Now that I've finished Bob Spitz's sandbag-like group biography The Beatles, I'd like to share with you my interpretation of the top five reasons the Beatles broke up when they did. Note that this is my assessment of the situation, not Spitz's.
5. Magical Mystery Tour. This was Paul's baby, from start to finish, with the other boys literally just along for the ride. It was also the band's first failure since their arrival on the international stage. (I haven't seen the film, which is apparently appalling, but the record is fairly weak.) It signalled a couple of depressing developments: The band would never again really enjoy being in the studio, and Paul would increasingly dominate the Beatles, forcing his ideas and images on the rest of the group, to their ever-growing resentment.
4. Brian Epstein's death. By the time Epstein died, in 1967, he really had very little left to do, since the Beatles had stopped touring and the recording contracts had all been signed. And truth be told, he doesn't seem to have been that great of a manager. But with Epstein out of the picture, the Beatles tried to run their own business affairs, setting up disastrous money sinkholes like Apple Films and the Apple Boutique. A horrendous time was guaranteed for all, with bad feelings and infighting all around, and the door was left wide open for Allen Klein to come barging through. Whatever Epstein's faults, the Beatles trusted him, and he worked sincerely on their behalf, and he likely would have saved them from some of their own excesses.
3. Beatlemania. The final touring years were absolutely miserable for the band, hiding out in hotel rooms and running through crowds so they could dive into limos and not being able to hear themselves play. The shame of it is, they clearly loved playing live music, but the situation had just become untenable. If they had still been able to perform on stage, playing together as a cohesive band, I believe that would have gone a long way toward keeping them happy and unified, much more than the stifling studio environment did.
Surely, the rooftop gig was one of the most joyous occasions of the Beatles' final years. John and George were the two members most adamant about not going out on tour - and they were the first to go back to live gigs when the band was breaking up, John with the Plastic Ono Band and George with Delaney and Bonnie. And they both had a great time doing so.
2. Yoko. I want to be fair to her, since she's been treated so rudely by so many people, but if the Spitz portrait of her is at all accurate (and he seems to be very evenhanded), she was an entirely toxic presence, not just glued to John's side but constantly talking about how he was a genius but the Beatles were garbage, and offering her own opinions on everything from music to finance. The other Beatles hated her, and justifiably so. I know Lennon must be faulted here for letting her into the inner sanctum, but at some point, a grownup would have said, "You know what? I don't know anything about music, and these guys are your friends and business partners, so I'll just go shopping or snort heroin or something while you cut 'Come Together.'" (It was while he was with Yoko that John got into heroin, which is never a good idea, and contributed to the overall bad feelings.)
If there's a book out there that treats Yoko's role more charitably, I'd be happy to read it. By the way, I've heard it said that she had no idea who the Beatles were before John entered that fateful art gallery, but that's ridiculous. And once they did meet, Yoko spent several months doing things like hanging out in front of the Apple offices, or coming into John's house to ask if she could call herself a cab, before John ever showed much interest in her. She also began referring to John as her husband while he was still married to Cynthia.
1. Paul's death in a car accident in November 1966. This surely was the blow from which the Beatles could never recover. 28 IF, indeed.