One of the curious aspects of fandom – not just pertaining to The Beatles, but to any major act – is that unquenchable desire to know stuff, to learn more. To find out little details about the people who created the work that we’ve come to love so much. Over the years, I’ve tried not to get too drawn into the minutiae of what George liked to put on his toast or John’s favourite trousers, never mind the label variations of the band’s early US singles or the subtle differences between takes 73 and 88 of ‘Not Guilty’, for example. I know there are people who salivate over this kind of stuff but I’ve only got so much capacity in my brain, and I’d rather not fill it with that level of trivia. Nonetheless, The Beatles’ story is such that there is a continent of rich terrain to explore before you get to the edge of that particular cliff and, once you start reading about their lives, it’s difficult to find your way out of the jungle again. Let’s face it, to any normal person, a 631-page book outlining the day-to-day activities of the Fab Four in the 30 years after they split might seem a bit excessive. But, if you’re anything like me, Keith Badman’s The Beatles After The Break-Up, 1970-2000 remains a glorious, compelling read – a feast of Beatle titbits that will have you licking your lips for months.
Subtitled A Day-by-Day Diary, the hefty tome was first published in 1999 and fulfilled its remit in sumptuous style. Kicking off at the start of April 1970, just before The Beatles’ split was announced, it is divided into calendar year sections filled not only with the dates of recording sessions, single and album releases, concert performances and TV appearances but also….well, pretty much anything and everything Badman managed to uncover in the course of his extensive research. So we get notable court cases, video shoots, press conferences, interviews, film roles, business meetings, public appearances and holidays, plus a sprinkling of reviews, prominent press rumours, chart placings and awards. And he doesn’t just stick to the individual careers of the now ex-Fabs, but also charts the steady growth of the band’s herculean afterlife, from early ‘70s radio retrospectives and the rushed release of the 1962-66 and 1967-70 compilation albums through to the huge multi-media Anthology project of the 1990s, and beyond. The whole book is testament to the view of people like me that The Beatles’ story didn’t end when its constituent members went their separate ways, but instead just entered a different phase – one which was just as eventful, interesting and entertaining as what came before.
If the diary format sounds a little dry, it really isn’t. For the most part, Badman fleshes out the sequence of events with well-chosen interview quotes, reactions, background details and other nuggets of insight which bring the history to life. You could use After The Break-up as a reliable reference work, but reading it from cover to cover is a great way to chart the ebb and flow of their solo careers, as they happened. This is particularly true in the first half of the 1970s, as they all raced out of the blocks to establish their individual identities (all the while trying to disentangle themselves from the rotting Apple Corps situation), while the world was still reeling from the fact that their collective partnership was no more. All four were going at full tilt, and – as the book demonstrates – crammed in an extraordinary amount of activity. As well as all of them pumping out singles and albums on a regular basis, you had John and Yoko dabbling in radical New York politics, Ringo forging a low-key film career, George striving to support humanitarian work in war-torn Bangla Desh and Paul putting in the hard yards to establish Wings as a musical force. Plus plenty more besides. Whether scoring big hits, appearing in court, selling out concerts or sniping at each other through the pages of the music press, they were rarely out of the headlines or off the airwaves. For all the ongoing trauma of the split and its ensuing fall-out, it must’ve been a fabulous time to be a Beatles fan.
As a noted collector of film and video material (as the book reveals, he was invited to help assemble footage for the Anthology TV series), Badman is especially good on detailing TV appearances and the production of promotional clips, including some items which never actually saw the light of day. And, as this book was published before the advent of YouTube and archive material was rarely seen outside of bootleg VHS tapes and screenings at fan get-togethers, he also transcribes sections of notable broadcast interviews, such as John’s and George’s guest spots on the US Dick Cavett Show in the early 1970s. His exhaustive documentation of the Fabs’ promotional activities also sheds light on some of the priorities of their individual careers – Paul, for example, seems to have popped up on every TV and radio show known to man to promote his Give My Regards to Broad Street film in 1984/85 (sadly, to little avail), whereas the usually publicity-shy George went into promotional overdrive to successfully plug his ‘comeback’ album Cloud Nine in 1987/88. And the book is a goldmine when it comes to recording Beatle interactions during these years, with Badman’s research throwing up some headline-grabbing discoveries at the time of publication. For example, it contains the first-ever published photograph of John and Paul together after the split, when the McCartneys visited John in Los Angeles during his so-called ‘lost weekend’ separation from Yoko (and while one or two other photos have since emerged from this event, it remains the only time we know they were definitely captured on camera together after 1969). And the author also somehow got hold of a message of support George and Olivia Harrison sent Paul when he was incarcerated in a Tokyo prison cell in January 1980. Similarly, he’s very good at picking out instances of the Fabs talking about each other – so we know that George liked ‘That Would Be Something’ and ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ (if little else) on the McCartney album, and that Paul thought George’s 1973 ‘Give Me Love’ single was “very nice….The guitar solo is ace.” I can’t get enough of stuff like this, and the book is full of it.
Again, while After The Break-up is not written like a conventional biography, it nonetheless reveals an awful lot about the Fabs’ evolving attitudes to their collective legacy and the omnipresent press enquiry about whether they would ever reunite. John, after adopting a scorched earth policy in his infamous ‘Lennon Remembers’ 1970 interview with Rolling Stone which basically trashed everything and everyone connected with the Beatles’ years (the book also reproduces a scathing letter he wrote to Melody Maker in 1971 about George Martin), was by 1975 singing a very different tune. “I’ve lost all that negativity about the past….I’d do ‘Hey Jude’ and the whole damn show,” he told Melody Maker. But, true to form, when 1980 rolled around he had revised his opinion yet again; while happy to discuss his Fab Four experiences with all and sundry, he told Newsweek that anyone expecting them to revive the Beatle brand and its concordant magic would be “out of their skulls…..I was never one for reunions. It’s all over.” George, by contrast, was happy to keep the door open to a reunion at the dawn of the 1970s, but by 1974 was telling the world he wouldn’t be in a band with Paul McCartney and in the early 1980s seemed somewhat irritated, even bitter, by the relentless media focus on the past (“They’re not interested in me as a human being, they are only interested in The Beatles – what guitar I played on Sgt Pepper and all that crap,” he told the Sunday Times in 1983). While this resentment would continue to flare up from time to time, his stance did soften, and he shared many fond recollections when promoting Cloud Nine in the late ‘80s or contributing to the Anthology project a few years later.
Ringo seemed the most relaxed about his Fabs heritage, at least until the early 1980s, when he began to weary of reporters skimming over questions about his latest record in a rush to ask about the last time he’d seen Paul or George or his take on Beatlemania – interviewed on US TV show Entertainment Tonight in 1981, for instance, he said: “It’s more exciting for me to talk about my records than Beatles records, ‘cos we’ve been talking about them for 20 years.” Paul, of course, carried out the biggest U-turn. While it’s something of a myth that he rarely answered questions about The Beatles in 1970s, it’s true that he adopted a rather testy bearing towards such queries in the early part of the decade, when his legal battle with the others was raging and he was striving to get Wings off the ground (when asked about a comment John had made by a Melody Maker reporter in 1972, he replied: “John who?”). As the book repeatedly demonstrates, however, by the time the 1980s were in full flow Paul had become the cheerleader for all things Beatles, invoking their name at the drop of a hat and actively engineering the reunion which eventually came to pass in the 1990s.
I certainly learned loads reading the book, from unreleased songs recorded by Ringo during the 1970s through to the seemingly endless number of litigation cases brought by or against the Fabs which spread through their post-Beatles lives like the tendrils of a particularly noxious (albeit fascinating) vine. It also turns up some incredibly detailed stuff on George, including films he borrowed (before the days of home video) to watch at Friar Park, his flights abroad and even his tax returns for a few years. And it was enormous fun retracing my gradual immersion in the Beatles world, putting dates and context around my earliest memories of the band and its constituent members and then the record releases, TV spots and other events I began to devour in earnest from the mid-1980s onwards. Sadly, however, it’s at that mid-way point where After The Break-up starts to run out of steam a little bit. While the attention to detail in documenting the surviving Fabs’ every move continues to astound, the well-chosen interview excerpts dotted through the first half of the book become much thinner on the ground; likewise the level of detail afforded certain projects in the 1970s and early ‘80s diminishes later on (compare the two pages or more devoted to 1973’s James Paul McCartney TV special with the couple of paragraphs covering Macca’s Put It There documentary in 1989, for example). A few topics, such as Paul’s landmark 1989/90 world tour and the build-up to the Anthology series in 1995, receive a decent bit of attention and it remains a great read, but I felt Badman’s enthusiasm waned a little in the second half of the book, which becomes more of a run-through of dates, places and headlines. Maybe he felt John’s absence made the on-going story less interesting; maybe there were simply more TV, radio and concert appearances to cram in at the expense of more colourful, deeper information, or maybe – in the case of the more sparse interview material – he was saving stuff for his follow-up volume, the solo interviews collection Off The Record.
While Badman may have had an editor or publisher urging him to rein stuff in as the book grew and grew, I would question a few of his content choices which did make the final cut. Information about Yoko tours and art exhibitions in the 1980s and beyond seems a little superfluous to me, as does the extensive coverage he gives to Eric Idle’s spoof The Rutles. His decision to include repeated mentions of Britpop band (and wannabe Beatles) Oasis and their retorts to George’s comments about them in the late 1990s hasn’t aged well, either, and listing TV screenings of Help! or A Hard Day’s Night gets somewhat tiresome by the book’s end. And while it’s fun to read when George took his family off on jaunts to Australia or the US, do we really need to know what time their planes touched down or how much the flight tickets cost? There are refreshingly few mistakes for such a gargantuan, meticulously researched undertaking, and the ones there usually occur when something accidentally pops up in the wrong year – John is listed as mixing his Some Time in New York City album months before he is reported as actually recording it, for example. What bugs me more is a slight lack of consistency over what is included, and where. Chart placings are given for some singles and albums, and not for others; and when they are listed, it’s sometimes when the record is released, and sometimes when it reaches its chart peak. Likewise, while the author relies heavily on Beatle interviews with the UK’s music weeklies, New Musical Express and Melody Maker, major, front page chats with heavyweight US journals like Rolling Stone and Musician (as well as Q and MOJO magazines in Britain) are largely ignored. I know it seems a little churlish to complain when there’s already such a wealth of information between the covers, but I think if you’re going to do something like this you might as well go all in. And it’s probably just me, but I don’t like the tendency to put exclamation marks in some of the interview transcriptions and attach weighted terms like “he ranted” to perfectly measured statements. It adds a slightly cartoonish, tabloid quality to their words which isn’t necessary (and can be somewhat misleading).
These are minor gripes, however. If you’re anything like me, when you reach the end of the chapter on 1999 you’ll be regretting the book has not been properly expanded and updated in the years since. When it was first published, George was still with us; Paul had yet to marry Heather Mills (let alone Nancy Shevell) and form the tour band which still backs him on concert stages around the world to this day; Ringo still had almost half of his solo music catalogue to record, and the bonanza of Apple-sanctioned Beatles archive releases which kicked off in the 2000s remained the stuff of fan fantasy and speculation on the nascent internet. True, there was a paperback edition early in 2001 (with an amended title of The Beatles Diary Vol. 2, so that it dovetailed in with a similar volume covering the group years by Barry Miles, also published by Omnibus Press), but it simply added a few extra pages to bring the story into the 2000s. It’s interesting to note the things he predicted in the final pages of the first edition which did materialise soon afterwards, such as The Beatles 1 compilation, Paul’s Wingspan documentary and the Gimme Some Truth film showcasing the making of John’s Imagine album. Other products, like CD releases of the Live at the Hollywood Bowl and the original Get Back album, took a lot, lot longer, while we are of course still waiting for the Let It Be film and a collection of rare and unreleased material from George’s archives. Plus ça change.
A revised version bringing the story up to date would be very welcome, but maybe Badman figures that – with Paul and Ringo still in good health and very active – it would become instantly obsolete as soon as it hit the shops. Or maybe he simply can’t face trawling through another 22 years’ worth of Beatles ephemera to keep us all clued up on their every movement and utterance. Frankly, he deserves a medal for doing it first time around. He undoubtedly succeeds to demonstrating that The Beatles’ second act was just as engrossing and exciting as their first, even if it didn’t have the same social impact or enduring, all-conquering popularity. And on that level, as this book amply demonstrates, they only really suffer in comparison to their earlier selves – all four Fabs achieved individual success that most acts could only dream of, and even their misfires have been rarely less than captivating. If you love the solo ventures, or want to learn more about them, After The Break-Up is a must-have. I give it an 8.