40 Years Ago: How False Beatles Rumors Almost Derailed Concerts for Kampuchea

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40 Years Ago: How False Beatles Rumors Almost Derailed Concerts for Kampuchea

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40 Years Ago: How False Beatles Rumors Almost Derailed Concerts for Kampuchea
Nick DeRiso
December 26, 2019

The rumor of a possible Beatles reunion obscured the very real history being made at the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea. Kicking off on Dec. 26, 1979, and continuing for four days at the former Hammersmith Odeon in London, the shows were meant to raise money for war-torn Cambodia – which is commonly called Kampuchea in the East. A cool old-school-meets-new-school cast joined co-organizer Paul McCartney, including the Who, Queen, Robert Plant, the Clash, the Pretenders, Elvis Costello and others.

But alas, no Beatles. And back then, the possibility of a comeback utterly dominated the news cycle. McCartney, brought in by then-U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim to spearhead the huge benefit, tried to refocus everyone.

"The Beatles are over and finished with," McCartney reiterated to The New York Times a few weeks earlier. "None of us is even interested in doing it. There's lots of reasons. Imagine if we came back and did a big show that wasn't good. What a drag."

The blame for this distraction, ironically enough, pointed to Waldheim. In an effort to drum up interest in the Kampuchea concerts, he'd stirred up a second wave of Beatlemania. Waldheim initially approached McCartney, hoping his current band Wings would participate. But he also discussed a performance with George Harrison, and then the gossip wheel began whirring.

McCartney agreed to come on board because he wanted to do something for Cambodia, where the Pol Pot-led Khmer Rouge regime had killed millions of people in the late '70s, creating a refugee crisis. McCartney initially heard about this crisis on a BBC TV program, which sparked outrage and then a desire to help.

"Like most people, I saw the film of the starving kids," McCartney told Rolling Stone in 1980. "It was a soul-searching bit of film."

Harrison ended up backing out, while McCartney helped assemble a once-in-a-lifetime lineup that bridged generations while training a more intense spotlight on the horrors going on in Cambodia.

Read More: How False Beatles Rumors Almost Derailed Concerts for Kampuchea | https://ultimateclassicrock.com/concert ... m=referral
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