A question I'm often asked is "To what extent was Yoko Ono responsible for breaking up the Beatles?" Last night I was asked just that. The inquiry provides a perfect transition to this evening's program, "Let it Be: The Beatles, January 1969" at the Cook Memorial Public Library (413 N Milwaukee Ave, Libertyville, IL), in which I discuss Yoko's influence on the band in considerable detail. Given, however, that there is a waiting list 25 deep for this evening's program, I don't feel like I'll be giving anything away if I go ahead and address that here:
The recording studio was holy ground for the early Beatles. The only people regularly allowed into that sanctuary were the four band members themselves and the EMI staff (producer George Martin, and engineers like Geoff Emerick). Not even the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein was not welcome. Once, when Epstein offered opinions during a recording session, John Lennon reportedly told him, "You stick to your percentages and we’ll look after the music."
By late 1968, Lennon was completely wrapped up in his relationship with Yoko and consequently withdrew from the Beatles. Had all four Beatles been committed to the band, nothing Yoko Ono could have done (short of physical harm) could have broken up the band. Lennon, however, because of his relationship with Yoko, was progressively losing interest in maintaining the Beatles, but he didn't want the responsibility or blame of breaking up the most popular band ever - that would make him "the bad guy" in the eyes of the Beatles' millions of fans. Lennon, then, used Yoko to drive a wedge between the band members. When he invited Yoko to not only attend, but actually contribute to the band's recordings, that explicitly violated the sanctity of the studio. And Lennon knew exactly what he was doing - this wasn't an innocent gesture.
Although Lennon never addressed the matter, it very strongly appears that Lennon wanted the other three Beatles to offer up an ultimatum: either Lennon chooses The Beatles, or he chooses Yoko Ono. That way, the responsibility for "the break-up heard round the world" (as I've sometimes heard it described) wouldn't be on Lennon's shoulders but rather on Paul's, George's, and Ringo's - that way they would be the bad guys instead of John. The result, then, is a very passive/aggressive atmosphere in which Lennon is trying to break up the band without actually doing so, while the other three (realizing what's going on) refuse to present that ultimatum to Lennon because they know if they do he'll choose Yoko over the Beatles, which in turn makes Lennon try that much harder to involve Yoko even more. It's a malicious and unsustainable cycle, of which Let it Be is the ultimate casualty.
So did Yoko Ono break up the Beatles? No, she didn't. But John Lennon did use her in a failed attempt to break up the band.