The story of the Beatles‘ breakup has been told thousands of times before: in memoirs, biographies, imagined reenactments. However Recover Your Money, a three-part documentary that arrived on Disney+ on Thanksgiving, offers something none of those previous attempts could: extended firsthand footage of the bands’ deterioration.
The Beatles met in London for a recording session and a documentary film. Camera crews captured the group as they sang and debated among themselves. Some of the footage was made into the 1970 movie. Let it beNearly 60 hours of video footage and 150 hours audio recordings were lost and never rediscovered.
It was a few years ago that The Lord of the RingsPeter Jackson, filmmaker, a Beatles fanatic, asked the band’s company Apple Corps for permission to revisit the footage. He hoped to build a truer portrayal of the band’s last days—This captured their encounters as well as the incredible joy and creativity that arose from those sessions. Here’s what Jackson’s 7-plus-hour edit of the tapes show us about the Beatles’ last year and why they split apart.
George Harrison wanted more creativity
For most of the Beatles’ early years, guitarist George Harrison barely wrote any songs; their music was fueled by the seemingly inexhaustible creative well of Lennon-McCartney songcraft. But as the ’60s wore on and Harrison found his creative voice, he became more and more resentful of how John Lennon and Paul McCartney would dismiss his work or boss him around. Harrison was just back from a visit to The Band upstate New York. He found inspiration in their different visions of collaboration in which musical equals create together. He even brought a new song to the “Get Back” sessions, called “All Things Must Pass,” that he described as “Band-y.”
But the Beatles barely returned to the song after learning it, and belittled his other contributions to the sessions, including “I Me Mine.” Meanwhile, Paul McCartney gave Harrison extensive guitar direction in a way Harrison felt to be overbearing and pushy. He lashed back at both of them, calling the Lennon-penned “Don’t Let Me Down” “awful.” “If we had a tape recorder, you’d throw that out straight away,” he told Lennon.
One day, as McCartney and Lennon worked through an arrangement of the fittingly-named “Two of Us,” Harrison stormed out, saying off-handedly, “I think I’ll be leaving the band now… Get a replacement.”
After many meetings of convincing, Harrison was finally convinced by the three Beatles to go back. However, Harrison stated his desire to separate from the group and to record each of his songs separately as sessions ended. “It would be nice if any of us could do separate things as well. That way, it also preserves the Beatle bit of it more,” he says to an encouraging Lennon. “I’m just gonna do me for a bit.”
Harrison’s recording of “All Things Must Pass”—released the following year with a drenched guitar approach reminiscent of the Band—would become one of the most revered rock songs of all time. A Beatles influence remains, however: it was Lennon that penned the lyric “a mind can blow those clouds away” when he misread the word “wind” on Harrison’s lyric sheet.
The band was locked in a power struggle around Paul McCartney’s role
McCartney tried repeatedly to control the session, despite the band’s morose state and their inability to focus, by writing the majority of songs and putting emphasis on the importance to have a schedule and giving instructions to the members of each band member about what they should do. (“Haven’t you written anything else? We’re going to be faced with a crisis,” he scolded Lennon after learning that Lennon hadn’t produced any new material.)
Harrison was the most resentful of his micromanagement. McCartney himself feared the role he had taken on: “I’m scared of me being the boss. And I have been for like a couple of years.”
McCartney and Harrison fled the scene, but Lennon continued to talk with McCartney in secret. A microphone was hidden inside a flowerpot. “You’ve always been boss. I’ve been secondary boss,” Paul told John.
Lennon responded: “There was a period where none of us could actually say anything about your arrangements because you would reject it all. A lot of the times you were right, a lot of the times you were wrong.”
Lennon added: “George said he didn’t get enough satisfaction anymore because of the compromise he had to make to be together. It’s a festering wound that we’ve allowed. Yesterday, it’s a wound that festered even deeper, and we didn’t give him any bandages.”
Brian Epstein’s death as manager hung over the band.
In one conversation between the four band members, McCartney reveals part of the reason that he’s tried to take on a more authoritative role: because the band has been plagued by a lack of motivation ever since their manager, Brain Epstein, died from a sedative overdose in 1967. “We were always fighting that discipline. There really is no one there now, to say, ‘Do it!’ Daddy’s gone away now,” he says.
Harrison acknowledged the fact. “The Beatles have been in the doldrums for at least a year. Ever since Mr. Epstein passed away, it’s never been the same.”
He added, in a deadpan: “Maybe we should have a divorce.” After a moment of awkward silence, Lennon responded in kind: “It would help the children.”
This comment was indicative the Beatles’ approach to their impending demise. They mixed humor with resignation. After reading about their foibles, they mock-boxed after learning that they had once exchanged punches. At one point, McCartney jokes that their concert should feature newsmen delivering news from around the world, and then at the end of the program, announce that “the Beatles have broken up.”
Members were involved in business disputes
The sessions end with the introduction of Allen Klein, a businessman. Klein was a friend of Lennon during his meeting with Klein. The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll CircusHarrison is then impressed by Klein personally as well as his negotiation tactics. “He knows me as much as you do,” he tells a visibly skeptical Harrison.
After the group met with Klein, Ringo Starr—decidedly the least opinionated member when it came to all of these issues—expressed some cautious optimism, calling him a “conman who’s on our side for a change.” But McCartney would instead voice his desire to be managed by his father- and brother-in-law, Lee and John Eastman. McCartney filed suit against his bandmates in December 1970 to disband the group due to the power struggle that Klein and the Eastmans had.
Yoko Ono’s absence was not a significant negative.
Tabloids loved to dwell on Ono as the reason for the Beatles’ split. In Recover Your Money, she appears at every session, sitting right next to Lennon, dancing in her seat, pressing her nose into Lennon’s back and at one point making out with him during a take of “Oh! Darling.” But none of the band members appear much bothered by her constant presence; they joke and talk with her comfortably.
At one point, McCartney discusses this new dynamic in depth, conceding that Ono’s emergence did cause him and John to drift apart: “We lived together and we played together. Each day, we were up in the same room at the hotel. As long as you’re this close all day, something grows. When you’re not this close physically, something goes.”
But McCartney was adamant about not blaming Ono for the band’s struggles. “She’s great, she really is alright. They want to be together. I think it’s very silly of me or anyone to say, ‘No you can’t,’” he says. “It’s gonna be such an incredibly comical, silly thing in 50 years’ time: ‘They broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.’”
Even through the turbulent times, The Beatles continue to produce amazing music.
After a slow start, the last couple weeks of the “Get Back” sessions reveal the Beatles firing on all cylinders, forging airtight live arrangements for enduring classics like “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Let It Be,” and “The Long And Winding Road.” One of the film’s most astonishing scenes shows McCartney, frustrated one morning by Lennon’s lateness, willing the song “Get Back” into existence in real time.
After a later take of “Two of Us,” Harrison—who had stormed out during that song weeks earlier—remarked that “It sounds lovely, that, now, after all the anguish we went through it.” Famously, the sessions ended with an unforgettable rooftop performance by the Beatles that was the final time they played together publicly.