The Beatles nearly sacked George Harrison, unearthed recordings show

The Beatles nearly sacked George Harrison and lined up Eric Clapton to replace him, according to unearthed recordings from January 1969

  • Unearthed recordings show John Lennon threatened to replace George Harrison with Eric Clapton
  • Harrison temporarily quit the band, feeling his songs didn’t get enough attention
  • Lennon’s Harrison discussion is among more than 120 hours of unheard audio

The title of The Beatles’ final album Let It Be suggested serenity and acceptance. But newly unearthed recordings from January 1969 prove that the Fab Four’s swansong followed more of a Long and Winding Road.

In fact the incendiary clips tell how John Lennon threatened to replace George Harrison with Eric Clapton when he temporarily quit the band.

The sudden departure of Harrison –who felt that his songs didn’t get as much attention as those of Lennon and Paul McCartney – worried McCartney and Ringo Starr. But Lennon, while sympathetic, was practical.

Harrison’s attitude had been ‘a festering wound,’ he said, ‘and we allowed it to go deeper and we didn’t even give him any bandages…’ He added: ‘I think if George doesn’t come back by (next week) we ask Eric Clapton to play.’

The title of The Beatles’ final album Let It Be suggested serenity and acceptance. But newly unearthed recordings from January 1969 prove that the Fab Four’s swansong followed more of a Long and Winding Road

Harrison, who had been to see his mother in Liverpool, returned to the sessions six days later.

The discussion is among more than 120 hours of unheard audio and 50 hours of unseen footage made while a fly-on-the wall film was shot by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg during the rehearsing and recording of Let It Be. 

Now, more than 50 years on, they have been used in a three-part TV documentary, The Beatles Get Back, made by Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and due to be shown next month.

Joining it is a new album packed with extra songs, out-takes and a book of snaps from the sessions, in addition to transcriptions of chats from the recordings.

In fact the incendiary clips tell how John Lennon threatened to replace George Harrison with Eric Clapton when he temporarily quit the band

More friction was infamously caused by the presence of Lennon’s girlfriend Yoko Ono. 

She was a distraction to Lennon to the extent that he was losing interest in being a Beatle at all. 

‘I’m not going to lie,’ he says on tape to the other Beatles. ‘I would sacrifice you all for her.’ And McCartney tells Harrison: ‘If it came to a push between Yoko and the Beatles, it would be Yoko for John… And we’re not wanting this to happen.

‘It’s going to be an incredibly comic thing if in 50 years’ time people say the Beatles broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.’

The Beatles’ gig from the rooftop of their Apple Corps office at 3 Savile Row in central London on January 30, 1969 – and also documented in the original Let It Be film – turned out to be their final public performance together. 


Harrison’s attitude had been ‘a festering wound,’ Lennon said, ‘and we allowed it to go deeper and we didn’t even give him any bandages…’ He added: ‘I think if George (right) doesn’t come back by (next week) we ask Eric Clapton (left, with Pattie Boyd) to play’

The footage of it has become iconic, but just a week before they had no idea what they were going to do – and had discussed a TV concert in the remains of a Roman amphitheatre in Libya or a concert during a cruise on the QE2.

They seemed to like the cruise idea until Harrison realised they’d ‘be stuck with a bloody boat-load of people for two weeks’.

Harrison and Clapton were friends but they both loved, and married, the same woman – model Pattie Boyd. Harrison wrote Something to proclaim his love for Miss Boyd. 

Then, just a year on in 1970, Clapton recorded Layla, a secret declaration of unrequited love for her. And several years later, when Miss Boyd left Harrison for Clapton, he recorded Wonderful Tonight in 1977 – a public affirmation of their relationship.

They married in 1979, but divorced ten years later.

  • The Beatles Get Back is published by Callaway Arts & Entertainment on October 12, costing £40. The new versions of Let It Be will be available from October 15, while the three-part Get Back documentary series can be seen on Disney+ on November 25-27.

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