Feb. 16, 2012 at 11:59 AM ET
The Beatles had considered getting back together while all four members were still alive, says Paul McCartney. "There was talk of re-forming the Beatles a couple of times," he tells Rolling Stone, "but it didn't jell, there was not enough passion behind the idea."
According to McCartney, the band was very pleased with having come full circle creatively, and worried about tainting their legacy. "More importantly, it could have spoiled the whole idea of the Beatles, so wrong that they'd be like 'Oh, my God, they weren't any good,'" he says. "The re-formation suggestions were never convincing enough. They were kind of nice when they happened – 'That would be good, yeah' – but then one of us would always not fancy it. And that was enough, because we were the ultimate democracy."
Though the Fab Four never came back together, various combinations of the band's members have played together on various projects and special occasions in the decades since the group disbanded in 1970. Ringo Starr appeared on solo recordings by John Lennon, George Harrison and McCartney, and both Starr and McCartney appeared together on "All These Years Ago," a Harrison song written in memory of Lennon. The three of them also finished a pair of Lennon demos, "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love," for the "Beatles Anthology" series.
The individual Beatles also reconnected for one-off live collaborations, including Starr and Harrison's performance together at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 and the time when McCartney, Harrison and Starr played "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" at Eric Clapton's wedding in 1979.
McCartney and Lennon reunited briefly for a studio jam session in 1974 that also featured Stevie Wonder, Harry Nilsson, Linda McCartney and Bobby Keys. "We were stoned," McCartney says of the session, which has been immortalized as the bootleg Toot and a Snore. "I don't think there was anyone in that room who wasn't stoned. For some ungodly reason, I decided to get on drums. It was just a party, you know. To use the word 'disorganized' is completely understating it. I might have made a feeble attempt to restore order – "guys, you know, let's think of a song, that would be a good idea' – but I can't remember if I did or not."
To read Brian Hiatt's cover story on Paul McCartney, pick up the March 1, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone, on stands and in Rolling Stone All Access February 17.