Everyone knows that, for all intents and purposes, The Beatles ended with John Lennon’s passing in 1980. But what this email presupposes is, maybe they didn’t. What if John Lennon was not tragically lost on that cold December night, at just 40-years young? A reunion, one would imagine, was inevitable. So what music, what art, may The Beatles have created if they just had more time together? What if indeed.
Well, let’s imagine, shall we?
December 25, 1980: An unexpected Christmas Day phone call from Paul McCartney to John Lennon re-opens the lines of communication between the two old friends, and soon reignites their creative spark. With little haste they reach out to George and Ringo (in that order) and preliminary plans are hatched to reunite and begin work on the Beatles comeback album.
February 14, 1981: Somewhat fittingly, the band commences songwriting for their new record on Valentines Day, taking up residence at NYC’s Electric Lady Studios. A heavily New Wave-inspired album, it is to be titled Burger Night, named for their weekly order from the famous “The Famous Cozy Soup & Diner.”
March 7, 1981: After a night of jamming at John’s (and a few cocktails), the band decides to cash a check from a few years earlier, heading down to 30 Rock to crash that night’s taping of Saturday Night Live, hosted by its former star Bill Murray. The band takes the stage after “Saturday Night NewsLine,” ripping through “Helter Skelter,” the first ever live performance of “Maggie Mae” and a cover of “Jailhouse Rock.” [note: this was Jean Doumanian’s final episode as SNL executive producer]
May 12, 1981: Burger Night is released worldwide. It’s a smash hit. The band commemorates the debut with an unannounced performance atop the London Palladium.
Summer 1981: The band embarks on the Burger Night World Tour, their first live tour in 15 years. Not surprisingly, all 75 dates are sold out.
September 1981: Energized by the tour and getting along like the early years in Liverpool, the band quickly returns to the studio to record their Burger Night follow-up, Overnight Trains, exploring some disco grooves that didn’t make it onto Burger Night. They hustle to complete the album by the end of the year.
December 1981: Exhausted after almost a full year of recording and touring, they retreat to their respective homes for a much needed break. On Christmas Day Paul places another call to John, cementing the tradition. Meanwhile, Phil Spector mixes the new album in London.
January 26, 1982: Overnight Trains is released to middling reviews. “Dashed off,” “Inessential,” “Regretful” are some criticisms levied by British rock journalists. The band is crestfallen, admitting to themselves that they probably had a little too much fun making the record. They decide not to tour in support of the album, and instead focus on the solo projects they put on hold before reuniting.
Summer 1982: John pops-in on George somewhere in England to hear a new tune he’s working on with Eric Clapton. It is there that John is struck by an idea for the next Beatles record.
November 16, 1982:The Beatles: JohnPaulGeorgeRingo is released. It’s a massive quadruple set, essentially four separate albums with each Beatle taking a turn as the primary songwriter and singer. Fretting about his contribution, and declining assistance from his bandmates, Ringo quietly turns to Elton John as his ghostwriter. The collection connects with both fans and critics, the latter of whom are especially impressed with Ringo’s tracks.
1983: The band takes a year off with very few appearances, save for George’s brief (and nearly impossible to spot) cameo as a Stormtrooper in Return of the Jedi.
Fall 1984: Working with producer Brian Eno, the Beatles make their 80s electro-pop concept album. Unable to agree on a title, it’s simply released with a solid blue cover and the words “The Beatles.” Fans, of course, refer to it as “The Blue Album.” Their music video for “Slough Off” directed by Terry Gilliam, receives regular airplay on MTV, and is The Beatles first bonafide hit on the fledgling network.
July 13, 1985: After performing only periodically the previous year, the band headlines Live Aid at Wembley Stadium. As the show was running behind the bands scheduled ahead of The Beatles were forced to trim their performances, most notably Queen cutting “We Will Rock You” from their set. Bob Geldof will later say “without The Beatles there is no Live Aid.”
August 12, 1985: A cover of Martha & the Vandell’s “Dancing in the Street” featuring John Lennon and David Bowie, originally recorded for Live Aid, is released and rockets to the top of the charts. The collaboration angers Paul, and band relations are strained once again.
September 1985: Inspired by a trip to Africa in the wake of Live Aid, the band puts their mounting tension aside to record an album with distinct Mbaqanga influences. The process is tumultuous and fraught with disagreements. They concede to go on a limited tour, mostly smaller arenas and theaters, on the condition that they take an indefinite hiatus upon its completion. The band cancels the last 3 dates of the tour, citing “food poisoning.”
July 8, 1986: The album, transatlanticism, is released to great acclaim. Paul Simon’s Graceland, another album drawn heavily from African music, debuts the following month and is considered an inferior facsimile, leading to a long period of depression and inactivity for Simon, but ultimately culminating in his successful reunion with Art Garfunkel, a fruitful partnership that continues to this day.
October 25, 1986: John delivers a rousing rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” before Game 6 of the World Series in front of a raucous Shea Stadium crowd. Inspired by the performance, the Mets pound out 4 runs in the first inning, cruising to an easy victory, despite a pinch-hit 9th inning home run from Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner.
August 7, 1987: After putting his film producing career on hold, George returns to Hollywood with Masters of the Universe, the big screen adaptation of the He-Man saga. Harrison also produces and appears on the soundtrack, including the mildly successful single “Touch of Grayskull.” Ringo stopped by for a small role as one of Skeletor’s henchmen.
January 20, 1988: All four Beatles come together for the first time in almost two years for their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Paul refuses to be inducted by Mick Jagger, so Little Richard subs in at the last minute. John later prevents an incoherent Ringo from grabbing the microphone during their acceptance speech (we’ve all seen the YouTube clip), and the Beach Boy’s Mike Love jumps in to calm down Starr (later that year Ringo returns the favor and plays steel drums in the music video for the Beach Boys #1 hit “Kokomo”). However, After witnessing Ringo’s worsening condition first-hand, the band makes a promise to return to the studio if Ringo can commit to his sobriety. The following morning Ringo checks himself into rehab.
April 1988: Deciding to keep his schedule open for a Beatles album, George declines an invitation to join The Traveling Wilburys, and the Wilburys instead recruit Phil Collins to round out the group. Their first album, The Wild Wilbury Revue, lands with a thud, and the band no longer records or performs after Roy Orbison’s death.
February 14, 1989: On Valentines Day once again (as chosen by John), The Beatles enter Abbey Road studios to record their 5th album of the decade. With a clean, sober and reinvigorated Ringo behind the drums, the band embarks on what is one of their most creatively fulfilling recording sessions.
August 21, 1989: Beatles Forever hits Sam Goody stores across the US and is released worldwide the following day. It is hailed as a return to form by Beatles purists and regarded as a seminal album for new fans. Somewhere in Seattle a young Kurt Cobain hears John’s lyric “there is no light in the darkness” and samples the line in “Territorial Pissings,” a track from Nirvana’s sophomore album Nevermind. John would later induct Nirvana into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, performing that very song with Cobain.
January 28, 1990: The Beatles and Their All-Star Band headline the Super Bowl XXIV Halftime Show in New Orleans, marking the first such time one of music’s biggest acts took center stage at the game (apologies to “Up with People“). Somewhere on Long Island Billy Joel decides to keep writing and recording music until the day he dies.