The Beatles' Breakup: Inside Their 1969 Split — and How They Kept It a Secret for Months
The same year they recorded their two masterpiece albums, John, Paul, George and Ringo were living separate lives and planning their post-Beatle careers
Fifty years ago, in 1969, The Beatles’ created two classic albums — Abbey Road and Let It Be — but outside the studio the four young men had started living very different lives. This reality would lead them to quietly decide to break up in September 1969.
Now, a new PEOPLE special edition, The Beatles: 1969, examines how a year filled with weddings, babies, musical side gigs and money disputes set the stage for the Beatles’ dissolution and the creation of four new careers.
After years as the last bachelor Beatle, Paul McCartney wed Linda Eastman on March 12, 1969, at the Marylebone Registry in London. With that, McCartney was suddenly a man with a pregnant wife (Linda was four months along at the ceremony) and also a 6-year-old stepdaughter, Heather, whom he would later adopt. Mary arrived on Aug. 28, just days after the Beatles’s final recording session as a group. The following year, she made an appearance on the front cover of her dad’s debut solo album, McCartney. Years later, the birth of Stella and James would follow. “My family had loads of kids,” he once said of the large McCartney clan. “You were always being handed a baby.”
Even while recording with the Beatles, John Lennon was already part of a new artistic union with his wife, Yoko Ono. They put out two avant-garde albums: Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins and Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions. In 1970, Lennon released his first post-Beatles studio album titled John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Lennon told Rolling Stone at the time. “It’s me! And nobody else. That’s why I like it. It’s real, that’s all.”
As Lennon and Ono were staging honeymoon bed-ins, the McCartneys were celebrating their own newly minted union in the Greek Isles, and George Harrison and his wife, Pattie, were getting hauled into court on pot possession charges, Ringo Starr was on location filming The Magic Christian with comedy-hero-turned-friend Peter Sellers. In the film, Starr plays a homeless waif adopted by the richest man in the world. The film fizzled despite a glimmering cast, but in the swinging London of 1969, a Beatle’s star power outshone all the rest.
When Harrison arrived at Twickenham Film Studios on Jan. 2, 1969 to meet the rest of his bandmates as they prepared to film themselves for a documentary project, he was eager to share a batch of new songs he had written during an extended vacation in the States. But after tensions worsened, the guitarist bolted. His reaction stemmed from his perceived status as a junior partner in the band. “The usual thing was that we’d do 14 of their tunes,” Harrison revealed in a 1989 interview. “And then they’d condescend to listen to one of mine.” In November 1970, Harrison released his debut album All Things Must Pass, a triple-disc collection that included tracks left over from his Beatles days.
Despite the fights and legal battles toward the end of their time together, in the following years, individual members occasionally teamed up on each other’s solo albums. Starr’s 1974 LP Ringo featured appearances by all four ex-bandmates.
“The Beatles is over, but John, Paul, George and Ringo — I still love those guys!” Lennon once said in a 1980 interview. “Because they’ll always be those people who were that part of my life.”
PEOPLE’s special issue The Beatles: 1969 is available now on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.