By Danny Abriano
As a Beatles fanatic who was born three years after John Lennon was senselessly taken in December of 1980, I’m often bothered by the fact that I never shared the world with John. Since The Beatles formed and broke up before I was born, I also think about all of the “what ifs.” One of the most pondered, of course, is “what if The Beatles had gotten back together?”
During John Lennon’s “Lost Weekend” – the time he spent away from Yoko Ono from the summer of 1973 to early 1975 – he was with May Pang (and many others), and reportedly gave serious thought to a reunion with Paul and the rest of the group.
Before delving into the potential Beatles reunion, though, it’s important to discuss why the Lost Weekend came about in the first place.
John’s marriage to Yoko was floundering, and Yoko basically chose May Pang – who was an employee of theirs – as a lover and companion for John to have during their time apart. John spent lots of The Lost Weekend in Los Angeles, with friends such as Mal Evans and Harry Nilsson.
This month in 1974, one of the most infamous events of The Lost Weekend took place – the night John and Harry Nilsson were kicked out of the Troubadour Club for heckling the Smothers Brothers. As the story is told in “Lennon In America” by Geoffrey Giuliano:
One evening, Lennon, along with May Pang and Harry Nilsson, arrived at the Troubadour around midnight to catch the opening night of the Smothers Brothers act. Already overloaded on Brandy Alexanders, John became immediately disruptive, joining Harry in a cacophonous songfest and hurling a stream of obscenities at the Smothers. Events took a nasty turn when the duo’s manager Ken Fritz confronted an out-of-control John and hauled him from his seat. Lennon exploded, overturning the table and the pair exchanged a few halfhearted fisticuffs. Lennon and company were literally thrown out the door where they tumbled into a party of incoming patrons, touching off a full-blown street brawl. The incident made worldwide headlines the following day.
While the Troubadour incident sheds light on how wild Lennon could be during the Lost Weekend, not every moment was dedicated to debauchery.
During this time, Lennon completed three solo albums (“Mind Games,” “Walls and Bridges,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll”), produced the “Pussy Cats” album for Harry Nilsson, and wondered aloud about a potential Beatles reunion. As May Pang told it:
John really thought about it at one point, and we were considering it early on in ’74, just for the hell of it. Harry Nilsson wanted to be a part of it. We said, oh, that would be a good idea—a one-off, and we would do it in the fall. We were thinking about upstate New York, like Syracuse, because Ringo couldn’t be in New York City…we had been hanging out with Ringo a lot in L.A., and it just came out of conversation, hanging out: ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we did this one gig,’ and they’d start talking about it. ‘Yeah, well, why don’t we do this, and George would do that, and Paul. . .’ So it was just thrown around, and everybody was like, well. . .let’s do that.
In addition to his words to Pang, John had also spoken openly around that time about a potential Beatles reunion.
So, why didn’t a reunion happen?
According to Pang, none of the Beatles ever took the lead on hammering out the details. By 1975, John was back with Yoko and at the beginning of a five year break from the music business.
Lennon was at times in the process of losing himself completely while he was away from Yoko during the Lost Weekend, and his decision to get back together with Yoko was his.
However, like many fans unfairly blame Yoko Ono for the breakup of The Beatles, many also claim that her presence prevented any potential Beatles reunion from happening. May Pang supposedly encouraged John to reunite with Paul – something Yoko apparently didn’t do. Still, every choice John made was his.
While a Beatles reunion never took place, John Lennon and Paul McCartney did record together after the breakup. The date was March 28th, 1974, and a John and Paul reunion (with Harry Nilsson, Stevie Wonder and others also playing) came to be during a night of partying in the studio in Los Angeles.
The tape of the session is out there on the bootleg “A Toot and A Snore in ’74,” and is mostly a convoluted mess of voices and noises. Still, it has John Lennon and Paul McCartney playing and singing together four years after the breakup of The Beatles, something that can’t be found anywhere else.
Listening to John and Paul play and sing together on the tapes above is both sad and thrilling at the same time.
It’s just a jam session, and an alcohol and drug fueled one at that. However, it makes me think about what would’ve happened if a legitimate Beatles reunion had ever occurred.
After the breakup, the solo Beatles recorded with one another often, but never recorded as a foursome again. Most notably, John, George, and Ringo played on Ringo’s “I’m The Greatest,” and George, Paul, and Ringo played on George’s tribute to John “All Those Years Ago” after John was killed.
What would’ve happened if the group had gotten back together? Would it have been something that blew up as quickly as it materialized? A one album thing? Something that resulted in a second long-lasting effort? With their legacy already cemented, would it have even been worth it?
I was at Radio City Music Hall in 2010 when Paul surprised Ringo on stage for his birthday and of course sang “Birthday.” No one in the crowd knew Paul was about to show up, and the entire place went into absolute hysterics when Paul’s hofner bass was placed on stage, followed shortly thereafter by Paul running out and grabbing it. When Ringo ran behind the drum kit and sat down to start playing with Paul, it felt as if the mezzanine where I was sitting might collapse.
I had seen Paul in concert before, and I had seen Ringo in concert before. This was different, though. On stage were two Beatles – the only two who were left – performing together. It was more than special – there isn’t really an adequate word to describe it.
What would an official Beatles reunion have done to impact moments like the one above? Watered it down, or somehow enhanced it?
Just a bit curious about why Ringo “couldn’t be in New York City” (according to May Pang) for a Beatles reunion. Was this just a preference of his or was there a legal reason for it?
I wish I could have been there from the time pauls bass was brought out to the time he left the stage. are there any clips on YT showing this?
According to Pang, it was a legal issue that was preventing Ringo from going to NYC.
As far as a clip of Paul showing up at Ringo’s birthday, here’s the best one:
The only “what if” for me is if he who must not be named hadn’t killed John. I came into The Beatles in 1993, so my era of discovery and obsession was right in line with ‘Live at the BBC’ and The Beatles Anthology. It was INCREDIBLE watching part one that Sunday night, followed up with the video premiere of ‘Free As A Bird’. I really think that if the four had not worked together by then, a reunion would have happened when the Anthology finally came together. With George passing in 2001, I think that’s as far as we would have gotten. Anything in the 70s would have been a hot mess with where everyone’s heads were at. They each seemed to be on target right around 1980-81, but alas, it wasn’t to be. I still hold John’s work around this time to be among his best, and McCartney II and ‘Somewhere In England’ are among the best solo work to be released in some time. It seems silly now that they had to break up at all. Why not just quietly let it drift into darkness and leave it open? Abbey Road proved that the four could work well together as a really great backing group to whatever individual song was going on. As individualized as each Beatle began to work, they still had the best three session guys in the business. And in the end…
I remember in the ’70’s, there would be rumors every so often that the Beatles would be getting back together. After John passed away, it was never to be. It’s such a shame that they couldn’t have gotten back together even for a concert or two.
There were some positive things that happened during John’s lost weekend. John and Julian got to spend some time together after four years of not seeing each other.
The idea of the Beatles getting back together was something I looked forward to happening. I was in junior high when they were on Sullivan and couldn’t get enough of them. John’s passing in ’81 put the final nail in the coffin of the Beatles….until Anthology…but that was short-lived because the old tapes are limited. Their legacy is cemented in history. That it could have been…
I don’t believe The Beatles ever would have reunited had John lived. in all their public statements in the 1970s, each man rejected the idea. A comment or two from May Pang doesn’t prove anything. One aspect that fans overlook is the legal aspect. They were in court at least until 1974 when the group was legally dissolved by the court. Not many marriages get back together after a divorce. Plus, they didn’t want to live that life ever again. It was too much, to crazy, too many business problems. It practically killed them the first time around, they didn’t want to do it again. A reunion in 1980, say, would have been like a high school football team trying to recapture the glory at 30.
“What would’ve happened if the group had gotten back together? Would it have been something that blew up as quickly as it materialized? A one album thing? Something that resulted in a second long-lasting effort? With their legacy already cemented, would it have even been worth it?”
Here are my thoughts on that: It probably couldn’t have happened until they got up in years. People tend to mellow with age. But in the ’70s and even ’80s the old animosities were still so fresh and potent that they weren’t able to overcome them. I sense that George didn’t like working with Paul in particular and never really got over that. When the three surviving Beatles reunited in the ’90s to work on the Anthology Series and the accompanying “new” songs, once the songs were complete George said he didn’t want to work on anything else together. I have a feeling that’s how it would’ve been if John had survived, too. If John hadn’t been killed, we probably would’ve seen a Beatles reunion at mid-life or in old age, but most likely it would’ve been a one-off for old times sake (or for the money), just as the Anthology series turned out to be.