‘And in the End’ Review: Band on the Run
The Beatles’ ﬁnal year was silly, crazy and chaotic, but the music they made then is still with us—as are tales of the Fab Four.
The Beatles circa 1969.
PHOTO: JRC /THE HOLLYWOOD ARCHIVE/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
By Dave Shiflett
Aug. 20, 2020 7:28 pm ET
Among the horrors that beset some aging boomers is the harrowing suspicion that there is more music in Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto than in the entire Beatles catalog. But of course not everyone feels that way. Existing for around eight years and gone for 50, the Beatles and their signature hits are still very much with us. If the Fab Four didn’t roll over Beethoven in the composing competition, they certainly overshadowed him in mass popularity. And they continue to inspire a kind of pop anthropology, in which their life and times are chronicled in detail and mined for cultural insights.
In “And in the End,” the Scottish journalist Ken McNab focuses engagingly, and insightfully, on the band’s final year, starting with an account of its performance on Jan. 30, 1969, atop the roof of Apple headquarters in London. (Apple, we should remember, was a record label, not a computer cult.) The band hadn’t played publicly since an August 1966 gig at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Lots had happened in the intervening years: landmark albums, drugs, divorce, the death of manager Brian Epstein and the arrival of Yoko Ono.John Lennon complained that the band “had become Paul McCartney’s sidemen,” Mr. McNab says, a view seconded by George Harrison: “You’d have to do 59 of Paul’s songs before he’d even listen to one of yours.” Ringo Starr had tried to keep the peace while acting in Peter Sellers’s “The Magic Christian.”
The lads were at one another’s throats—and the wolf was at their door. Upwards of £20,000 was disappearing every week, Mr. McNab says, and nobody knew where it was going. Bankruptcy loomed. Lennon, who would later imagine a world with no possessions, worried about spending his senior years playing gigs for anyone who would listen. When he said the band didn’t have “half the money people think we have,” the comment crossed the ocean and aroused the dorsal fin of noted music shark Allen Klein. Like Yoko, Klein is something of a satanic figure to many Beatles fans. But he adds a dramatic surge to Mr. McNab’s narrative.
AND IN THE END
By Ken McNab
Thomas Dunne, 311 pages, $28.99
Klein had made a name for himself managing the Rolling Stones and other top acts. He deeply desired the Beatles, but his reputation was reptilian. Among his most notable scams was to siphon off most of the Rolling Stones’ U.S. profits. Mick Jagger warned the Beatles against hiring him, and Paul didn’t trust him, but the others liked Klein, who gets a fairly light lashing from Mr. McNab. Klein cut costs and decimated the Apple deadwood, but he would later sue the band (which would also sue him) and be accused of skimming money from the Bangladesh charity concert. His toxic side may have had early origins. Mr. McNab tells us that Klein’s father had put him in an orphanage at an early age, which perhaps also sharpened his ambition and wits. In any case, Klein got the band a significantly better recording contract. They had two projects in the pipeline as the curtain was falling: the albums that became “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be.”
Mr. McNab is a fan of the band, though not an uncritical one. He dings Lennon for being “high on idealism, low on reality” but also reminds us that the Beatles were uniquely talented and very hard working. “You Never Give Me Your Money” required 36 takes. “Because” had 23 takes of the backing track; producer-arranger George Martin also wrote nine harmony parts for the song. Amazingly, Harrison’s “Something” (which Frank Sinatra called “the greatest love song of the past 50 years”) was initially dissed by Martin, who dismissed it as “lightweight and derivative,” Mr. McNab writes.
Talent was evident in other forms, including self-promotion. After a post-nuptial hang with Salvador Dalí in Paris, John and Yoko made their way to Amsterdam to promote world peace, arriving in a white Rolls-Royce and taking up residence at the Hilton. Lennon was playing a new tune, “Give Peace a Chance,” which wasn’t entirely impressive. “What did it matter if it read like garbage?” Mr. McNab writes of the lyrics. “What really counted was the message.” He credits Lennon with playing a decisive role in ending the Vietnam War—an accomplishment the Nobel committee overlooked. His claim that rumors of Paul’s death became the “biggest and fastest circulating sensation since the 1963 assassination of JFK” also seems ambitious.
Mr. McNab leaves no doubt that Lennon engineered episodes of genius-level dissolution. Beethoven had hearing issues, Tchaikovsky was often a nervous wreck, and Schumann ended up in an asylum. But none, so far as we know, descended into “bagism,” a phenomenon in which Lennon climbed into a bag and whistled the “Blue Danube Waltz,” creating a vibe he referred to as “total communication.”
On April 10, 1970, Paul announced that he was done. The end had arrived before any band members had reached age 30. Bittersweet years followed, including acrimonious legal action. Lennon was murdered on Dec. 8, 1980, three weeks after the release of his “Double Fantasy” album. Harrison made good music and did good deeds until his death from lung cancer in 2001. Paul’s solo career showcased prolonged musical and showbiz prowess: His 2012 “Kisses on the Bottom” album was released on Starbucks’ record label and included “My Valentine,” which channeled Tony Bennett. Ringo maintained a talent for not appearing to take himself too seriously. Mr. McNab’s portrait of the band in its twilight neatly conveys the hazards of fame and the enduring value of youth, talent and a touch of madness.
As for Yoko, she re-captured the spotlight during the 2016 election cycle over rumors that she had once been romantically involved with Hillary Clinton, which was not enough to get the former secretary of state elected. Ailing but socially concerned, Yoko has lately been involved in creating anti-virus face masks. May her karma be pleasantly instant.
Mr. Shiflett posts his music and writing at Daveshiflett.com.