After their break-up, The Beatles spent a number of years trying to move on with their lives and establish themselves as solo artists. But no matter how much success they had as individuals, the world remained obsessed with their achievements together as a band (and rightly so). The 1990s was the decade in which Paul, George and Ringo fully embraced this incredible legacy.
Encouraged by his writing sessions with Elvis Costello, Paul began performing Beatles songs live for the first time in many years on his world tour in 1989/1990. Ringo, too, was more than happy to revisit his own most notable Beatles moments (such as ‘Yellow Submarine’ or ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’) on his All-Starr Band tours. George, who disliked touring, did a series of shows in Japan with Eric Clapton and his band in 1991, which included a number of Beatles songs.
Meanwhile, other artists were also busy declaring their love for The Beatles. In Britain especially, the ’90s saw an emergence of bands whose music and style harked back to the ’60s, and who cited The Beatles as a major influence. This was a clear example of just how ‘current’ The Beatles sounded over twenty years since their split.
The ’90s was also notable for the Anthology project, which encompassed a TV documentary series, a book and a three-volume album collection covering the history of the band. The albums contained previously unreleased recordings and outtakes, and the documentary aired in six parts on ITV in the UK and three feature-length parts on ABC in the United States, in November 1995.
Anthology brought the three surviving Beatles together to look back at their career and achievements in a way that hadn’t really happened before. John was also included through archive interview footage, making the project feel complete.
One of the most exciting elements of the project for fans was the long-awaited release of brand new music under the Beatles name. ‘Free as a Bird’ was a John Lennon demo from 1977. With Yoko Ono’s blessing, Paul, George and Ringo gathered in the studio to finish the track, adding their own vocal and instrumental parts to John’s existing lead vocal and piano. To get through the strange experience of recording without John, they each agreed to pretend that he had just popped out for a cup of tea.
‘Free as a Bird’ did very well in the charts, and each of the three former Beatles found the recording process to be an enjoyable experience. Ringo admitted to feeling very emotional when he first heard the finished song. They gathered again to record another demo of John’s, ‘Real Love’, but didn’t enjoy this as much because the song was almost complete and therefore needed little extra work.
One of the most touching moments of the Anthology documentary, which can be seen on the special features of the DVD release, sees Paul, George and Ringo sitting together in George’s garden playing music, reminiscing and having a laugh. It shows that, whatever tensions and arguments might have occurred over the years, The Beatles always had an unbreakable bond. It also makes you wish that John had been there too, to share what was such a nice moment with his old friends.
Unfortunately, there were also sad times during the ’90s. Paul lost his beloved Linda to breast cancer in 1998, and Ringo’s first wife Maureen passed away from leukaemia in 1994. Almost twenty years after John’s horrific murder, history very nearly repeated itself when George was stabbed in his home by an intruder in 1999. Thankfully he survived — but we lost him to cancer just two years later.
The celebrations of The Beatles’ legacy have continued into the 21st century, and it’s safe to assume that it will stay that way for centuries to come.