What If The Beatles Didn’t Break Up? Imagining Their ‘Next’ Album

 

One of the most entertaining hypotheticals for Beatles’ fans to discuss is what the Beatles would have sounded like or recorded if they had stayed together after the release of Let It Be.* In a sense, this is an even more fruitless counterfactual than another popular one: What songs would have been on The White Album if it hadn’t been a double album (which I have already covered). Unlike the case of that what-if, the songs the Beatles would have done together were never released as Beatles songs. And to imagine the Beatles staying together after 1970 is to wish away the centrifugal forces that had by that point already largely torn the four musical titans at the band’s center apart.**

But Beatles’ fans such as myself speculate nonetheless, aided by morsels such as collaborations between members after the break-up (most notably in the almost-Beatles song “I’m the Greatest!”), and demos of songs that later became solo work but were conceived or sometimes even recorded while the Beatles were still together (e.g., much of George Harrison’s first post-Beatle solo album, All Things Must Pass).

Recently, news has emerged that whets this speculative appetite even more. In a September 8 story in The Guardian, Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn revealed the contents of a heretofore undiscovered tape from almost exactly 50 years ago, in which the Beatles (sans an unwell Ringo Starr, for whom the recording was made) discussed their future plans. This despite the fact that, as Lewisohn points out, the Beatles had, at that time, already wrapped production on Abbey Road, which would be their last recorded album (though not the last released). And yet, on the tape, the three discuss plans to get a single ready for a Christmas release…to promote their next album! Learning this, I again returned to my own idle speculations, a cold comfort I create for myself in a world in which the Beatles did, in fact, break up. And so, in the Yesterday-esque spirit of Beatles hypotheticals, here is my attempt to imagine what the “next” Beatles album, which I have called Inward and Outward, would have looked like:

SIDE ONE – 22:07

  1. Gimme Some Truth – 3:17 (Lennon)
  2. All Things Must Pass – 3:04 (Harrison)
  3. Let It Down – 3:55 (Harrison)
  4. Back Seat of My Car – 4:30 (McCartney)
  5. It Don’t Come Easy – 3:04 (Starr)
  6. Jealous Guy – 4:17 (Lennon)

SIDE TWO – 22:53

  1. Another Day – 3:42 (McCartney)
  2. What’s the New Mary Jane – 6:12 (Lennon)
  3. Hear Me Lord – 5:46 (Harrison)
  4. Isn’t it a Pity – 7:10 (Harrison)

This album is between 45 and 46 minutes long (depending on which version of some of the songs you use), about the same length as Abbey Road, and roughly standard for a vinyl LP at the time. All of the songs on here either began as intended Beatles projects, were created by one Beatle and shown to others while the band was still together, or were the product of collaboration between ex-Beatles; many of them ended up on later solo Beatles albums. But that is not the only reason I have chosen them, or put them in this order. To give myself an organizing principle, to give the album a “flow,” and as a concession to the growing popularity of both concept albums and introspective folk-rock at the time, I decided to make this another loose concept album, following somewhat in the spirit of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The theme of the album and the title, Inward and Outward (or Gimme Some Truth, if John Lennon’s early-70s narcissism would have demanded the album be named after one of his songs on it), reflect the emotional journey of a single person. It begins with John Lennon—backed by Harrison on lead guitar, and friend of the Beatles Klaus Voorman on bass—asking someone to give him some truth, in a high-energy album opener typical of Beatles’ albums (think “Drive My Car” opening Rubber Soul, and “Taxman” opening Revolver). “Gimme Some Truth,” a song originating in sessions for the ultimately abandoned Get Back album, also comes with some of the political rancor of Lennon’s public life at the time (the first of my album’s accommodations to actual reality that might have kept the band together). Several answers follow, including George Harrison saying that “All Things Must Pass.” This song gave the title to Harrison’s aforementioned first solo album. But its form there was drastically different from the Beatles’ demo version, which was performed stripped-down in a manner deliberately aping The Band. That version is better simply, but also better for this album.

Meanwhile, as the suggested answers continue, Harrison and Paul McCartney suggest love as an answer, with “Let It Down” (again, first demoed in the Beatles era in a far simpler, superior form than what appeared on All Things Must Pass), and “The Back Seat of my Car” (a candidate for inclusion on the ultimately abandoned Get Back album), respectively. The version of “Backseat of My Car” ultimately released on Ram heavily features McCartney’s then-wife Linda; this is another concession influenced by contemporary reality, as I think if the Beatles would have remained together, they would have had to work out some kind of “settlement” concerning spousal involvement on songs (one of many points of tension for the band in its final years). Next, Ringo reminds our emotional protagonist that “It Don’t Come Easy” (a song produced in collaboration with Harrison, who plays lead guitar on it). These answers, while unsatisfactory, bring our protagonist to realize that he’s just a “Jealous Guy” (a song born in the White Album sessions as “Child of Nature”; not surprising, when you hear its “A Day in the Life”-esque piano), in a preliminary though not final realization. This ends Side 1.

Side 2 begins with “Another Day,” as McCartney (again with Linda), in the same spirit as “Eleanor Rigby” and “She’s Leaving Home,” details the monotonous life of a female protagonist. (This song also began in sessions for the Let It Be album.) The next song, “What’s the New Mary Jane,” is an avant-garde composition (on which Yoko Ono, John’s “Linda” at the time, for whom he likely would have demanded greater involvement if he were to stay in the band), in the spirit of “Revolution 9” (born, again, in the same White Album sessions as that song) that begins as almost a parody of “Another Day,” intimating the narrow line between tedium in life and nihilism when one cannot find purpose. After the emotional anguish of this song, as represented by its concluding atonal clashing, the protagonist cries out “Hear Me Lord” (another Let It Be reject), in an exclamation of redemption comparable to “Love, Reign O’er Me,” the song that ends The Who’s Quadrophenia.

But side 2 and the album end with Harrison’s “Isn’t it a Pity.” This song, (wrongly) rejected for inclusion on Let It Be, laments the frequent inability of people to connect with others outside of themselves, and to realize the damage they do to others—in a sense, it reflects both mankind’s failure to do this, and the singer’s own failure, as well as his desire to correct it. In both thematic content and structure, it is similar to “Hey Jude,” with which it shares an extended fade-out (perfect for a classic Beatles album closer, though bizarrely it does not close All Things Must Pass) and a nearly identical runtime (7:10 vs. “Hey Jude’s 7:11; surely not a coincidence). As the album begins with “Gimme Some Truth,” it can be seen as a sort of cycle, connecting the world’s people to each other one at a time.

Harrison’s music dominates this album, and thus, to a considerable extent, his spirit does as well. This is more real history-based speculation affecting the album itself; I think that’s what would have happened. If you look at the solo Beatles in terms of output immediately after the break-up, Harrison wins in both quality and quantity. Plus, in the hypothetical scenario in which the band stays together, surely Lennon and McCartney would have had to accommodate Harrison’s growing talents, especially after they suppressed them for so long, and had finally begun to acknowledge them by the time of Abbey Road. The tape, in fact, alludes to this, as Paul says that “I thought until this album [Abbey Road] that George’s songs weren’t that good.” To which George—rightly, in my view, but I’m a big fan of “It’s All Too Much,” “Within You Without You,” and other Harrisongs—replies that “That’s a matter of taste. All down the line, people have liked my songs.”

Other real-world extrapolation that explains this album’s structure could come from the fact that Lennon was in peak “political” mode at this time, and probably would have demanded both time to do this (thus meaning fewer songs), and that his included songs at least somewhat reflect his newly emphasized public persona, and the accommodations for wives, mentioned above. Also, with some exceptions (“Maybe I’m Amazed,” for example), McCartney’s immediate post-Beatles output wasn’t that great. If anything, I am shafting Ringo here, who really came into his own in the early 70s for a bit.

If you’re interested in this “album,” I’ve created both a YouTube playlist and a Spotify playlist with these songs (with the versions closest to the form I’d want them in for the album) in the sequence I outlined here. Listen for yourself, and let me know if you think it holds together as an album. And if not, I would enjoy hearing what songs you think should be on this hypothetical album, or what some good single pairings would have been. I deliberately left out some seemingly obvious choices for the sake of making it more of an album, and not simply an early 70s greatest hits collection for the ex-Beatles. But some of those hits would have been great as the Christmas promotional single discussed on the tape. Imagine record-buyers in 1969 staring at a “My Sweet Lord”/“Maybe I’m Amazed” Double-A-Side! The possibilities are endless. And though reality sadly went differently, it’s always fun to speculate.

*The answer, of course, is ELO, or, as John Lennon called them, Son of Beatles.

**And yes, that includes my birthday buddy Ringo Starr.

Published in Entertainment
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There are 12 comments.

  1. Petty Boozswha Member

    I thought It Don’t Come Easy was written for Ringo by George.

    I agree George would have had a much bigger role if the band had stayed together. If he hadn’t been sidetracked by the asinine plagiarism suit he could have written so many more hits. Listen to Michael Penn’s No Myth for an example of where George could have gone with the other guys giving him some structure.

    • #1
    • September 13, 2019, at 4:15 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. Randy Webster Member

    JackButler: much of George Harrison’s first post-Beatle solo album, All Things Must Pass

    My George Harrison Saturday Night Classic was from that album: What is Life.

    • #2
    • September 13, 2019, at 4:26 PM PDT
    • Like
  3. Blue Yeti Admin

    Well, for sure My Sweet Lord would have been on this mythical record. It was recorded in 1970, immediately after the Beatles broke up and there are rumors that both Ringo and John played and/or sang on the track.

    In addition to Back Seat of My Car from Ram, I’d also include Too Many People and especially Uncle Albert/Admiral Halseywhich always sounded to me like a Beatles track in search of more Beatles (it’s a cousin of Yellow Submarine and John would have made for a much better voice of the Admiral — “we’re so sorry…”– than Paul provided). Heart of the Country  is another highly likely candidate and could have really used a dose of John’s edge. Ah, what might have been…

    Of course the big question is would there have been a Linda/Yoko duet on this record? Yoko appeared on Abby Road and Let It Be, so it could have happened. Yikes.

    On second thought, The Beatles broke up at exactly the right moment.

    • #3
    • September 13, 2019, at 5:27 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. ctlaw Coolidge

    Since we were given license to go beyond 1970 if a collaboration, and sticking with Harrisongs, I nominate Photograph.

    I regard this as a throwback to great mid-career Beatles songs of lost love like No Reply and You Won’t See Me.

    • #4
    • September 13, 2019, at 5:47 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Joseph Stanko Member

    The Beatles used synthesizers for the first time on Abbey Road, and George released his solo avant-garde Electronic Sound album in 1969. I think the “next” album would’ve incorporated more synthesizers, especially if George had a larger role in it.

    • #5
    • September 13, 2019, at 6:03 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. Jon1979 Lincoln

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    Since we were given license to go beyond 1970 if a collaboration, and sticking with Harrisongs, I nominate Photograph.

    I regard this as a throwback to great mid-career Beatles songs of lost love like No Reply and You Won’t See Me.

    If we’re going to go reallllyyy far past 1970 with Harrisongs, you might as well toss in “When We Was Fab” since that’s the most overt attempt to do a post-Beatles Beatles song.

    (If you just want to stick to the period immediately after the breakup, I’d agree with Blue Yeti on “My Sweet Lord” for George and then swapping out Ringo’s later “Photograph” for “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, though musically a prefer the former, since Paul without John as moderation could get a little too cute at times.)

    • #6
    • September 13, 2019, at 9:06 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. Joseph Stanko Member

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    If we’re going to go reallllyyy far past 1970 with Harrisongs, you might as well toss in “When We Was Fab” since that’s the most overt attempt to do a post-Beatles Beatles song.

    Unless you count Free As A Bird and Real Love.

    • #7
    • September 13, 2019, at 9:56 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. namlliT noD Member

    Fascinating topic.

    I think it boils down to, what songs on the solo albums sound most like The Beatles.

    And there are several problems there. One is that Lennon’s first three solo albums are crap. And Ringo’s first two solo albums are not up to The Beatles standards.

    George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is clearly releasing his personal musical floodgates. So there’s a lot of material there; my favorite being “What Is Life”

    And McCartney’s solo albums are classics.

    Still… the magic of The Beatles is based on the Lennon/McCartney writing partnership, where one does the verse and the other does the chorus. And you probably won’t see much of that.

     

     

     

    • #8
    • September 14, 2019, at 12:48 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. namlliT noD Member

    As an alternative to the alternative reality of The Beatles next album… might I suggest Emitt Rhodes’ remarkable 1970 self-titled album.

     

    • #9
    • September 14, 2019, at 10:35 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Ray Kujawa Coolidge

    I don’t see anything saying John Lennon and George Harrison still wouldn’t have passed away, so there’s no way the band would have continued (unless with added help — Billy Preston was dubbed the fifth Beatle, but there were other). Led Zeppelin quit when their drummer passed away. I enjoyed and bought George’s solo albums. My brother was a fan of Wings. The only Lennon album I enjoyed (and the only one I purchased) was his Rock and Roll album. That was some good music. I did enjoy Ringo’s music on the radio but for some reason I never bought any albums or even singles (I think 45s were getting old by then).

    • #10
    • September 15, 2019, at 1:55 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. ctlaw Coolidge

    JackButler: *The answer, of course, is ELO, or, as John Lennon called them, Son of Beatles.

     Weren’t they trying to avoid such things in the Get Back sessions? The problem is that production-heavy music inherently increases the role of the producer. ELO had Jeff Lynne running the show.

    Who would be such a producer for the 1970s Beatles? Not George Martin. He had his limits. Plus, they already resented his publicly perceived level of involvement and would even more resent a more involved producer (as they resented Phil Spector).

    None of John, Paul, and George would have tolerated any of the others assuming the role because that would diminish their own status.

    • #11
    • September 15, 2019, at 3:35 AM PDT
    • Like
  12. Joseph Stanko Member

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    Weren’t they trying to avoid such things in the Get Back sessions?

    The original plan for the Get Back sessions was to write and rehearse new material, then perform it for the first time in a live concert and film the whole thing. It’s a really neat idea and it’s too bad it never came to fruition, can you imagine going to a live show by the Beatles (or any band of similar stature) and seeing them perform all-new material for the first time ever? They did of course perform the famous “roof-top concert” that became the finale of the Let It Be film, but the original plan was a proper live concert.

    So really what they were trying to “get back” to was being a proper band, one that performed together for live audiences, at least on a limited basis. And to continue the thought experiment, I think realistically that’s the only thing that could have kept them together, they began to drift apart as soon as they stopped touring. Paul in particular missed it, which is why he formed Wings soon after the Beatles broke up. I suspect Ringo missed it as well, he still tours regularly with his All-Starr Band, and while on the road he put the beat in Beatles, in the studio he could easily have been replaced by a session drummer (or Paul). He felt superfluous.

    It’s interesting to imagine an alternate reality in which the Beatles staged a world-wide stadium tour in the 70’s. The problems that drove them to retire from touring — they couldn’t hear each other play, and the audience couldn’t hear them over all the screaming — were largely solved by then as plenty of other bands like the Stones, the Who, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and so on were touring with truckloads of equipment and a small army of roadies. 

    • #12
    • September 15, 2019, at 3:36 PM PDT
    • 1 like