This week on #askNat we have another question from Gary Walker of Bluff City, Tennessee who sends this to me:
I have a few questions in mind but I will ask this one this week. In 1976 or 1977, I will never forget hearing the news about how the Beatles were in the process of “signing” papers to get back together. On the radio the DJ was talking about it saying all they needed was George Harrison’s signature and everything was a go. I remember this because I was riding in the car with my sister and she said everyone will go crazy if it happens. This was after they were offered $230,000,000 by Sid Bernstein. My question is what happened to the reunion? Did George Harrison not want to?
Good one Gary! In the seventies, The Beatles were still in demand and countless fans not only wanted them to get back together – they fully expected they would. It was only a matter of time. It had to happen. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t in the cards, despite a few close calls.
In 1974, promoter Bill Sargent offered $10 million for them to reunite for a reunion show. John and Paul did get together that same year and record a little as I describe in more detail here. By 1976, following lots of activity on the charts from each of the Beatles’ post-breakup material, as well as the heightened Beatles-awareness brought on by Capitol’s recent repackaging/re-issue of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Music 2-LP compilation and “Got To Get You Into My Life” single, the demand for a Beatles re-union was at an all-time peak. Bill Sargent made another offer to pay $50 million for a one-time concert. Without actually naming who they were quoting, People magazine said in their April 5, 1976 issue that a ‘top-level rock functionary’ says “I know for a fact that George, John and Ringo have talked among themselves about a reunion, and their attorneys say it is possible. But they would rather go with someone less carnival-like than Sargent.”
Then came Sid Bernstein (catch my 2010 interview with Sid here), who The Beatles had met during their heyday as the man who had promoted their early tours of America in 1964-66, including Carnegie Hall and Shea Stadium in New York. Sid asked them to reunite for a one-time-only benefit concert for Cambodian refugees that he estimated would raise $230 million. He also suggested alternative causes to include victims of a recent major earthquake in Italy or the homeless or parent-less children of the Republic of Biafra. Sid placed ads for the offer in the European Herald Tribune and Sunday Times in England but received no response. Paul McCartney later admitted that they considered Sid’s offer but nothing came of it unless you attribute it as the inspiration behind a subsequent concert by Paul to raise money to save the city of Venice, Italy from sinking.
As sort of half-serious joke, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels appeared on the show on April 24, 1976 and offered The Beatles $3,000 to reunite. He said “Divide the money up any way you want. If you want to give less Ringo, that’s up to you.” A month later on May 22 he reappeared on the show to up the ante to $3200 – “an extra $50 each!” he declared.
John Lennon told Playboy magazine:
Paul and I were together watching that show. He was visiting us at our place in the Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag … He and Linda walked in, and he and I were just sitting there, watching the show, and we went, ‘Ha-ha, wouldn’t it be funny if we went down?’ We nearly got a cab, but we were actually too tired…
In 1979, Sid Bernstein envisioned The Beatles reuniting for a special concert to aid the Vietnamese Boat People. He believed The Beatles name, concert, recording and television rights could raise $500 million worldwide. He took out an ad in the New York Times outlining a plan for the benefit. There was an inquiry about it from John Lennon and Sid made a package with all of the details and gave it to the doorman at the Dakota to give to John, but there was no further response from him. Referring to the ad, George Harrison later told a reporter:
It was cute the way the ad in the New York Times tried to put the responsibility for saving the world on our shoulders.
So Gary, and everyone reading, as you can see, getting The Beatles back together in the seventies was a major dream and a few key people mentioned here came arguably close to bringing it to fruition. Along with these attempts came lots of rumors of upcoming reunions, much of which was “poppycock” (is Klaatu really The Beatles??). I’m not sure about the source of what you specifically heard on the radio – or how it came about about as George just needs to sign on the dotted line – but it likely stemmed from Sid’s, Bill’s or Lorne’s offer from around that time.
Thank you Gary for a great topic and I hope anyone who has something to add will do so in the comments section below. Thanks all for reading!
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