Michael Gerber
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The Beatles, 1969

The Beatles, not worrying about global warming, 1969.

In the midst of a comment thread, I stumbled on an interesting thought which I wanted to open to the group: how do you think The Beatles’ legacy would’ve been different if they’d never returned to the studio after Let It Be?

My initial, instinctual thought is that the group’s demise would’ve been even more mythic, even more shrouded by “what might have been.” The rich sprawl of White seems to invite a follow-up of the quality of Abbey Road, and had the wet firecracker of Let It Be been The Beatles’ last recorded work together, I think people would’ve felt even more grief when it was all over.

Surely White would be under the microscope in a way that it usually is not, and some songs in the catalog would loom larger — “Blackbird,” for example. “Paul’s waiting for his moment to arise; he’s taking his broken — ie, clipped — wings and learning to fly. So you see, even as early as Spring 1968, Paul’s thinking of leaving.”

For all of White‘s bursting-at-the-seams fecundity, it has nothing of the valedictory to it; not for a second does Ringo’s maudlin “Good Night” feel like a sincere summation. (It’s always struck me as a lullaby penned by a father struggling to be sincere in his fatherhood.) Whereas the entire medley on Abbey Road definitely does have that quality — “this is who we are, and this is what we have learned…goodbye.”

On the other hand, perhaps the group wouldn’t have split permanently, if they’d had a good long rest after January 1969. Opinions?