Paul and I were together watching that show. He was visiting us at our place in the Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired….he and I were just sitting there watching the show, and we went, Ha-ha, wouldn’t it be funny if we went down, but we didn’t.—John Lennon, 1980
I still think about that day a lot. I wasn’t there, but most people weren’t. Those lucky ones who were will never forget it. The rest of us will have to live with the shitty audiotape which, thank God, a member of the crew defied Lorne’s orders and made.1
It all started with that joke appeal that Lorne made on SNL. The date: April 24th, 1976. It was just an idea someone had. He sat at a desk, stared into the camera, and made an offer to the Beatles: $3,000 for a reunion appearance on the show. Three songs; $1,000 per song. A gag, natch. They were rich. $3,000 to them, especially split four ways, was ridiculous, and everyone knew it—which is why they all laughed so hard.
The joke was on them.
Paul was in NYC, visiting John at the Dakota. Sean had been put to bed hours ago, and Yoko had wisely retired as well, leaving the two men to their somewhat awkward reminiscences. As they confessed later, they’d had a few beers. John even made a coded wink once about sharing a toot of coke, but he’s gone, and Paul won’t allow discussion about the subject. As the night wore on, they turned on Saturday Night Live, and fell about rolling on the floor when Lorne’s appeal aired.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if we went down?” Paul said. John’s eyes lit up.
“Let’s do it.”
They called a cab. When told who was calling, Yellow Cab had a taxi there within five minutes. It’s possible if they’d been later, or if John and Paul had simply trusted that they’d get a taxi, they might have given up. But Fate was with them. They were at 30 Rock within ten minutes. The cabby raved about the $100 tip he’d gotten.
Inside the studio, the guards had been told by a hopeful Lorne to stay alert, just in case. The sight of the two Beatles with acoustic guitars in hand snapped them to attention. When the elevator doors opened upstairs, Lorne greeted the pair with gushing incredulity. “It was the greatest moment of my life,” he told reporters later.
Raquel Welch was the host that night, with Phoebe Snow and John Sebastian the musical guests. Welch was reportedly infuriated at being usurped, storming to her dressing room and leaving ten minutes later. But Snow and Sebastian were thrilled, watching from the wings as Lorne stopped the film which was playing and rushed out to an empty stage and a confused audience.
“Hold it, hold it, everybody. Uh…we have some special musical guests tonight…” The audience broke into screams, drowning out his introduction just as the cameras went dead. Viewers at home were left bewildered, some of them (such as myself) also screaming in agony as they guessed what had happened. Why the interruption in video, no one knows; it was either a celestial accident or perhaps John insisting to a technician that no, he didn’t want this filmed. Whatever the reason, we have only the audience and a lo-fi cassette tape to document what happened next.2
John and Paul came out, their guitars slung over their shoulders, standing and waving as two chairs were hurriedly set up for them. John wore a white suit; Paul had on jeans and a dark blue long sleeved Wings top. He grinned at the audience, flashing his famous smile, while a more reserved John tuned his guitar.
“Thanks, everybody,” Paul said, and then John added, “Thanks for the money, Lorne. Now I can start me retirement fund.”3 Laughter erupted, and then a hushed silence fell as the two men glanced at each other. Paul strummed the first chord, and then their voices joined together: “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah….”
The tape reveals that they were somewhat ragged on this first number, although the harmonies are beautiful. Screaming erupts with each “ooh”, but only Paul actually shook his head. A few attempted to sing along at first, but were promptly shushed, not by the performers but by the audience. While John forgets a line in the second verse, they push onward, ending with a heartfelt “You know you should…be GLAD!” The last line of “yeahs” ends, and the crowd roars its approval.
“Thank you very much,” Paul says. “Thank you. Have you got any favorites?” People begin shouting suggestions, and John hears one he likes. “All right, Two of Us,” he says, and they pause for a moment to consider the chords as he continues. “It’s been a while.” There is laughter and then applause. The cast—John, Jane, Dan, Lorraine, Garrett, and Gilda—huddle at stage right, their faces rapt. Chevy stands slightly apart, with just a hint of a smirk.4
Paul picks out the opening riff, and the song begins. Although the tape quality is crap, this is a gorgeous version, even better than the Let It Be take. John and Paul’s harmonies are tight, the guitars are in rhythm, and according to the audience, the two men were genuinely enthusiastic to be there, catching each other’s eye and smiling frequently. Cheers and whistles sound as well as wild applause at the song’s conclusion.
After a bit of whispered consultation, Paul strums the final number, which turns out to be Yesterday. John plays guitar alongside him, but stays silent as his friend serenades a hushed audience. (Lennon commented: “We knew we had to do a classic, and Paul knew it cold. I didn’t mind. I couldn’t have played I Am The Walrus from memory, anyway.”) “You could’ve heard a pin drop,” Lorne said later. Screams, feet stamping, hands clapping, and general mayhem sound as the last note fades away. It goes on for a solid five minutes, and then John, who was seen conferring again with Paul, breaks in.
“You want one more?” A din of “Yeah!”s greet him. “All right, here’s an oldie,” he says, and they drop into the Everly Brothers’ (All I Have To Do) Is Dream, unfortunately cut off on the third line of the first verse as the cassette tape ran out. What remains is gorgeous, a tribute to one of their influences. “I cried,” Gilda said afterwards. “It was so lovely.”
“We had to stop the show,” Belushi told reporters. “We couldn’t go on after that. How do you follow a miracle? You can’t. We went to a bar and talked about it for hours. Fucking amazing, man. I’ll remember it ‘til I die.”
John and Paul didn’t stick around, leaving the studio and going out to where a cab Lorne had called whisked them away. They headed straight back to the Dakota, ignoring the reporters and cameras clustered outside. Both men didn’t discuss it much afterward.
Paul: “It was a good time. We had some fun. It was nice to be playing together one last time. I just wish things could’ve been different, y’know?”
John: “I dunno, I sort of wish we hadn’t. It kept the fucking myth alive. You can’t wallow in the past. You’ve got to move onward.”
Despite Lorne’s efforts, increasing the pot later to $3,200, the four Beatles never did get back together. But that night was magic, leaving us with one last beautiful reunion. All we had to do was dream.