The Beatles – The 1971 album that could have been

The Beatles remain one of the most celebrated and influential bands of all time, with one of the most prolific outputs the music world has ever seen. This didn’t slow down in the immediate aftermath of the break-up of the band in 1969, with the final studio album and accompanying film Let It Be not seeing the light of day until May 1970. Fans of the Fab Four were also able to enjoy their stars individually as they released a flurry of solo material they had perhaps been saving up for release in the knowledge their days in the band were over.

There were a few experimental items that make the second half of The White Album feel positively mainstream (see John Lennon’s Unfinished Music Vol. 1 and 2, George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music and Paul McCartney’s The Family Way soundtrack, amongst others), but their first forays into mainstream music didn’t take too long to surface.

What if they’d not fallen out for another year and managed to squeeze out a final album? What songs that made it onto these first solo efforts would have sounded great alongside each other?

I’ve tried to create a balanced tracklisting that ruthlessly selects twelve songs from their creative output of 1970 and early 1971 and gives priority to McCartney, who was writing most of the material by the end. Abbey Road was essentially all of them working apart from each other, so the tracklisting below isn’t far off what could have been.

The result is The Beatles at their most conflicting and hateful best, the rift between Paul and the other members plain to see. However, if they’d managed to squeeze this out and gone through the cathartic experience of working on the songs together, we might have seen a whole different ending to the story.

SIDE A

1. Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCCartney, 1970)

A standout track from McCartney’s debut album and perhaps one of the finest love songs ever written, it is nonetheless underrated due to the fact the studio version was never issued as a single.

2. My Sweet Lord (George Harrison, 1970)

This is a bit of a no brainer. It’s the highlight of George’s first album proper and it’s hard to think of a better way to follow the opening track. Despite the obvious religious connotations, I doubt John and Paul would have been able to resist the temptation to include such a high-quality song on the next Beatles album. Indeed, Ringo Starr and John Lennon both reportedly appeared on the international smash single.

3. Cold Turkey (John Lennon, 1969)

This is a song that John presented to the band in 1969 for inclusion on Abbey Road, but it was ultimately decided that it didn’t fit and put out as a solo single. If they were still together and John wasn’t thinking about a solo album, then this would have been a prime candidate for inclusion. To increase the connection to The Beatles, Lennon’s version features Ringo Starr on drums.

4. Instant Karma! (We All Shine On) (John Lennon, 1970)

A song as anthemic as this would be a clear candidate for inclusion. Indeed, the version Lennon released in 1970 – prior to the release of the final Beatles album Let It Be – featured George Harrison on electric guitar and Phil Spector on production duties, so if it had been part of a Beatles release it’s unlikely it would have sounded much different.

The John Lennon double-header of Dig A Pony and Across The Universe had served Let It Be well and the same thinking works here for a riotious kick-start to the album.

5. Every Night (Paul McCartney, 1970)

This song was included on McCartney’s debut album but had been thrown around during the final Beatles recording sessions. It’s the first hint on this album that we hear McCartney’s anger seeping into his lyrics. It would have undoubtedly sounded a lot different had all four been working on it.

6. Too Many People (Paul McCartney, 1971)

A hate-filled Paul wrote this song as a dig at John and Yoko. In a 1984 edition of Playboy, he said, “He’d been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit. In one song, I wrote, ‘Too many people preaching practices’. I think is the line. I mean, that was a little dig at John and Yoko.” It kicked off Paul’s debut-proper ‘Ram’ but works better as a closer to the first side.

SIDE B

1. How Do You Sleep? (John Lennon, 1971)

John’s in the studio, probably by this point no longer talking to Paul, and he’s just listened to the final take for Side A closer ‘Too Many People’. In a fit of rage he calls up George and pretty quickly they bash out the song that opens Side B, setting the tone for the fans who are about to hear the falling apart of their favourite band.

2. What Is Life? (George Harrison, 1970)

“Tell me, what is my life without your love?”

Many could dismiss this as schmulzy pop but the killer riff and memorable hook is enough to warrant a place on the next Beatles long player. It’s a soulful rock masterpiece, and a track that had been in Harrison’s back pocket during the Abbey Road session.

3. Junk (Paul McCartney, 1970)
Any speak of what might have come to pass on their next album has to feature both ‘Junk’ and ‘Teddy Boy’, songs Paul had rehearsed with The Beatles in January 1969. Here Paul is hinting about moving on to his next project, getting rid of the old and bringing in the new. It’s also a wild reduction in pace to lead into the final section of the album.

4. Teddy Boy (Paul McCartney, 1970)

A composite version of several takes of this track featured on Anthology 3 after being recorded in the 1969 Savile Row sessions for Let It Be, and is an indication of what else The Beatles had left in them. A no-brainer for inclusion here.

5. Mother (John Lennon, 1970)

One of Lennon’s most powerful songs was written in response to some therapy sessions he had been having to deal with the underlying grief of the loss of his mother to a car accident as a child. The version included on Plastic Ono Band featured Ringo on drums and shows a different side to Lennon than is on show on his two tracks on Side A.

6. All Things Must Pass (George Harrison, 1970)

This track is a beautiful and honest song that would have served The Beatles well as a final farewell on their last album.

As George sings “None of life’s strings can last, so I must be on my way”, the feeling is pretty strong that the troubled songwriter was already done with the band when he presented this track to them during the sessions that became Let It Be. It was rejected by Lennon and McCartney, but eventually appeared on George’s debut album (with Ringo and Eric Clapton amongst the backing band), and was also a hit for Billy Preston.

And there you have it, an alternate take on the end of The Beatles and their desire to break away, but managing to hold it together for one last release.

What do you think of the track listing? Did I miss anything out that has made you supremely angry? Let me know in the comments.

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