When The Beatles all had solo hits in the charts at the same time

Apr 22, 2019
Left to right: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr all had solo success in 1971. Source: Getty Images

The announcement by Paul McCartney in 1970 made it official – The Beatles were going their separate ways. While the band would never get back together, a most remarkable thing happened in 1971 that many could have seen as a reunion of sorts, at least as far as charts are concerned. You see it was around this time in 1971 that all four members had solo singles in the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

George Harrison was the first Beatle to have a solo number one with ‘My Sweet Lord’ (which coincidentally reached number one again 31 years later when he died from cancer). He was followed by Paul McCartney with ‘Another Day’, John Lennon and the song ‘Power to the People’ and later Ringo Starr’s ‘It Don’t Come Easy’.

Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ first entered the chart in January 1971. It was his first hit as a solo artist and it topped charts around the world. In fact, it was the biggest selling single of the year in the United Kingdom. The song spent 10 weeks in the top 10, five of which were in the number one spot. The album which the song appeared on All Things Must Pass was a real surprise. The triple album set became the biggest selling album by any of the former band members.

George Harrison was never a big contributor to The Beatles writing credits, so it is believed that this solo effort contained all the songs rejected by the others. All Things Must Pass was classed a masterpiece and achieved a degree of success Harrison was never able to repeat.

Unfortunately, ‘My Sweet Lord’ became the centre of a copyright infringement case, with claims it sounded similar to the song ‘He’s So Fine’, which was a hit for the Chiffons in 1963. ‘He’s So Fine’ was written by Ronnie Mack. While Harrison was found guilty of subconsciously plagiarising the song, he maintained that he used the Christian hymn ‘Oh Happy Day’, which was out of copyright at the time, as his inspiration.

By March 6, McCartney’s ‘Another Day’ had entered the charts. It was his first single as a solo artist. In the six weeks it was in the top 10, it spent two weeks at number two.

The song was recorded as part of the Ram sessions, an album that was a huge success worldwide because it demonstrated his consummate skills with a melody, but the single was left off the album’s final playlist.

Arguably, McCartney is the most successful of the former Beatles members. Not only did he find success as a part of the quartet, but McCartney has had number one successes as part of a duo, a trio, a sextet and a nine-piece group. It’s unlikely anyone else could claim such a feat!

The formation of Wings came as no surprise (Paul had always enjoyed being part of a group), but the band’s first albums were critically trashed. When ‘Band On The Run’ was released at Christmas 1973 they had enormous success spending 124 weeks in the album charts. The follow-up album Venus And Mars also hit the top spot. However, the band’s release of ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ in 1977 is still one of the biggest selling non-charity singles in the United Kingdom.

McCartney has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice (as a member of The Beatles and again as a solo artist) and has written or co-written more than 30 songs that have reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

John Lennon had been recording and releasing music as part of The Plastic Ono Band prior to the disbanding of The Beatles. Most of these recordings were so personal they were considered too controversial. However, when he released ‘Give Peace A Chance’ we were given a taste of what he was capable of doing. It’s said that he was encouraged to write ‘Power to the People’ after an interview with Marxist newspaper Red Mole in early 1971 and the song was released in March. It spent three weeks on the top 10, getting as high as number seven.

Though ‘Power to the People’ was a successful tune for Lennon, it definitely wasn’t his most successful solo hit. That title goes to ‘Imagine’ from the album of the same name, which was released in September (United States) and October (UK) of ’71. It was his best-selling solo work and the LP was his most creative, ranging from beautiful love songs to barely veiled resentment towards his former bandmate, Paul McCartney.

Ringo Starr released Sentimental Journey in 1970, which was a collection of popular standards produced by George Martin and was more or less what you expected from the least talented Beatle. However, he surprised many critics by going to Nashville and recording Beaucoups Of Blues with a crew of the top country session musicians. The result was enjoyable and entirely creditable with reasonable sales and managed to allay fears that he had no future as a solo recording artist.

‘It Don’t Come Easy’, though written by both Starr and Harrison, was solely credited to the former. It made its way into the top 10 in May 1971, just as Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ was making its exit. It spent five weeks in the top 10 and peaked at number four.

Though he was never really expected to have a solo career, Starr had four top 10 single hits in three years ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, ‘Back Off Boogaloo’, ‘Photograph’ and ‘You’re Sixteen’.

Did you enjoy the music of The Beatles as a foursome, or did you prefer them when they went solo? Who is your favourite Beatle?

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