The Paul McCartney Project

McCartney files a lawsuit against the other three Beatles

Thursday, December 31, 1970 • Posted in “A day in the life

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On this day, Paul McCartney filed a lawsuit against the other three Beatles to dissolve The Beatles’ partnership. From Wikipedia:

[…] McCartney’s wish to dissolve the partnership was problematic, since it would expose them all to enormous tax liability, and his pleas to be released from Apple were ignored by Lennon, Harrison and Starr. McCartney said he struggled all through the summer of 1970 with the idea of having to sue his bandmates in order to be free of Apple and Klein. Anticipating the suit, Klein suggested that the other Beatles invite McCartney to a recording session in October where Lennon and Harrison were due to work on Starr’s song “Early 1970”. Klein reasoned that if McCartney attended, it would show that the Beatles’ musical partnership was still active and undermine McCartney’s case. McCartney did not accept the invitation. In December, Harrison and McCartney met in New York to discuss their differences but the meeting went badly. The press nevertheless interpreted the meeting as a truce between the two parties and, since Lennon was also in New York that month, reports insisted that the Beatles would soon re-form.

On 31 December, McCartney filed a lawsuit against the other three Beatles in London’s High Court of Justice for dissolution of the band’s contractual partnership. For Beatles fans, news of McCartney’s legal action and the publication of Lennon’s two-part “Lennon Remembers” interview in Rolling Stone increased the distasteful atmosphere surrounding the group’s demise. Time magazine dubbed the confrontation “Beatledämmerung”, in reference to Wagner’s opera about a war among the gods. By contrast, according to Guardian journalist Kitty Empire, writing in 2011, Harrison’s All Things Must Pass triple album “functioned as a kind of repository for grief” for the band’s fans. In Doggett’s description, the Beatles-related songs on Harrison’s album “offered a teasing glimpse into an intimate world that had previously been off-limits to the public”, and they introduced a self-referential trait in the ex-Beatles’ songwriting that, for fans and the press, came to represent episodes in a public soap opera. […]

In April 1971, Paul McCartney explained his decision to file this lawsuit against his ex-bandmates, in an interview for Life Magazine:

You see, there was a partnership contract put together years ago to hold us together as a group for 10 years. Anything anybody wanted to do — put out a record, anything — he had to get the others’ permission. Because of what we were then, none of us ever looked at it when we signed it. We signed it in ’67 and discovered it last year. We discovered this contract that bound us for 10 years. So it’s ‘Oh gosh, Oh golly, Oh heck,’ you know. ‘Now, boys, can we tear it up, please?’ But the trouble is, the other three have been advised not to tear it up. They’ve been advised that if they tear it up, there will be serious, bad consequences for them. The point, though, to me was that it began to look like a three-to-one vote, which is what in fact happened at a couple of business meetings. It was three to one. That’s how Allen Klein got to be the manager of Apple, which I didn’t want. But they didn’t need my approval.”

“Listen, it’s not the boys. It’s not the other three. The four of us, I think, still quite like each other. I don’t think there is bad blood, not from my side anyway. I spoke to the others quite recently and there didn’t sound like any from theirs. So it’s a business thing. It’s Allen Klein. Early in ’69 John took him on as business manager and wanted the rest of us to do it too. That was just the irreconcilable difference between us.”

“Klein is incredible. He’s New York. He’ll say ‘Waddaya want? I’ll buy it for you.’ I guess there’s alot I really don’t want to say about this, but it will come out because we had to sort of document the stuff for this case. We had to go and fight — which I didn’t want, really. All summer long in Scotland I was fighting with myself as to whether I should do anything like that. It was murderous. I had a knot in my stomach all summer. I tried to think of a way to take Allen Klein to court, or to take a businessman to court. But the action had to be brought against the other three.”

My biggest problem was I had to sue the Beatles; I tried to sue [Apple Group business manager] Allen Klein, but he wasn’t a party to any of the agreements, so I ended up having to sue my best friends as a technical matter. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do, but it was pointed out to me that it was the only way to do it. 

Paul McCartney, interview with Billboard, 2001

Last updated on June 7, 2020

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