John Winston Lennon would be 80 years old now. The Beatles might have reunited multiple times. He might have recorded a dozen more solo albums. He and bandmate Paul McCartney might even be touring today, as the greatest songwriting duo of all time.
All this and more, had Lennon not been slain in front of his New York City apartment forty years ago tonight (at the very moment—10:50 EST—that I publish this). For me, that ended The Beatles.
Counterfactual history is by definition a speculative exercise, so you might say I'm a dreamer. But I would argue that The Beatles were a lock to get back together. They had already considered it several times in the '70s, but according to McCartney, all four members never agreed at the same time. "One of us would always not fancy it. And that was enough, because we were the ultimate democracy.”
For business reasons alone the pressures would have continued to mount. Multi-million dollar offers had already been pouring it and would have only increased. Even if none of the four Beatles personally needed the cash over the next twenty years—which seems unlikely—eventually they would have caved to the demand to come out of retirement to raise billions for some worthy cause. (In this scenario, the end of The Beatles would have come in 2001, when George Harrison died.)
Then there was the competition thing. The Fab Four would have been highly motivated to show the world who was top dog in the business as others staked their claim over time. Lennon in particular would have grown tired of hearing about The Eagles or Michael Jackson or U2 or (especially) The Rolling Stones being the biggest draw or grossing the most dollars. Lennon on occasion would belittle the success of The Beatles, yet he was the first to take umbrage when another act claimed the throne!
(Here's a question for the Comment thread: Can you think of a megasuccessful, superstar act that was able to pass up the temptation to come out of retirement a decade or two later? I can't at the moment, but perhaps you can.)
Of course, even without such an encore the Fab Four were the biggest AND the best. This was a mantle no other musical act could legitimately claim over 65 years of rock/pop history, as I argue here and here. But one more time around was something we all awaited.
Then there was the loss of Lennon's individual contribution. After all, he was arguably the greatest songwriter in rock & roll history. (One could make a similar argument for partner Paul—a topic for another day.) We can only imagine what Lennon's creative legacy might have been if he had 40 more years to work with.
“A sad, sad day,” Paul McCartney tweeted today, “remembering my friend John with the great joy he brought to the world.”