A much ballyhooed reunion has long since become an inevitable part of almost every band’s career cycle, even if there isn’t necessarily a hungry public clamoring for it. But the Beatles’ enduring appeal always seemed to set them apart?at least until they, too, cashed in with their multi-volume Anthology series in the ’90s.
Indeed, the fires of original ’60s Beatlemania burned on so far past the band’s break-up in early 1970 that Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels went on the air in April of ’76 to parody the clamor for a Fab Four reunion, offering the band a check for $3,000 to reunite and play three songs on SNL. “You divide it up any way you want,” Michaels said with mock earnestness. “If you want to give Ringo less, it’s up to you. I’d rather not get involved.”
Legend has it that two members of the television audience watching live in Manhattan were none other than John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who were socializing at Lennon’s Dakota apartment that night. The story goes that John and Paul briefly considered hopping in a cab to travel the few blocks to the studio in time to surprise Michaels?and the world?with at least a reunion of the Fabs’ chief tunesmiths.
But according to new revelations by May Pang, the onetime personal assistant to Lennon and Yoko Ono with whom the ex-Beatle had an 18-month affair during the mid-’70s, John had already been actively seeking to reunite the legendary band as early as 1974. In an interview with the radio station of Cerritos College in Orange County, California, Pang claims Lennon had also wanted to record at least one new Beatles track as a prelude to a more formal reunion. “If one [song] comes around and it works, maybe we’ll do another,” Pang quotes Lennon as saying. “It was to be behind the scenes. A quick one-off, and let’s see from there.” Pang made the remarks on a Beatles-oriented show while on the road promoting her new book of snapshots centered around her time with Lennon, Instamatic Karma.
Her remarks have taken many veteran Beatles fans and chroniclers by surprise, as they were not included in her new book, or a previous set of memoirs, Loving John. In a follow-up interview with independent journalist Rip Rense, Pang claims she thought she had included the tale in her first book, but admits that her co-author and publishing “point man” had edited much of her original manuscript without consultation. “I may say it, but half the time it didn’t go in,” she explained. “So in the end, I did not realize what was in or wasn’t. But that was one of the things that I did talk about. I found my 600 page original manuscript, and I’m considering putting back stories that didn’t make it the first time.”
Pang’s recent claims shed a much softer light on the supposedly acrimonious relationship the ex-Beatles shared during the era, particularly Lennon and McCartney. While the pair had taken potshots at each other on early solo songs like Imagine’s “How Do You Sleep” and Ram’s “Too Many People,” Pang says that by 1974 the band’s songwriting core had largely resumed their friendship. Indeed, one of the book’s most telling pictures captures John and Paul lounging at Lennon’s rented Santa Monica beach house during the era. Ironically, another of Pang’s images in the book captures Lennon signing the legal document?at the Disney World resort, no less?that formally dissolved the Beatles’ business partnership in December, 1974.
Pang says that far from being an embittered cynic about his former bandmates, John was actually sentimental about them. “I saw all of them,” May said. “We had three in one room in each instance. In L.A., it was John, Paul, and Ringo, and in New York, it was John, Paul, and George. And you would never in a million years think that they had problems.”
Lennon later dubbed his 18-month estrangement from Yoko Ono and affair with Pang?an era when he spent considerable time in Los Angeles with friend Harry Nilsson?as his “lost weekend.” But May is quick to note that it was actually the busiest period of Lennon’s post-Beatles career, one that yielded the albums Mind Games, Walls and Bridges, and Rock and Roll, as well as production work for Nilsson and Ringo Starr.
“We had been hanging out with Ringo a lot in L.A.,” Pang recalled. “And it just came out of conversation, hanging out: ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we did this one gig,’ and they’d start talking about it. ‘Yeah, well, why don’t we do this, and George would do that, and Paul. . .’ So it was just thrown around, and everybody was like, well ... let’s do that.”
“John really thought about it at one point,” Pang confirmed to Rense. “We were considering it early on in ’74, just for the hell of it. Harry Nilsson wanted to be a part of it. We said, oh, that would be a good idea?a one-off, and we would do it in the fall. We were thinking about upstate New York, like Syracuse, because Ringo couldn’t be in New York City. We were in the middle of a lawsuit and he didn’t want to be subpoenaed.”
Pang also claims Lennon nearly made a later spur-of-the-moment trip to New Orleans to record with McCartney, who’d told John of his plans to record parts of Venus and Mars in the Crescent City. “I knew that if I got him down there, it would have started something,” May told Rense. “I knew that it was that close. I knew that he had already been itching for certain things. John was ready. He was just open for hanging out with Paul at home?in New York, and L.A., but especially in New York. The two of them would pop up and visit all the time. We’d go out to dinner around the corner from where we lived, out for drinks; we were hanging out with them.”
Why didn’t any of John’s reunion plans come to fruition? “Because nobody took the helm,” Pang admits. “If you really think about it, everybody had something to do. This would have taken four different heads, four different parties, to make it work. They were no longer under one roof, they were under four different roofs. Everybody had their own manager, or rep, or lawyer, or whatever else you want to call it. It definitely was more about the timing.”