End of an Era: Why Did the Beatles Break Up?

The breakup of The Beatles was the result of numerous factors, but it ultimately occurred when John Lennon quit the band.

Sep 17, 2023By Scott Mclaughlan, PhD Sociology

why did the beatles split


The end of The Beatles marked the end of an era. The enduring question – over 50 years after the event – persists: why did The Beatles split up? In reality, the breakup of The Beatles was multifaceted and complex: money problems, Brian Epstein’s death, John’s relationship with Yoko, not to mention creative divergences, internal power struggles, and the evolving artistic impulses of all four Beatles. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the pivotal factor was John Lennon’s abrupt decision to quit the band.


Money Problems

linda mccartney photograph beatles
The Beatles at Brian Epstein’s home in Belgravia at the launch of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by Linda McCartney, 1967, via Victoria & Albert Museum, London


In 1966, The Beatles finally decided to stop performing live after years of relentless touring. The plan was to focus on recording and the results were momentous. The release of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (1967) changed the musical landscape forever and secured The Beatle’s status as counter-cultural icons.


However, Brian Epstein’s death in 1967 left the Beatles without their manager – a charismatic figure that handled their finances, and more importantly, their egos. Lennon, Harrison, and Ringo wanted the manager of the Rolling Stones, Allen Klein to take over, while Paul McCartney favored his soon-to-be wife Linda’s father to assume responsibility.


Without Brian Epstein and the money generated by live performances The Beatles faced serious money problems. They ventured into off the wall ventures, from the ill-fated Apple boutique, to their commercially unsuccessful film, ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’ Tensions inevitably exacerbated the existing personal and creative conflicts within the band.

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Creative Differences

George Harrison emerged as a profoundly talented songwriter to challenge the go-to songwriting partnership that made the Beatles famous, via Wikimedia Commons
George Harrison emerged as a profoundly talented songwriter to challenge the go-to songwriting partnership that made the Beatles famous, via Wikimedia Commons


Over time, naturally, The Beatles began to develop artistically in different directions. Burgeoning desires for solo careers as a way to express their creative impulses only confirmed this trend. Furthermore, as The Beatles matured, the once formidable songwriting partnership of Lennon and McCartney began to fray at the edges. Paul continued to gravitate towards melodically-driven pop-oriented songs, while John ventured into more experimental, avant-garde territory.


Simultaneously, George Harrison continued to flourish as a supremely talented songwriter, and emerged from the long shadow of Lennon and McCartney. Harrison wrote some of the most loved Beatles songs of the later years, from ‘Taxman’ to ‘Here Comes the Sun’. As the late sixties unfolded each Beatle had begun to chart their own course and lay the groundwork for their individual solo careers.


The Ballad of John and Yoko

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Yoko Ono and John Lennon, Abba To Zappa Exhibition: A Hong Kong Exhibition Celebrates Music Legends. 2019. Photo: Gijsbert Hanekroot


John Lennon met Japanese artist Yoko Ono in 1966 at London’s Indica Gallery, an immediate connection emerged and they fell in love, prompting Lennon to leave his wife Cynthia, and his young son, Julian. John and Yoko tied the knot in Gibraltar in 1969. Despite being an artist in her own right, Yoko Ono has frequently been unjustly cast as the woman who broke up The Beatles. Yoko was slandered and endured racist criticism from large swathes of the media and fans, eager to find a scapegoat for The Beatles split.


The resentment toward Yoko Ono and her relationship with John Lennon was vicious. As Lennon recalled in 1980 “Our love helped us survive it, but some of it was pretty violent.” The ballad of John and Yoko was real. Did Yoko break up The Beatles? Absolutely not.


John Lennon Quit

linda mccartney paul john lennon photograph
John Lennon; Paul McCartney by Linda McCartney, 1968, via National Portrait Gallery, London


In 1969, during a private meeting with Ringo, Paul and their manager Allen Klein, John Lennon announced that he intended to quit The Beatles. George Harrison was absent. Klein, in a panic, convinced the band to stay quiet about the split while he tied up some crucial business deals. The period leading up to Lennon’s decision to quit had been drought with tension, as long-simmering creative differences began to reach a boiling point. Fierce disagreements over whose songs would feature on forthcoming Beatles albums seemed impossible to resolve.


Speaking to Melody Maker magazine in 1970, Lennon stated that the band had too much material, given Harrison’s dramatically increased songwriting output. He also claimed that he, along with the other band members, didn’t like Paul’s recent songs. 


The Beatles in better times. Stockholm 1963, via Wikimedia Commons
The Beatles in better times. Stockholm 1963, via Wikimedia Commons


Behind the scenes, Lennon’s escalating heroin use became a major problem. While The Beatles openly explored recreational drugs – notably LSD in the 60’s – Lennon’s heroin addiction was a taboo subject in the band and was not publicized in the same way. After he went Cold Turkey in 1970 Lennon candidly attributed his addiction to the ill treatment of Yoko Ono within Beatles circles.


In reality, the breakup of The Beatles was due to numerous factors: money problems and the death of Brian Epstein, divergent creative visions, and burgeoning artistic impulses. The breakdown of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership played a pivotal role. Nonetheless, ultimately, The Beatles split up when John Lennon quit.

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By Scott MclaughlanPhD SociologyScott is an independent scholar with a doctorate in sociology from Birkbeck College, University of London.