The Beatles: What If?

What if The Beatles hadn’t broken up? Jeff Slate imagines the albums they would have made.

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The Beatles have come to TIDAL. As part of our massive celebration of this historic addition to the TIDAL music library — which includes The Beatles Experience, our immersive presentation of their timeless catalogue — journalist and Beatles expert Jeff Slate has been writing an ongoing feature series on the history and legacy of the biggest band to ever live.

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Almost as soon as The Beatles broke up, fans began to wonder what the group’s albums would have been like if they’d stayed together.

In fact, as the years passed, even the former Fabs seemed to wonder what might have been.

“If the Beatles had continued making records, all of the solo stuff that we’ve done would have been on Beatle albums,” George Harrison told Undercover Magazine in 1995.

Of course, leave it to John Lennon to come up with a simple solution that didn’t involve him actually having to reunite with his former bandmates. Probably exasperated by answering endless questions about when and if The Beatles might record together again, in an interview Lennon suggested that fans simply make mixtapes of their favorite solo songs and voila! The fantasy Beatles album was born.

The first known instance of the use of solo Beatles songs together on an album was as part of the 1972 U.S. mail order compilation Alpha-Omega.

The four-LP set was a greatest hits of sorts, but it also included George Harrison’s single “Bangla Desh,” McCartney’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” and Lennon’s Imagine. It’s surprise success eventually forced Apple Records’ hand, and it paved the way for the release and phenomenal success of the Red and Blue albums the following year.

By that time the former Beatles were all hitting their respective strides as solo artists. Lennon had released the remarkable John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and chart smashing Imagine, McCartney had delivered some instant classics amongst his otherwise uneven albums so far, but would top the charts soon enough with Band On The Run.

George Harrison had released the three-LP masterpiece All Things Must Pass and its excellent follow-up Living In The Material World and Ringo Starr had the hit singles “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo” and the chart-topping Ringo album – which included guest appearances by all the former Fabs – to his credit.

So there was plenty of great material, even in the early aftermath of The Beatles’ break-up, with which to make the fantasy albums Lennon had suggested.

Egged on by the Alpha-Omega set and word of the 1975 Korean EMI album Now Again — the only officially sanctioned release until 2014’s 4: John Paul George Ringo to combine solo tracks from each of the former Beatles — an underground fan culture was born.

Today, there are websites and online groups dedicated to creating the best albums that might have been. But with John, Paul, George and Ringo’s catalogues now available to the streaming community on TIDAL, there’s no time like the present to join in the fun.

So sample our playlists, and then, by all means, have some fun creating your own!

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1969-1970

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr got off to a rocky start after the demise of their legendary band, but John Lennon and George Harrison were on fire right away. Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band LP is perhaps the best solo Beatle album of all, but it certainly gets a run for its money in George Harrison’s first proper solo album, the three-disc All Things Must Pass.

Sticking with the 12-14 songs typical of a Beatles album, and including all the singles the four released in the aftermath of the break-up, you can make yourself quite a first “fantasy” album. Still, you’re leaving out some great songs, including “Mother,” “Hold On,” “I Found Out,” “Isolation,” “Remember,” “Well Well Well” and “Look at Me” from Lennon, “If Not For You,” “Let It Down,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Art of Dying,” “What Is Life” and the excellent bonus cut “I Live For You” from Harrison, plus the McCartney-produced “Stardust” from Starr’s Sentimental Journey.

Side One:

Instant Karma
My Sweet Lord
Maybe I’m Amazed
Cold Turkey
Wah-Wah
Beaucoups of Blues
Give Peace A Chance

Side Two:

Love
Isn’t It A Pity
Every Night
Working Class Hero
Teddy Boy
All Things Must Pass
God

 

1971-1972

As the realization that The Beatles no longer existed as a group took hold, and the 1970s ebbed on, John, Paul, George and Ringo were finding their feet as solo artists. After rocky starts, McCartney’s Ram was more akin to what fans expected of Lennon’s former foil, and Ringo charted with two excellent singles. Not surprisingly, our next fantasy album is a more balanced affair. Again, we’d be leaving off some excellent tracks if we stuck to simply a single album, so this one’s a double!

Side One:

Hi, Hi, Hi
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
Imagine
It Don’t Come Easy
Another Day
Deep Blue

Side Two:

Bangla Desh
Woman is the Nigger of the World
It’s So Hard
Tomorrow
Jealous Guy
Oh My Love

Side Three:

Power to the People
New York City
Oh Woman, Oh Why
Some People Never Know
Dear Boy
Oh Yoko
Early 1970

Side Four:

Back Off Boogaloo
Too Many People
Heart of the Country
How?
Dear Friend
The Back Seat of My Car

 

1973

By 1973, The Beatles’ iron grip on the charts had given way to a new breed of performers. David Bowie, Elton John and Marc Bolan’s T.Rex ruled, but the former Fabs were by no means sitting idly by.

McCartney had found his footing with his new band Wings, and his Red Rose Speedway was a template that he would develop over the next few years to increasing success. Ringo Starr, too, would score big in 1973, reuniting his former bandmates on vinyl for his Ringo LP, while Lennon bided his time with Mind Games and George Harrison delivered the underrated Living In The Material World. With so much great material, another double album is in order.

Side One:

Band On The Run
Jet
Here We Go Again
Photograph
Bluebird
Mamunia
Mrs. Vanderbilt

Side Two:

Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)
Mind Games
Live and Let Die
Miss O’Dell
You’re Sixteen
Down and Out
Be Here Now

Side Three:

Big Barn Bed
My Love
Oh My My
Six O’Clock
Out the Blue
I Lie Around*
The Light That Has Lighted the World

Side Four:

Helen Wheels
Living In The Material World
Rock and Roll People*
Let Me Roll It
I Know (I Know)
1985

 

1974-1975

By the mid-1970’s, the calls from the public and the press for a Beatles reunion had become deafening. Sadly, few realized that by cobbling together the best of John, Paul, George and Ringo’s solo output they’d have had the next best thing.

McCartney had hit his stride with Wings and was about to conquer the world all over again, Lennon released Walls and Bridges, which is only surpassed in his solo canon by Plastic Ono Band, and Ringo tried with some success to recreate the magic of Ringo with its follow-up Goodnight Vienna. Only George Harrison struggled a bit, garnering middling reviews for his tour in support of his Dark Horse album, though he still released some gems during this period.

All told, there are enough great cuts to make another double album, with guest appearances from Lennon’s period cohorts David Bowie and Elton John, no less.

Side One:

(It’s All Down to) Goodnight Vienna
Junior’s Farm
#9 Dream
Dark Horse
Maya Love
Only You (And You Alone)
Scared

Side Two:

Whatever Gets You Through the Night
Letting Go
This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying)
Snookeroo
Oh My My
Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)

Side Three:

Fame
Listen to What the Man Said
Going Down On Love
Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People
Steel and Glass
No No Song

Side Four:

You
Stand By Me
Bless You
Love In Song
The Answer’s at the End
Goodnight Vienna (Reprise)

 

1976-1978

As the 1970 progressed, each of the former Beatles began, for better or worse, to find their own distinctive voice as a solo artist. With John Lennon absent but for a modest contribution to Ringo Starr’s Rotogravure album, our “Threetles” album still makes a nice, tight single album, dominated this time by Paul and Ringo.

Side One:

I’ve Had Enough
This Song
Silly Love Songs
Beautiful Girl
With a Little Luck
Cookin’ (In the Kitchen of Love)
I’m Carrying

Side Two:

Let ‘Em In
Crackerbox Palace
Beware My Love
A Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll / Hey! Baby
Warm and Beautiful
Pure Gold
Mull of Kintyre

 

1979-1985

In our Beatles fantasy album universe, Paul, George and Ringo wait out the 1970s, and the return of John Lennon, then roar back with a magnificent three-record set. Still, that leaves out the excellent, Beatlesque McCartney track and Harrison’s equally compelling “Dream Away” and “Life Itself,” as well as his cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Don’t Want to Do It,” so be sure to check those out.

Side One:

(Just Like) Starting Over
Wrack My Brain
Nobody Told Me
Woman
Blow Away
Not Guilty
Waterfalls

Side Two:

Getting Closer
We’re Open Tonight
Cleanup Time
Watching the Wheels
Private Property*
So Bad
Through Our Love

Side Three:

I’m Stepping Out
Take It Away
Tug of War
No Values
Wanderlust
Pipes of Peace
I’m Losing You

Side Four:

Daytime Nighttime Suffering
Old Siam Sir
Circles
Dear Yoko
That’s the Way It Goes
One of These Days
Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)

Side Five:

All Those Years Ago
Writing’s on the Wall
I Don’t Wanna Face It
Attention
Borrowed Time
(Forgive Me) My Little Flower Princess

Side Six:

Coming Up
Love Comes to Everyone
On the Way
Darkroom
Every Man Has a Woman Who Loves Him
After the Ball/Million Miles
Winter Rose/Love Awake

 

1986-1999

The former Fabs had one more album together as a foursome in our fantasy album playlists. Although we can’t include the Beatles reunion tracks included as part of the band’s Anthology series (at least not yet!), the tracks from this period still make for a compelling album, whether it’s as The Beatles or the Threetles, even if (at least for for sonic coherence) we do leave out a clutch of excellent tracks from McCartney’s superb Flowers In The Dirt. But given that we’re now in the era of the CD, we’re not limiting ourselves to the usual 12-14 tracks per disc.

Free As A Bird*
The Song We Were Singing*
This Is Love
Weight of the World
The World Tonight
Somedays
When We Was Fab
My Brave Face
Real Love*
Cheer Down
Cloud 9
Don’t Know a Thing About Love*
Calico Skies
Little Willow
Poor Little Girl*
Devil’s Radio
Beautiful Night
Great Day

 

2000s

There’s no two ways around the fact that by the 2000s, John Lennon had not been with us as a recording artist for some time. Still, Paul, George and Ringo continued to release strong material that would have sat nicely together on any Threetles album. Fittingly, our final playlist is a CD-sized whopper. Enjoy!

Any Road
Fine Line
King Of Broken Hearts
Sing the Changes
Magic*
Pisces Fish
Walk With You
Let It Be Me
How Kind of You
Dance Tonight
Only Mama Knows
Liverpool 8
Early Days
Rising Sun
Marwa Blues
New
Save Us
Stuck Inside a Cloud
La De Da
Run Devil Run*
Friends to Go
English Tea
Too Much Rain
The Other Side of Liverpool
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
One
Rocking Chair in Hawaii
Brainwashed
Anyway

* Indicates track missing from playlist.

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Frequent TIDAL contributor Jeff Slate is a New York City-based solo singer-songwriter and music journalist. He has written intimate portraits of The Beatles as a group and as solo artists, and about many other rock legends, for publications like EsquireRolling Stone and the fanzine Beatlefan, and is a go-to expert for many Beatles-related radio shows. Jeff has appeared at Beatles events and conventions in New York and Liverpool and is a well-known collector of rock ‘n’ roll books and bootlegs, with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Dylan and The Beatles.

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