Why John Lennon Shot Down George Harrison’s Idea for a Post-Beatles Band
Right after The Beatles broke up, things got pretty nasty between Paul McCartney and the other band members. There were lawsuits brought to British courts, snarky exchanges via the press, and even some pointed references to John Lennon in Paul’s “Too Many People.”
John responded with far stronger language on his takedown track “How Do You Sleep?” from 1971’s Imagine. If you check the credits on the album, you’ll find George Harrison playing slide guitar on the tune. To Paul, that probably felt like getting slapped by both John and George.
But the friendship between George and John took its own hit that year. As George was putting together the lineup for his Bangladesh benefit concert, he asked John to do it but didn’t want Yoko Ono involved. John considered that a slight.
By 1973, things had cooled off a bit. Both former Beatles had enjoyed contributing to their former drummer’s album, Ringo. In fact, George loved playing with John so much he wanted to start a new band with him. But John told him he wasn’t interested.
John had no intention of starting a group without Yoko.
Musically speaking, most of George’s issues with the late Beatles years revolved around Paul McCartney. George didn’t appreciate Paul’s methodical approach to recording and detested Paul’s unwillingness to change directions in the studio.
But he thought the opposite of John. When the press asked him about the potential of a Beatles reunion toward the mid-’70s, George said he’d happily join a band with John. He’d said the same when they worked on Ringo’s “I’m the Greatest” together in March ’73.
However, John had no intention of starting a band with George. Speaking with Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980, John had some condescending words for his old bandmate. While he said he enjoyed recording “I’m the Greatest,” things changed when George said he’d like to start a band with John.
“I was embarrassed when George kept asking me,” John told Sheff. “The spirit [of the session] was very good, but I was with Yoko. The very fact [George and Billy Preston] would imagine I would form a male group without Yoko!” It didn’t sound like he ever considered it.
John also used ’embarrassing’ to describe George’s early work.
As the youngest member of the band started by John, it took many years before George got the respect he deserved from the Lennon-McCartney alliance. John spoke very bluntly about George’s abilities in the early days.
To Sheff, John described their relationship as George being “a follower” way back. “I don’t want to be that egomaniacal, but he was like a disciple of mine when we started.” Later in the interview, John compared him to the kids who’d wait outside his New York apartment building to get an autograph.
As for George’s early efforts at songwriting, John dismissed them completely. “There was an embarrassing period when George’s songs weren’t that good and nobody wanted to say anything,” he said. “He just wasn’t in the same league for a long time.”
While John acknowledged the greatness of George’s work on Abbey Road, you get the feeling he still didn’t consider him an equal when George pitched him the new band idea.