worked together after the break-up. In 1975 John admitted (rather poignantly) that he and Paul “had a harder time” coping with their rift than any of the others did.
We believe that Paul “desperately” wanted to work together with John because (a) he desperately wanted to repair his relationship with John throughout the 70s, and (b) he genuinely enjoyed writing with him, although AGAIN, to be clear, Paul did great in the 70s, never had a dry spell, and didn’t need John to succeed, artistically or commercially. A reunion with John would have also surely taken some air out of the How Do You Sleep debacle. While we doubt this was the primary reason Paul wanted to reconcile, we imagine it was a factor. And if John was truly sorry for HDYS, this would’ve been a great way for him to demonstrate it. Publicly.
In the 70s, John made several references to Paul’s “energy” and we definitely think John missed the charge he got from Paul. However, we believe John ultimately carried too much emotional baggage about Paul for a light-hearted reunion. Primary amongst his reservations might be jealousy over Paul’s success and insecurity about his self-conscious “need” for Paul. But surely there were other reservations, not the least of which was their continued business/legal battles, resentment over reaction to each others’ wives, internal fights within the band, etc. And of course, since Paul was infamously awarded the dishonor of John’s Ultimate Hurter, surely that was always looming in John’s mind as well. How would Paul hurt him again? Would Paul’s unique brand of insensitivity be more painful a second time around?
Yoko is often blamed for the fizzling of reunion plans in the mid-70s, and we agree she was probably a major contributing factor. May Pang confirms that after visiting the Dakota at a critical moment just before heading to New Orleans in early ‘75, John’s attitude towards collaborating with Paul abruptly changed from excited to sour. There is no doubt that Yoko was against John getting back together with Paul, likely for a multitude of reasons, but perhaps most critically because it was a threat to her creative reputation; if John and Paul reunited, it might be interpreted as a creative failure of JohnandYoko and the primacy and superiority of Lennon/McCartney, and there is no way she wanted that to happen. Yoko had invested a great deal of time and energy in creating and maintaining the Ballad of John and Yoko and wasn’t about to let that unravel. We also suspect she probably did not want John to get too under Paul’s spell again as that would diminish her power over him. There are accounts of her maneuvering behind the scenes to make sure this didn’t happen, so clearly she saw their reunion as a threat to her position with John.
Ultimately, however, we suspect it all boiled down to the same conundrum John faced in the late 60s: He could either commit to Yoko and permanently let go of Paul, or permanently break up with Yoko and commit to a professional partnership with Paul. The problem with the latter option was that a strictly-professional partnership might not only be painfully incomplete on an emotional level for John (after having been Paul’s sole creative partner and surrogate spouse in the 60s)… but of course now Paul had his own band, three kids and a wife. John wouldn’t just be back where he left off in ‘68, he would be a much lower priority to Paul than he had been in ‘68 which put him in an even worse position. Therefore the emotional risk appears to have been too great for John.
All evidence points to the fact that Paul’s desire in the 70s was to maintain a friendship with John and explore rekindling their songwriting partnership. He seems to have had fewer reservations or concerns about doing so — perhaps because he had a functional band at the time, so was not dependent on this happening. It seems that he simply loved working with John and would have liked to have done it again as a way to reconnect, heal and spark the old magic. But he also required flexibility to perform with his band and focus on his family.
We are less convinced that John was willing or capable to view their partnership as something casual or flexible, with no strings attached. It was John himself who used the analogy of “one night stands” with Elton and Bowie as opposed to his marriage with Paul. This isn’t to say we think Paul loved John less or cared about their partnership less. It’s clear that no one has ever replaced Lennon as a complete collaborative partner to Paul (despite Paul’s demonstrated ability to collaborate with many, many artists in many different capacities) and Paul himself has said as much. As always, we just think they had different personalities and different needs that were fairly consistent over time: Paul desired freedom and flexibility while John desired security and total commitment.
The only powers John did seem to retain were the power to seemingly “reject” Paul and/or deliberately hurt his feelings and to humiliate him in public. John flexed both these powers periodically until he died, presumably to make himself feel better in his weaker moments or because of residual resentments towards Paul (over any number of things).
TL;DR: Paul was open but too independent, John was open but too emotionally conflicted, George may or may not have been open but resented them both too much.