Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The End of the Beatles' Long and Winding Road

Forty–five years ago today, the fourth and final movie featuring the Beatles — "Let It Be" — made its debut. Beatles fans were already becoming familiar with the music from the film — the soundtrack had been released in the United Kingdom a few days earlier and would be released in the United States a few days later.

At the Academy Awards the next year, the "Let It Be" was declsred the Best Original Score.

It was also released about five weeks after Paul McCartney had announced he was leaving the band. The signs of an approaching breakup had been there long before.

"Let It Be" was the only Beatles movie that had no real plot, which made it, in my opinion, the purest of the movies when it came to musical content. That is what the movie really was, a document of a prolonged recording session. It was also the filmed record of a popular band going through its death throes. It happens to most bands, I suppose. For any of several reasons, the band reaches its limit, and the members all understand it is time to look for something new. It didn't seem to surprise them, and it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise to anyone who had been paying attention, either. Nevertheless, many fans still seemed to be in shock at the thought of the Fab Four never performing together again.

I guess it all defied logic. The fans could read newspapers and magazines that detailed the band's breakup, yet, at the same time, there was another Beatles movie showing at the nation's theaters, and new Beatles music was playing on the radio. Nothing really seemed to have changed, the deniers told themselves, conveniently overlooking the evidence of an approaching breakup that had been accumulating for months. How could it be over?

Ah, but it was. The Beatles never performed as a band again. They each recorded solo albums and frequently collaborated with one or more of their former bandmates. I believe all four did play on one of Ringo Starr's albums — but on separate songs.

There were probably some hard feelings that lingered for awhile. Each Beatle seemed to have his personal agenda. In the movie, there appeared to be personality clashes between McCartney and each of his bandmates — but especially George Harrison, it seemed — at one time or another. John Lennon seemed to be obsessed with his new love interest, Yoko Ono. I'm sure Ringo had his issues, too. I just never could figure out what they were, other than he just wanted the band to keep making music — like they did when Beatlemania was new and the Beatles dominated the charts.

In the rapid–fire universe of popular music, a few weeks or months can seem like a lifetime. The half–decade that passed between the Beatles' first movie — "A Hard Day's Night" — and their last — "Let It Be" — must have seemed like a millennium, especially when you think of all the musical territory that was explored by the Beatles in the interim.

Their music had certainly traveled light years from "Can't Buy Me Love" to "The Long and Winding Road," on the silver screen. They had gained an astonishing amount of maturity since they made their debut in America.

I found it fascinating to watch the Beatles taking those final, often tortured steps on that long and winding road. I still do. I seem to come away from each viewing with a different — and no less valid — sense of what I have seen and what significance it may have had in the eventual outcome.

Maybe that was the idea all along.