There has been a lot written about why The Beatles broke up. Most of the penned ammunition unloaded on John Lennon’s sweet angelic muse Yoko Ono. But this is a historic injustice. The evidence for the implosion of the greatest pop band of all time is right in our faces, or more correctly, on their faces. The obsessive competition of hair, moustache and beard growing among the quartet, most hostile between John and Paul, shook the earth and defined new avenues in masculine facial hair for the next four decades.
You can see it in the first sprouting hair races of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ era. They’ve all got it going, but George has edged in front and the others are thinking about their next move. You can see John already fantasising about the bushranger look but not yet having the guts to try it. Paul is so ripped on LSD he can read Johns mind but can’t believe he would go for a full-on Hells Angel style warrior beard, no Paul is cooking up something a little more astute. I don’t know what Ringo was thinking, probably nothing to do with beards.
(Incidentally, I sourced that photo from this website. Please check it out later. Christian nutcase websites are always good for a chuckle)
With Yellow Submarine the competition had reached the point where they thought it better just to cartoon themselves than compete in real life. This rare photo shows George and Ringo temporarily victorious, basically saying “We outlasted you guys with the moustaches”, but John and Paul were just messing with their heads. They had both momentarily surrendered before the big war. There were much grander games afoot.
There is then a time mix up. The last recorded album was Abbey Road (recorded Feb – August 1969), but the last released, recorded earlier and dropped, was Let It Be. This was due to the increasingly hostile beard battles.
This should have been the end of it, the Abbey Road cover shoot, August 1969, the last round in the bloody beard boxing ring that The Beatles had become, with Paul sandwiched between beards, naked-faced, naked-footed, shamed, escorted by the beard police, John out front with the glorious victorious flowing growth dreamed up years before.
Another photo from the same period shows Paul struggling with defeat. Ringo seems to be saying “all’s fair in love and beards captain!”.
Instead the last mark of The Beatles in the history of beards is, famously, this one.
Paul clearly victorious with beautiful yet understated growth. Let It Be. Paul is reaching out for an end to the fighting. Leave it be lads, my beard is the best, lets move on.
You can see it and hear it in his words and music (January 1969, months before his Abbey Road humiliation). If we didn’t know the dates we’d think Paul had won for sure. Look at John there, feminine almost, lady-like resignation to shaving every day, Yoko at his side, whispering beardly words of encouragement. George and Ringo are still stuck on where their loyalty lies, they’ve remained on the fence, moustaches both. In the coming months John will pull them over to the bearded mobbing of Paul.
Paul obviously didn’t take the defeat sitting down, he made sure Let It Be was the last official record, his beard victory, and then filed the paper work for the break up of The Beatles on the 31st of December 1970.
But Paul eventually felt the weight of hairy guilt and rereleased Let It Be in 2003 as ‘Let It Be…Naked’, the title an obvious admission of defeat to the bearded ghosts of Lennon plaguing his no more lonely nights. Give my regards to Beardway. Actually on the second cd of ‘Let It Be…Naked’, the Fly on the Wall audio of conversations and jamming while recording the album, you hear George joke to Paul “the beard suits you, man” and Ringo chimes in with “Captain”. I think this was a point on which all of history could have gone either way. They were both looking to ally their facial hair with just one leader.
But we’re just scratching the grizzly surface here though. The truth requires a complete return to the whole Beatles archive, including all the post break-up albums, that are riddled with confessions, admissions and beardy reflections.