For the Beatles, March 1969 found the bandmates at a crossroads. Having succeeded in bringing the Get Back project to a landing, albeit a bumpy one, in January, they went their separate ways for a much-needed respite from life in Beatlemania’s unremitting spotlight.
First, there was March 12th, 1969, when Paul McCartney and fiancée Linda Eastman exchanged their nuptials at the Marylebone Registry Office. Years later, he would reflect on the day, recalling that he had neglected to round up his mates for the occasion: “I really don’t remember whether or not I invited any of the band to the wedding. Why not? I’m a total bastard, I suppose—I don’t know, really. Maybe it was because the group was breaking up. We were all pissed off with each other. We certainly weren’t a gang any more. That was the thing. Once a group’s broken up like that, that’s it.”
John Lennon and Yoko Ono would follow suit eight days later, having set their sights on consecrating their marriage near the Rock of Gibraltar. As he later remarked, “So we were in Paris and we were calling [Beatles assistant] Peter Brown, and said, ‘We want to get married. Where can we go?’ And he called back and said, ‘Gibraltar’s the only place.’ So—okay, let’s go!’ And we went there and it was beautiful. It’s the Pillar of Hercules, and also symbolically they called it the End of the World at one period. There’s some name besides Pillar of Hercules—but they thought the world outside was a mystery from there, so it was like the Gateway to the World. So we liked it in the symbolic sense, and the Rock [embodied the] foundation of our relationship.” As for the bride and groom, Lennon later described Gibraltar as “like a little sunny dream. I couldn’t find a white suit—I had off-white corduroy trousers and a white jacket. Yoko had all white on.”
Lennon and Ono celebrated their honeymoon with a weeklong “Bed-In” for peace in Room 902 at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel. For John and Yoko, the Bed-In provided them with a means for exploiting their celebrity to stage a nonviolent protest of the Vietnam War. Responding with attendant gusto, the media afforded the newlyweds with sustained media coverage, including 12-hour press conferences each day from the couple’s hotel room bed, which was framed by handwritten signs extolling “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace” for all the world to see.
As Lennon remarked to the assembled journalists at the time, “We’re staying in bed for a week to register our protest against all the suffering and violence in the world. Can you think of a better way to spend seven days? It’s the best idea we’ve had.” In surviving audio from his Amsterdam sojourn, Lennon can be heard performing an a cappella version of the Jewish folk song “Hava Nagila” for Israeli poet Akiva Nof, who was interviewing the pajama-clad Beatle, before abruptly shifting gears and delivering an impromptu public debut of “I Want You,” which he punctuated by singing, “Hello, Israel” to Nof’s audience back home. “That’s from the new Beatles album actually. It’s not released yet,” said Lennon, cryptically referring perhaps to Get Back or its as-of-yet-untitled follow-up LP, which was still in its infancy. During this same period, Lennon had begun chronicling his recent adventures on the global stage with Ono with a new composition tentatively entitled “They’re Gonna Crucify Me.”
As with Lennon, George Harrison had been pursuing new work. On February 25th, the Quiet Beatle’s 26th birthday, he ventured into EMI Studios to record a trio of demos, including “All Things Must Pass,” “Old Brown Shoe,” and “Something,” with engineer Ken Scott working in the booth. Harrison had debuted the exquisite “Something” for producer Chris Thomas during The White Album sessions back in September 1968. Harrison had only recently made his first pass at composing the song. “‘Something’ was written on the piano while we were making The White Album,” he said. “I had a break while Paul was doing some overdubbing so I went into an empty studio and began to write. That’s really all there is to it, except the middle took some time to sort out.”
And that’s when he shared the fledgling song with Thomas. “While George and I were tinkling away on this harpsichord,” Thomas later recalled, “he started playing [a] new song to me, which later turned out to be ‘Something.’ I said, ‘That’s great! Why don’t we do that one instead?’ and he replied, ‘Do you like it, do you really think it’s good?’ When I said ‘yes,’ he said, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll give it to Jackie Lomax then, he can do it as a single!’”
Since completing his February 25th demo session, Harrison’s life had been thrown into disarray. On the evening of the McCartneys’ wedding, Detective-Sergeant Norman Pilcher and his infamous drugs squad claimed to have discovered a block of hashish in Harrison’s Esher home. By month’s end, Harrison and wife Pattie Boyd would receive probation and a black mark on their travel documents for their trouble.
Related: “George Harrison Quits the Beatles”
As for Ringo Starr, the Beatles’ drummer was starring with Peter Sellers in a film production of The Magic Christian. At one point, he was cornered by the press, who received an ominous quote in response to their questions about the future of the Beatles: “People really have tried to typecast us,” said Starr. “They think we are still little Mop Tops, and we are not. I don’t want to play in public again. I don’t miss being a Beatle anymore. You can’t get those days back. It’s no good living in the past.”
Ken Womack is an internationally renowned Beatles authority regarding the band’s enduring artistic influence. He is the author, most recently, of Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Early Years: 1926-1966) and Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin (The Later Years, 1966-2016). His next book, Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles, is forthcoming in September 2019. You can learn more about Ken’s work at kennethwomack.com
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