Famous Last Words:
The Snub that Led to the Beatles’ Breakup

Allen Klein had a contract to manage the Beatles. Unfortunately, there were no longer any Beatles to manage.

Fred Goodman
Aug 13, 2015 · 9 min read

Klein’s most provocative act at Apple Records was directed not at an employee, but at an owner. During a staff meeting at Savile Row, the receptionist buzzed Allen. Everyone in his office heard the message: Paul McCartney was on the line for him. “Tell him I’m in a meeting and I’ll call him back later,” he said.

After a few seconds, the receptionist stuck her head in the door. Paul was insistent; Klein would talk to him now — or never. The Beatle clearly knew he was being snubbed in front of a roomful of his employees. Klein shrugged. “I can’t talk to him now.” Paul McCartney kept his word. He never spoke to Allen Klein again.

Klein nonetheless worked tirelessly to set the Beatles’ financial house in order. If McCartney objected to any of his cost-cutting decisions at Apple, he never said so. Just as important to the group’s financial picture, Klein’s decision to negotiate with United Artists for the release of Let It Be proved a very savvy and lucrative move for the Beatles. Between the film and its soundtrack album, Klein could claim that Apple made six million dollars in just the first month following its May 1970 release — at a time when the Beatles were grateful for a real payday.

The best thing may have been that it was found money, a project McCartney had shelved and the others hadn’t cared about. Yet although it contained several memorable tunes, Let It Be wasn’t an artistic success. Coming on the heels of the miraculous ending that was Abbey Road, the album and film were a flat and disappointingly inconsequential coda to the age’s most brilliant career. Let It Be could never quite become more than it was: a collection of tapes missing the Beatles’ spark. The original “live” session tapes engineered and produced by Glyn Johns certainly felt as if they were missing something. Before “Let It Be” was released as a single, it was given to George Martin, and the producer fleshed it out with horns and backup vocals and replaced Lennon’s original bass part with an overdub by McCartney. To make the album, the rest of the tapes were given to Phil Spector, who worked on them with George Harrison and Ringo Starr. McCartney spent much of this period on his farm in Scotland recording the music that would become his first solo album, McCartney. Lennon was not involved.

“Paul and I were too bored with the project to give him any help at all,” John said. The soundtrack to Let It Be was supposed to be released a month or two after the film’s April 28 New York premiere. But when Spector announced that work had proceeded quicker than expected and that he could deliver the album for simultaneous release, that seemed good news; the album could be in stores at the height of interest. There was just one glitch: Paul’s solo album was also slated to debut in mid-April.

To maximize their success, the Beatles had always tried to schedule new releases when they had a reasonably clear field; they shared information on upcoming records with the Rolling Stones so the bands could avoid competing with each other. The market was already crowded, particularly in America, where a compilation of Beatles singles, Hey Jude, had been released at the end of February and Ringo’s first solo album, Sentimental Journey, was to come out in early April. Klein and the other Beatles worried that the additional titles would hurt the sales of Let It Be and told Capitol to push back the release date of McCartney. Since Ringo’s album was also being released, he agreed to go and give Paul the letters about the postponement.

“I thought I would take the letters around to Paul myself,” Ringo said, “expecting Paul might be disappointed and thinking it was right that one of the Beatles personally should tell him.” To Starr’s dismay, McCartney flew into a rage, pushing him and making threats. “I’ll finish you all now,” Ringo recalled Paul saying. “‘You’ll pay.” When Starr asked McCartney to at least consider postponing the release of his album, Paul threw him out. Shaken, Ringo convinced the others to alter their plans and push Sentimental Journey up to late March and the soundtrack-album film premiere of Let It Be back to May 8, letting McCartney have his original release date of April 20. “I felt since he was our friend and the date was of such immense significance to him, we should let him have his own way.” The new arrangement didn’t mollify Paul. Having already stopped speaking with Klein on the phone, he now pointedly refused to attend any meetings that included Klein, sending solicitor Charles Corman in his stead. Though taken aback, the other Beatles teasingly asked the attorney where his bass was.

Allen Klein and Ringo Starr (Daily Mail/Solo Syndication)

Still, Ringo said he wished Paul had come and judged Klein’s abilities for himself. McCartney also took exception to seeing credits on the back of an American copy of his album describing Apple Records as “an ABKCO Company.” He insisted that ABKCO had nothing to do with his career or his work and that the company’s name had no business on his record. ABKCO was in fact pressing and administering the records in the United States, but Klein did as McCartney asked and removed the line. More significant, Klein and McCartney were soon at daggers drawn over Phil Spector’s postproduction and mixes for Let It Be, particularly over the song “The Long and Winding Road.” The overblown arrangement — with a huge string section, ringing horns, harp, and a choir — surprised George Martin, who considered it so uncharacteristic that it sounded at odds with the group’s body of work. He could also have called it silly, which it was. Spector, who had no great love for McCartney, later suggested he had added the arrangement to cover a sloppy bass part by Lennon, although why he didn’t just erase it as Martin had done on “Let It Be” is a mystery.

Incensed to hear his song buried under Spector’s wall of bombast, McCartney indignantly said no one had the right to alter his work without his approval — although whether that was actually what happened is debatable. Both Harrison and Starr would later publicly say that all the Beatles had received acetates of the Spector mixes and that McCartney had okayed them. But if he had ever been satisfied, that was certainly not the case as the album came to market. “We heard no more about it from him until it was too late to do anything,” Ringo said.

Regardless, Paul was now livid. Michael Kramer recalls seeing a nasty note from McCartney to his uncle Allen concerning the track. “It was addressed ‘Dear Fuck Klein,’ ” he said. For his part, Klein twisted the knife by having “The Long and Winding Road” released as the Beatles’ next single, guaranteeing it would be omnipresent. It became the band’s final number-one hit in America, where it spent ten weeks on the charts. The track stood as it was — or at least it did for thirty-three years until Let It Be… Naked was released with the original, non-orchestrated performance used in the film.


While McCartney railed that Klein and Spector had perpetrated “the shittiest thing that anyone’s done to me,” the other Beatles were displeased by what they viewed as a betrayal perpetrated by Paul: in an interview included as an insert in the first copies of McCartney sent to the press, Paul announced that he had quit the band and that the Beatles were no more. The others remembered when Lennon had privately told them he was done with the Beatles and had agreed to keep it quiet for financial and promotional reasons. Declaring his independence while promoting his solo record, McCartney seemed to be separating himself from their shared interests — a substantive change. Indeed, McCartney now wanted to change the way income from their solo projects was divvied up. Under the original plan for Beatles and Company, the corporate predecessor to Apple, all Beatles’ income paid into the company was ultimately split four ways — and that included earnings on solo projects. That was fine with the others.

Lennon didn’t care when the $1.5 million windfall from Live Peace in Toronto went into the general kitty; Harrison was happy to split the sizable royalties on his bestselling box set All Things Must Pass with his former bandmates. But McCartney took a different view. He may simply have been ready to bet on himself, believing his own career going forward would be worth more than a quarter share in an ongoing partnership with Lennon, Harrison, and Starr, and his secret purchase of Northern Songs shares suggested he had been thinking of himself as a separate agent for some time. But one thing was certain: Paul did not trust Allen Klein and didn’t want him anywhere near his work, assets, or money. He made that abundantly clear in the mock interview sent out with review copies of McCartney.

A: Not if I can help it.

Behind the scenes, John Eastman hoped for a quick and amicable resolution. Though the Eastman’s had repeatedly tried to frustrate Klein’s plans with Northern Songs, Capitol Records, and United Artists, John now struck a conciliatory tone, essentially saying, Let McCartney go his way and you can go yours. “My sole purpose was to make sure my client gets his twenty-five percent,” John Eastman said. “I talked to Allen and said, ‘We can resolve this.’ We would have made a deal at any time to disgorge Paul’s twenty-five percent. Paul had no qualms about letting Allen handle the others — let them do as they please. Klein was incapable of making a deal.” Though it would have been close to impossible to bring a quick and legal end to the Beatles’ partnership, Eastman’s remarks suggest a workaround agreement likely would have satisfied McCartney (although precisely how Paul could informally separate himself from ABKCO’s relationship with Apple is unclear).

In any event, Klein wouldn’t budge; he was managing the Beatles’ affairs by majority consent of the Apple principals and he was going to follow the agreements. Whether McCartney liked it or not, it was Klein’s position that he had signed on to those agreements and he couldn’t just change his mind now. Clearly there was never going to be a rapprochement. To manage the Beatles had been the great crusade of Allen’s career, the act that would vindicate him personally and professionally. And while he’d achieved the holy land, he hadn’t quite conquered Jerusalem. Yes, he had a contract to manage the affairs of the Beatles. Unfortunately, there were no longer any Beatles to manage. He was John Lennon’s regent in a now unavoidable divorce.


Excerpted from Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out The Beatles, Made The Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll © 2015 by Fred Goodman.

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine retailers.

Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.


Top Photo: John Lennon, Allen Klein, Yoko Ono (ABKCO Archives)

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