Paul McCartney: Keeper of the Flame

Paul McCartney will forever be known as the man who broke up the Beatles. McCartney will say differently, but he was the one who instituted legal paperwork to bring the world’s greatest band to an end.

After manager Brian Epstein died in 1967, The Beatles cohesiveness began to dissolve. Although they set their own record label (Apple Records) and series of companies, none of the Beatles were interested in the daily reality of running a multi-million dollar operation. In a stroke of independence, McCartney obtained his own management and the other three fell under the spell of music industry shark Allen Klein.

In the latter years of the band, McCartney was the band’s leader. John Lennon admittedly referred to himself as less involved in the group and that opened the door for Paul to take charge. From Sgt. Pepper forward, McCartney planned and focused the group’s projects. Sgt. Pepper was his idea, the Magical Mystery Tour television project also his idea, the Let It Be film project again his idea, and he became a prolific songwriter in the group’s final years. True, Lennon contributed a fair amount of songs, and arranged the India trip, but he was very distracted with his relationship with Yoko and his side projects. George Harrison was accumulating a stack of songs, he was getting more album room, but still had to fight for his songs, and told how to play lead guitar on McCartney- written songs.

Musical collaboration was becoming difficult, as evidenced by the separate nature of recording The White Album, and the tortuous event of Let It Be. Both Ringo and Harrison quit at different times, reportedly because of McCartney’s dictatorial ways in the studio. McCartney did persuade the other three to give recording another album a go, like the old days, with George Martin in charge.

The result was the classic Abbey Road, but tensions within the band were at an all time high. McCartney was requested to push back the release of his first solo album so as to not complete with the release of the finally completed Let It Be. McCartney, already upset that Phil Spector was eviscerating McCartney’s Let It Be songs, exploded at the request and not long after, filed legal proceedings to dissolve the Beatles.

For the next few years, McCartney distanced himself from the Beatles, as legal issues dragged on for years and he struggled to establish his own solo career.

Eventually, McCartney produced a series of successful albums with Wings and completed a massive tour of the U.S. Over the next several years, McCartney extended an olive branch to Lennon, trying to re-establish a relationship with him. They spoke on the phone and met up several times when McCartney visited New York. Lennon was in his house-husband mode, so the relationship never fully reconnected. Then Lennon was murdered.

In the ensuing years, McCartney sometimes worked with Ringo, but relations with Harrison remained strained. Harrison’s song “All Those Years Ago” did feature contributions from Ringo and McCartney, but as McCartney commented about Harrison, they tended to get on each other’s nerves.

In the late 1980s, McCartney began touring regularly and his reluctance of playing Beatles songs gave way to playing many in his set, even songs identified with Lennon.  McCartney seemed much more comfortable with his Beatles past.  On an episode of Saturday Night Live, McCartney was even referred to as “Paul McCarteny, of the The Beatles” in one skit.  With Lennon gone, now the pressure of a reunion was forever decided. Or was it.

Even though the Beatles were dissolved in the mid 1970’s, they were forever linked by Apple Corps, Ltd., and other business dealings. The four Beatles were directors of the company, and now Yoko took Lennon’s place, having his vote.

The Beatles may not have seen a lot of the money they earned while together, but with the reissue of their albums on CD, and other licensing arrangements, the Beatles brand was highly profitable.

McCartney’s business holdings were growing quite massive, and part of that came from his Beatles business interests.

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Long in development, the 1990’s The Beatles Anthology project required the remaining former Beatles to participate in interview sessions and contribute some new music. The interviews were one thing, but recording new music put them in an awkward situation. McCartney and Ringo had worked together numerous times, as had Harrison and Ringo, but McCartney and Harrison had not, save for the background vocals on “All Those Years Ago.”

Help came from an unlikely place. Yoko provided three Lennon demos, two of which McCartney, Harrison and Starr completed as the first new Beatles music since 1970. Harrison reportedly insisted that Jeff Lynne be brought in as producer, and much of the recording took place at Harrison’s studio.  Apparently, the price for Harrison’s contribution.

Then Harrison passed away from cancer in 2001.

“He was a lovely guy and a very brave man and had a wonderful sense of humor. He is really just my baby brother,” McCartney said of Harrison.  The animosity, and brotherly battles between them finally done.

McCartney was like the senior partner of the firm. In recent years, it is McCartney who is the chief spokesman for anything Beatles related. When a statue is unveiled, an award bestowed, or an event to recognize the group, it is McCartney who is present to accept on behalf of, or officially comment for the group.

So, did McCartney really break up the Beatles? “There was a meeting where John came in and said, ‘I’m leaving the group.’ And looking back on it, he’d reached that stage in his life. We all had,” McCartney told Howard Stern.

In 2008, as longtime Beatles associate Neil Aspinall was gravely ill with cancer in a New York hospital, McCartney quickly boarded a plane to see his old chum one last time.  It was rumored that McCartney picked up the hospital expenses for his old friend.  Aspinall was one of the remaining links to the earliest days of the Beatles.

Another link recently dissolved. When former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick died of heart failure this year, McCartney said, “Though the Beatles had many great engineers over the years, Geoff was the ONE.”

McCartney is everywhere these days.  Occasionally, releasing a new album, he tours constantly, he often gives interviews, is busy re-releasing his solo catalogue and has a big social media presence.  He recently played a set at the old Cavern Club of the early Beatles days.  Sir Paul is an energetic 76 years of age, and shows no sign of slowing down. Rumors of his death back in the 1960’s were greatly exaggerated.

Paul McCartney, the man who joined John Lennon’s band, who was known as the man who broke up the Beatles, who tried to make peace with his estranged former bandmates, is in fact, the keeper of the Beatles flame.


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