If there’s one decade that gets a bad rap, it’s the 1980s. It’s often seen as a low point for many musical legends of the past; a time of bad hairstyles and fashion choices, and work that now sounds very dated. It certainly had its challenges for the former Beatles, but it also had its triumphs.
For John Lennon, 1980 was a happy time. He emerged from a five-year musical hiatus— which he spent being a stay-at-home dad to his son Sean — with a new album, Double Fantasy. He gave some memorable, in-depth interviews during this time (including the famous Playboy one) which indicated personal fulfilment and excitement about the future. He also seemed to have made peace with Paul McCartney and was happy to look back at their work together.
But just three weeks after the album’s release, on 8 December 1980, came an event that shocked the world: John’s tragic murder outside his apartment building in New York. The reaction of the public showed how important John, and indeed The Beatles, were to so many lives.
The other Beatles were of course devastated, and they each paid their own tributes to John. On his 1982 album Tug of War, Paul reflected on their long friendship in the lyrics of ‘Here Today’, which took the form of an imaginary conversation between the two. He took comfort from the fact that he and John had been on good terms again at the time of his death, after a period of bitterness and resentment during the ’70s.
George Harrison released the single ‘All Those Years Ago’ in 1981. It had been written prior to John’s death, but the lyrics were altered afterwards to become a tribute to him. The song was recorded with Paul and Ringo in what was the closest possible thing to a Beatles reunion.
The loss of John was undoubtedly the lowest point of the ’80s for both his fans and his fellow Beatles. Musically, there were lows too. George’s Gone Troppo (1982) and Paul’s Press to Play (1986) sold disappointingly, and in George’s case, it would be five years before he released another album. Ringo also had a hard time, both with albums and his film career, and he had personal problems to contend with too as he spiralled into alcoholism, resulting in a stint in rehab in 1988. He said of his addiction:
“Years I’ve lost, absolute years… I’ve no idea what happened. I lived in a blackout.”
But the ’80s ended in positivity for all three of them. Having got himself sober, Ringo formed his All-Starr Band and went on tour. The band are in demand all over the world to this day. Paul released Flowers in the Dirt in 1989, an album that was widely touted as a return to form, and embarked on his first world tour in several years. After a five-year gap between albums, George released his critically acclaimed Cloud Nine album in 1987, which included the hit single ‘Got My Mind Set On You’. He also started a highly successful side project with his friends Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison — the Traveling Wilburys, arguably the greatest supergroup of them all.
In 1988, The Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a chance for everyone to reflect on how great they had been, and was seen as the ideal occasion for a reunion of sorts between the three surviving members. However, Paul was absent from the event, citing ongoing business differences which would make him feel like “a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.”
In his acceptance speech, George remarked on Paul’s absence by joking, “It’s unfortunate Paul’s not here because he was the one who had the speech in his pocket.” He also added, “We all loved John so much — and we all love Paul very much.” Considering the past tensions between George and Paul, this spoke volumes about the deep bond all four Beatles had.
The ’90s would bring further opportunities for The Beatles’ music to be assessed and celebrated, and for the first time, Paul, George and Ringo all sat down and did a great deal of reminiscing about their collective past…