When George Harrison’s Problems With John Lennon Led to a Fistfight

When you read about the breakup of The Beatles, the stories always tend to focus on the feud between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Considering they were the band’s primary songwriters for so many years, it makes sense to look at it that way.

However, by the late ’60s, there was no denying that George Harrison was on the same level. When the lead guitar player quit the band suddenly in January 1969, The Beatles considered various ways to replace him before acknowledging they couldn’t.

George left that day (during the filming of Let It Be) partly because of his caught-on-camera dispute with Paul. Yet that wasn’t the only reason. According to legendary Beatles producer George Martin, simmering troubles between John and George actually led to a fistfight at the time.

Though Paul and John had nearly come to blows during the recording of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” this remains the only documented time that two Beatles got into a physical altercation.

The fight that was ‘completely hushed up’ in 1969

John Lennon and George Harrison with Yoko Ono at the opening of Beatles shop ‘Apple Tailoring’ in London, 23 May 1968. | M. McKeown/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While George had put out some solid songs over the years, he had fully bloomed as a songwriter by 1968. On the band’s White Album, his tracks “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Long, Long, Long” easily stood up to Paul and John’s work. His contributions had also grown by the album.

Yet that didn’t mean his stature in the band had risen accordingly. When you watch Let It Be, you see Paul patronizing George during their famous argument. Meanwhile, during a rehearsal of George’s “I Me Mine,” you see John whisk Yoko off for a waltz.

That grated on George’s nerves (as it would anyone). He’d already been annoyed at Yoko’s presence in the sessions for Abbey Road and Let It Be; when it became obvious John wasn’t taking him seriously, it might have pushed him over the edge.

Just before he walked out on the band, he and John got into a legitimate fistfight. (John’s comments about Apple’s finances in the press also reportedly had something to do with it.) A Beatles biographer wrote that George Martin described the fight as “completely hushed up at the time.”

John and George moved on after the scuffle.

1967: Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison in Newquay while filming ‘The Magical Mystery Tour’. | Keystone Features/Getty Images

John, being the guy he was, took a “good riddance” posture following the fight. In the studio, he decided to take up a cover of The Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away.” It doesn’t take much to get the significance of the song.

Yet over the next 10 days, The Beatles admitted they couldn’t just replace George with Eric Clapton; they needed their guitar player. Before he returned to the band, George demanded they move out of the studio where all the problems had arisen and nix the idea for a comeback live show.

The Beatles agreed and welcomed him back to the fold. For fans of the Fab Four, it was a good thing they did, as we wouldn’t have Abbey Road or Let It Be without that reconciliation.

As for George and John, the two seemed to move on from the fight. In 1971, when John recorded his breakthrough debut solo album, he had George on slide guitar.

They agreed at least on one thing: They were both happy to be done recording with Paul. George helped John lay down the most scathing of former Beatles takedowns — “How Do You Sleep?,” addressed to their former bandmate.

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