George Harrison and John Lennon had a heated argument about Yoko Ono performing at George’s 1971 benefit concert, the Concert for Bangladesh. John was on George’s list of friends and fellow musicians he wanted to perform. Yoko wasn’t. However, John couldn’t leave his wife behind. Or could he?
George Harrison said John Lennon gave him the courage to organize the Concert for Bangladesh
In 1971, George’s musical guru, Ravi Shankar, told him of a humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh. George immediately felt compelled to organize a benefit concert to raise money for the refugees. He could raise a lot of money if he got his famous friends and fellow musicians to perform.
However, if it weren’t for John, George wouldn’t have been brave enough to organize anything. In 1997, George told John Fugelsang at VH1 (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters) that John gave him the confidence to do the Concert for Bangladesh.
“I think that was one of the things that I developed, just by being in the Beatles, was being bold,” George said. “And I think John had a lot to do with that, you know, cause John Lennon, you know, if he felt something strongly, he just did it. And you know, I picked up a lot of that by being a friend of John’s. Just that attitude of, ‘Well, we’ll just go for it, just do it.'”
John also influenced George’s decision to capitalize on every aspect he could.
“When Ravi said to me … you know, he wanted me and Peter Sellers to come and introduce the show, and he could make $25,000,” George continued. “Straightaway I thought of the John Lennon aspect of it, which was: film it, and make a record of it, and, you know, let’s make a million dollars…
“And I think that boldness was by having that fame, by learning through the Beatles, that you get a bit more clout if you’re well known.”
However, John couldn’t give much more than those inspirations to the benefit concert.
George Harrison and John Lennon had a heated argument about Yoko Ono performing at the Concert for Bangladesh
When George quickly started organizing the Concert for Bangladesh, he knew who he wanted to perform. He asked Leon Rusell, Klaus Voormann, Billy Preston, Badfinger, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan (who was a no-show until the last minute). The Beatles hadn’t long split up, but he extended the invitation to his former bandmates as well.
Ringo Starr agreed in a heartbeat and even halted filming of Blindman to attend. Paul McCartney didn’t think it’d be appropriate considering the band’s legal problems with each other at the time.
George hoped John would agree, especially since he gave George the courage to do the benefit concert and lived in New York City. However, his hopes were futile. The person who some guessed tore The Beatles apart had once again come between them.
In Here Comes The Sun: The Spiritual And Musical Journey Of George Harrison, Joshua M. Greene wrote that when George asked John to perform, “John stipulated that Yoko would also have to perform.”
Greene continued, “That was not acceptable to George, who had handpicked world-class musicians for the concert, and heated words were exchanged.”
However, John agreed to attend.
John initially agreed to perform without Yoko, but he didn’t show up
John initially agreed to perform at the Concert for Bangladesh without Yoko. However, why he never actually showed up is under dispute.
Allegedly, Yoko found out about John and George’s agreement (per Far Out). As a result, John and Yoko fought about him going to the benefit concert without her. The couple then fled New York City two days before the Concert for Bangladesh. So, John never got to take the stage with his former bandmates.
According to The Beatles Diary Vol. 2: After the Break-Up 1970-2001 by Barry Miles and Keith Badman, John said there wasn’t any fight between him and his wife. He said Allen Klein, The Beatles’ business manager, had started the rumor.
However, the reason John gave for missing the Concert for Bangladesh wasn’t any better. “I just didn’t feel like it,” Miles and Badman claim John said. “We were in the Virgin Islands and I certainly wasn’t going to be rehearsing in New York, then going back to the Virgin Islands, then coming back up to New York and singing.”
Whatever reason John had for not being there for his former bandmate, the Concert for Bangladesh was a great success. George and Ringo had enough star power to rake in millions for the refugees. John’s no-show didn’t tarnish his relationship with George either. George maintained that he’d be bandmates again with John in a heartbeat.