Following John Lennon’s death on this day in 1980 in front of his New York City apartment, Beatles fans have conjectured about what would have happened with the band if he had lived. Some hints come from a recovered 1975 BBC archive interview with Lennon.
On December 8, 1980, the day of his death, Beatle John Lennon had two meetings with Mark Chapman, the man who would murder him.
About five o’clock at initially was the time. The singer and his artist wife, Yoko Ono, left their flat in the Dakota building in New York after wrapping up a radio interview to promote their new album, Double Fantasy. Lennon was asked to sign a copy of the new LP by Mark Chapman. The album was sold for $1.5 million at a private auction in 2020 after being used as evidence in Chapman’s trial.
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After signing it and posing for a photo with Chapman, Lennon and Ono hopped in a cab and headed to the recording studio to begin production on a new song, Walking on Thin Ice.
It was almost 10:30 p.m. when they drove back home. They had intended to go to a restaurant, but John was eager to bid his younger son Sean, then five years old, goodnight before the youngster went to sleep, according to a 2007 BBC interview with Ono. John was carrying tapes from the recording session that day when the couple got out of their car and started to make their way to the Dakota building.
There waiting for him was Mark Chapman, clutching the LP that Lennon had autographed for him hours earlier, along with a copy of J.D. Salinger’s novel Catcher in the Rye. Chapman drew a pistol and shot the musician in the back several times as he was walking by.
The murder’s senselessness sent shockwaves of incredulity around the globe. The Beatles had a huge impact on culture and people’s lives, and their significance cannot be overstated. They were more than just pop stars. They brought about a transformation in popular music. During the 1960s, a time when it felt like everything was changing drastically, they were at the vanguard of experiments with music, film, fashion, drugs, and religion. A generation of people’s lives had been enriched by their music, which enabled them to relate to one another and the world around them.
Fans inconsolable after the shooting came to the Dakota building to leave notes and flowers. Radio stations played nothing but John Lennon and The Beatles tunes for days on end. Thirty thousand people in Liverpool, his hometown, and almost two hundred thousand people in Central Park, the area where he was shot, observed a 10-minute silence.
A More Profound Meaning
The one question that has troubled fans for decades is this: if John Lennon hadn’t been killed that day, would the Beatles have eventually come together to make new music?
By 1975, Lennon had resumed his collaboration with Paul McCartney and had composed songs with George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
Five years before his death, on an episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test, former Beatle Bob Harris was asked if the Fab Four would ever work together again and, more importantly, if it would be a good idea.
By then, the Beatles had experienced a painful breakup in 1970 as a result of the contentious Let It Be recording sessions the year before. The band members’ hatred toward one another over the breakup has frequently been expressed in public.
However, their creative troubles and estrangement had begun to ease in the years that followed. By the time of the 1975 BBC interview, Lennon had renewed his friendship with Paul McCartney and had previously worked on songs with George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
“You know, it’s weird because, when people used to ask, I used to respond, ‘No, never, what the heck, go back? No, not me,’ and then there was a time when I asked myself, “Why not?” He said to Harris, “If we felt like recording a record or doing something.”
“I believe that during the time we have been separated, we have all felt that would be good. That wouldn’t be horrible. I’ve collaborated with Ringo and George, but not with Paul because of our more challenging period, but these days we get along well.
The second query is: Is it worthwhile? If we wanted to do it is the answer to that. It would be worthwhile if we decided to pursue it. It would be worth it, regardless of the naysayers, if we entered the studio together and turned each other on once more.”
Although his premature passing would deny the Beatles that chance to work together in person, their musical career continued.
His wife Ono sent the remaining Beatles a sample tape of music her late husband had composed in 1978, with the words “For Paul” scrawled on it, fourteen years after he was killed.
The first “new” Beatles singles since the band’s breakup were released thanks to Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr’s addition of their own voices and instrumentation to John Lennon’s original demo of his voice and piano. 1995 saw the release of Free as a Bird, followed by Real Love in 1996.
The band also tried recording a different song at the time, titled “Now And Then,” but they were dissatisfied with the quality of the recording and ended the session.
In 2001, George Beatle died of cancer. It was while collaboration with Peter Jackson on his archive documentary of the 1969 Let It Be recording sessions that Paul and Ringo, the remaining members of the Beatles, agreed to remake the song.
The goal of Peter Jackson’s documentary was to demonstrate that, in addition to the personal conflicts that existed between the Beatles members during those sessions, there were also numerous instances of their close friendship, creative harmony, and musical collaboration—particularly when they were laughing or jamming together—which were omitted from the 1970 original.
In order to enhance the audio quality, the film studio created software capable of separating out the disjointed and overlapped sounds found in the documentary outtakes, revealing a more complex image of the recording sessions.
Using this technology, the surviving Beatles were able to separate and extract John Lennon’s voice from the surrounding audio on the demo cassette that Ono had provided them in the 1990s.
Paul and Ringo went back to the studio in 2022 to complete the song. In their initial attempt to complete the song in 1995, they recorded George Harrison’s guitar parts in addition to their instrumental sections and backing vocals for John. The music was completed with a new string arrangement by producer Giles Martin, who is the son of George Martin, the original producer of The Beatles.
This year saw the publication of the last song, Now and Then, which was given credit to all four Beatles. The final chapter of John Lennon’s incredible musical legacy is aptly marked by the melancholic, reflective piano ballad, which has all four Beatles performing in unison once again.
The BBC’s unique audio and video archive is used in the series “In History” to examine historical events that have lasting relevance.
The material answers the question of what would have happened to the Beatles if John Lennon had lived and gives a thorough description of the occasions leading up to his passing. The story gains depth from the quotes and historical background that are included.