When Were the Beatles?
THE BEATLES HAD already existed forever when I was born, in 1971. They were a complete and fully realized component of the world, like Christmas carols or ice cream trucks. The songs at the beginning of the Red Album sounded different from the songs at the end of the Blue Album, the same way the hairstyles changed from front to back, and this constituted some sort of history, but not a contingent one. To imagine what would have happened if the Beatles hadn't broken up was as pointless as proposing an eighth day in the week of Genesis chapters 1 and 2.
Not everyone dropped into the story at exactly that moment, but apparently the effect was broadly the same. There's a clip from Peter Jackson's new Beatles documentary, Get Back, that circulated online to general amazement before Disney got it taken down: Paul McCartney, seemingly futzing around on his lefty Hofner bass, gathers up some loosely affiliated sounds and—in mere minutes of a single day in January of 1969, as the cameras roll—transmutes or crystallizes them into a working draft of "Get Back," drawing the other Beatles into it as he goes. It defied belief. There was no song, and then there was, yet also, of course, the song had always been there. How could it not have been?