Daylight is good at arriving at the right time, but January 11, 1969, was always going to be that gray.
London was rainy that Saturday morning, a desperately needed day off for the Beatles, who finished spending five consecutive packed and charged days at Twickenham Film Studios, the final one witnessing George Harrison quitting the band after lunch.
At least George woke up to a little good news: The soundtrack to the film Wonderwall, his excellent first solo effort, cracked the Billboard 200 LP charts in the United States, where the January 11 issue of the magazine placed the LP at a very modest No. 197. (It would eventually peak at No. 49, on March 1, 1969). His presently erstwhile band’s eponymous double album remained the best-selling LP in the country, while Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (No. 56) and Magical Mystery Tour (75) remained on the top half of the charts. Bearing a sound retrospectively of so long ago, these two 1967 releases remained relevant to record-buyers.
(Still, George had one up on Paul McCartney, whose own 1967 release — the soundtrack to The Family Way, ostensibly the first “solo” release by a Beatle, albeit with little participation from Paul himself — did not chart at all.)
The same January 11, 1969, issue of Billboard shared the news of an impending Beatles “personal appearance” filmed for TV one week hence.
Meanwhile, the Beatles have finally agreed to make a personal appearance on Saturday (18) in a show which will be filmed for TV transmission. It will be the Beatles’ first public appearance since August 1966 in San Francisco, and the first in Britain since May 1966. The show, before an invited audience, will be in the London area and will feature many songs. (Fourteen new tracks were left over from the double album.) There is also a strong possibility that Apple will issue a live album of the show. Production will be by Michael Lyndsay-Hogg. [sic]
As we’ve heard on the Nagra tapes throughout the sessions so far, the show’s date and location had remained completely fluid and in constant state of negotiation to that point, beyond the fact the Beatles were now short a guitarist. We could charitably say 14 White Album leftovers wasn’t far off, although that was probably guesswork on Billboard’s part.
Left unspoken on the tapes was the Beatles Book’s competition (as described in the January 1969 issue), in which 50 winners would earn invitations to the group’s live show on January 18. The magazine said winners would receive details “no later than Saturday, January 11.” But it was the 11th, and no one had been alerted.
George was ready for his own victory, a weekend away from the band with the chance to rest and reset his private and professional problems. Then an unplanned and very personal appearance ended any search for serenity.
From George’s diary:
“Got up – John and Yoko came and diverted me at Breakfast”
To paraphrase George himself from the Beatles’ chart-topping album, we don’t know how he was diverted. We can only guess what John Lennon and Yoko Ono spoke about with George.
It’s notable, however, that the couple made the effort to intercept George as one of their very first activities that day — George probably wasn’t up at dawn, but it was still what he considered breakfast time. John didn’t offer George any cooling-off period in what could have been an attempt to make amends as much as it may have been a power play on John’s part, a multifaceted attempt to rein in George.
“I’m phoning Eric [Clapton], and he’ll be in Monday to replace you,” one could imagine John saying, with Yoko looking on. “And the others are happy to go along with the change! You should have heard them jamming with Yoko yesterday.”
That’s only a guess at what John could have told George. He could have simply said, “I’m really sorry, please come back,” but we don’t know that either.
We do know the result of the visit: Any apology on John’s part for their presumed midday argument wasn’t good enough, or George, no matter what, was never going to be receptive the day after the walkout. Instead, he would continue his holdout.
Separately, any attempt by Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr to contact George is conspicuous by its absence, a contrast notable in its own right.
The single line about John and Yoko’s visit is the lone January 11 entry in George’s diary.
It’s possible this is the day George threw out Charlotte Martin and reconciled with wife Pattie Boyd. It may have been the day he wrote “Wah-Wah.” But we don’t have any evidence either way, we just know those events happened in this narrow period while George was away from the band.
It’s unclear what Paul was doing Saturday. It’s possible that if he stayed in, he watched the Rolf Harris show at 7:30 p.m., when Vera Lynn performed “Good Night” on BBC-1, as promoted by Dick James the day before.
Ringo didn’t bother listening to a cover of the track he sang to close the White Album. Instead, he was tuned to the ITV murder mystery, which was on at the same time.
“Did you see ‘[Whatever Happened To] Baby Jane?’ on Saturday?” Ringo asked Michael Lindsay-Hogg on Monday, January 13, as captured by that day’s Nagra tapes. “Great film.”
The 1962 film starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford is a dark thriller revolving around a tortured celebrity sibling rivalry. The mixed-up state of the Lennon-McCartney-Harrison dynamic and its internal rivalries had devolved into its own tortured state by this point.
When the calendar turned to January 12, three of them — John, Paul and George — were Sunday driving, separately arriving, on their way to Ringo’s home.
Previewed on Friday before George’s departure, this meeting didn’t occur Saturday, as it was initially discussed. And when they gathered Sunday, it wasn’t exclusively an Apple business meeting as originally scheduled, but it also turned into a rescue mission to get George back to the Get Back sessions and make the Beatles whole again.