The Beatles essentially invented the concept of a band breaking up, and the ugliness surrounding it set the tone for every breakup that followed. Rock historians have been arguing about the exact cause of their split for over 50 years, and even the members of the band can’t agree on what did it. “After Brian died, we collapsed,” John Lennon told Rolling Stone in December 1970, in reference to manager Brian Epstein, who had guided the band through most of the Sixties until his death in 1967. “Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us, when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration.”
In a 2018 interview with Howard Stern, Paul McCartney said that Lennon was the actual cause of the breakup. “There was a meeting where John came in and said, ‘Hey guys, I’m leaving the group,’ ” Paul said. “All that money we’d earned, and all that fame we earned, was going down the pan. There was this guy that was going to take it all. It was that close. I was going, ‘No guys. We can keep it. We don’t have to give it to this guy.’ ”
He was talking about Epstein’s eventual replacement, Allen Klein, an incredibly divisive figure in rock history who briefly managed both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. McCartney was the one member of the group opposed to bringing him on board. The others would eventually realize that McCartney was right to have doubts, but not before Klein’s negative influence drove a major wedge between McCartney and the other Beatles. McCartney was especially upset at Klein’s decision to let Phil Spector come in and complete what would become Let It Be, adding strings to “The Long and Wind Road” without his permission.
Yoko Ono has been wrongly accused of breaking up the group up at several points in the past. And while there’s no doubt that her presence alongside Lennon at recording sessions late in the band’s career rankled the other members, pinning the entire dissolution on Ono is grossly unfair and simply ahistorical. “She certainly didn’t break the group up,” McCartney said in 2013. “I don’t think you can blame her for anything.”
“I don’t think you could have broken up four very strong people like them,” Ono said, “even if you tried. So there must have been something that happened within them — not an outside force at all.”
In the end, what broke up the Beatles was being the Beatles. They were four men who were simply exhausted by fame, fights over money and control, and, sadly, each other.