April 24, 1976: John and Paul Almost Go on ‘SNL’

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An artist’s conception of John and Paul hanging out watching TV in 1976

Can you imagine? You’re sitting in front of the TV (or, better yet, you’re in the studio audience) getting your weekly dose of laughs from the still-new program Saturday Night Live. The actress Raquel Welch is the host this evening and the scheduled musical guests are Phoebe Snow and John Sebastian, the latter the former leader of the Lovin’ Spoonful who is currently enjoying a best-selling hit with “Welcome Back,” the theme song for a popular TV sitcom.

All of a sudden there’s a commotion, some gasps and screams. Is this really happening? John Lennon and Paul McCartney have just walked onto the set!

It wasn’t really happening; it never did. But it could have, and nearly did. For a few minutes they thought about it.

The two old friends had, for the most part, been estranged since the final days of the Beatles. Their feud had been public and nasty—accusations and condemnations had been traded. Lennon had even written a song, asking his former songwriting partner, “How Do You Sleep?”

But their rancor had begun to fade somewhat by 1976 and, on this evening, they were together, just hanging out. Paul and his wife Linda just happened to be visiting McCartney’s old friend at John and Yoko Ono’s apartment at the Dakota—just over a mile away from NBC Studios—and the TV was on.

Related: Another SNL moment, this one featuring Elvis Costello

At first, John wasn’t so pleased that the couple had showed up unannounced at his home. He told Playboy magazine in 1980, “That was a period when Paul just kept turning up at our door with a guitar. I would let him in, but finally I said to him, ‘Please call before you come over. It’s not 1956 and turning up at the door isn’t the same anymore. You know, just give me a ring.’ He was upset by that, but I didn’t mean it badly. I just meant that I was taking care of a baby all day and some guy turns up at the door.”

After the awkward greeting, they settled down in front of the TV, enjoying the 18th episode of this instantly popular comedy/variety program—“Live from New York!” its famous slogan went. By the 90-minute show’s mid-point they would have seen John Belushi performing his Joe Cocker impersonation and skits featuring Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner.

Lorne Michaels offers the Beatles $3,000 to reunite on SNL

Then they would have seen the show’s creator and producer, Lorne Michaels. He had no idea that the two ex-Beatles just happened to be together, right in Manhattan, when he said this:

“Now, we’ve heard and read a lot about personality and legal conflicts that might prevent you guys from reuniting. That’s something which is none of my business. That’s a personal problem. You guys will have to handle that. But it’s also been said that no one has yet to come up with enough money to satisfy you. Well, if it’s money you want, there’s no problem here. The National Broadcasting Company has authorized me to offer you this check to be on our show. A certified check for $3,000.”

It was a joke, of course. The Beatles had been offered many millions of dollars to reunite, and had turned down all offers.

Michaels took out a piece of paper and continued:

“All you have to do is sing three Beatles songs. ‘She Loves You,’ yeah, yeah, yeah—that’s $1,000 right there. You know the words. It’ll be easy. Like I said, this is made out to ‘The Beatles.’ You divide it any way you want. If you want to give Ringo less, that’s up to you. I’d rather not get involved.”

Back on West 72nd Street, laughing along with all other viewers, and marveling at the sheer coincidence of it, Lennon turned to McCartney and said, “We should go down, just you and me. There’s only two of us so we’ll take half the money.”

Both Lennon and McCartney later confirmed that they actually considered it. All they would need to do is hop into a cab and in 15 minutes they would have been inside.

But, Paul later explained, “It would have been work, and we were having a night off, so we elected not to go. It was a nice idea. We nearly did it.”

A month later, Michaels tried the bit again, upping his offer to $3,200. But that ship had sailed. In 2000 VH1 aired a film called Two of Us, wondering what might have transpired if they’d taken Michaels up on his offer.

Instead, April 24, 1976, became the last time that John Lennon and Paul McCartney would be in each other’s company.

Watch Lorne Michaels make his generous offer to the Beatles

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