Musings About “The Beatles: Get Back”

After weeks of publicity and anticipation, Peter Jackson’s documentary The Beatles: Get Back finally premiered on Disney+ last week. As I started watching the first episode on Thursday, two things became clear to me. As a long-time fan of The Beatles, it was a foregone conclusion I would write about the film. I also decided not to do a review. If you’re looking for the latter, I’d like to refer you to fellow Beatles fan and blogger Angie Moon who pens the excellent Diversity of Classic Rock blog and did a great job summarizing each of the three episodes here, here and here. Instead of a review, I’d like to share some of my takeaways.

Perhaps most importantly, I was glad to see The Beatles: Get Back is not an attempt to whitewash the band’s late-stage history. Instead, I feel it’s an effort to paint a more balanced picture of what was shown in the original 1970 documentary by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. While the majority of Peter Jackson’s film features “happy footage”, it also captures the tensions between The Beatles. That’s especially the case in the first episode where you can see George Harrison’s growing frustration – even more so in his facial expressions than his actual words. There’s also a candid conversation between John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the second episode. I’ll come back to that shortly.

george harrison left the beatles

The task of having to complete 14 new songs for an album and a live TV show in just three weeks with no real plan looked pretty daunting, even for great writers and musicians like The Beatles – especially when you consider not all was easy-peasy between them. I also find it pretty remarkable how in spite of all the drama with George’s walkout seven days into the rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios and the uncertainty of his return, the entire project didn’t completely get derailed then and there.

One of the documentary’s most intense moments happens off-camera and is the above-noted conversation between John and Paul in a cafeteria, presumably at Twickenham. They had no idea the filmmakers had placed a microphone in a flowerpot on the table to secretly record them. That was really pushing the envelope, to say the least! Here’s a transcribed excerpt:

John: ‘Cause there was a period when none of us could actually say anything about your arrangements…
Paul: Yeah.
John: ’cause you would reject it all.
Paul: Yeah, sure.
John: I’d have to tell George and I would just say, you know, like you do about me…
Paul: Oh yeah.
John: …you know, I’m Paul McCartney, and a lot of the times you were right, and a lot of the times you were wrong. Same as we all are, but I can’t see the answer to that. Because you…you’ve suddenly got it all, you see.
Paul: I really don’t want you…
John: Well, alright. I’m just telling you what I think. I don’t think The Beatles revolve around four people. It might be a fuckin’ job.
Paul: You know, I tell you what. I tell you one thing. What I think…The main thing is this: You have always been boss. Now, I’ve been, sort of, secondary boss.
John: Not always.
Paul: No, listen. Listen. No. always!
John: Well, I…
Paul: Really, I mean it’s gonna be much better if we can actually stick together and say, “Look, George, on ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ I want you to do it exactly how I play it” and he’ll say, “I’m not you, and I can’t do it exactly like you do it.”
John: But this, this year, what you’ve been doing and what everybody’s been doing…I’ve not only felt guilty about the way we’re all guilty about our relationship to each other ’cause we could do more. And look, I’m not putting any blame on you. I’ve suddenly realized this, because that was my game, you know, but me goals, they’re still the same. Self-preservation, you know. I know what I like, I’ve let you do what you want and George too, you know.
Paul: Yeah I know.
John: If we want him, if we do want him, I can go along with that, because the policy has kept us together.
Paul: Well, I don’t know, you know. See, I’m just assuming he’s coming back.
John: Well, do you want…
Paul: If he isn’t, then he isn’t, then it’s a new problem. And probably when we’re all very old, we’ll all agree with each other, and we’ll all sing together.

Billy Preston’s appearance at the Apple studio on Savile Row, to where The Beatles had relocated from that awful Twickenham location, was truly priceless. He wasn’t called a “Fifth Beatle” for nothing – frankly, something I had not fully appreciated until I watched Jackson’s documentary. You can feel the immediate positive vibes created by Preston’s presence. Obviously, his keyboard work was great as well, especially on tunes like Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, using a Fender Rhodes electric piano.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Yoko Ono. I realize how much she meant to John, but I just have to say I found her constant presence right next to him really odd. Of course, she wasn’t the only guest. There was also Linda Eastman (soon-to-become Linda McCartney), but at least she appeared to have a purpose to be there taking pictures. Later on in the film, one can also see Ringo Starr’s then-wife Maureen Cox and Paul’s brother Peter Michael McCartney. By far my favorite guest is Linda’s giggling daughter Heather who was about to turn seven years old and who subsequently became Paul’s adopted daughter. I love how at some point she’s hitting Ringo’s snare drum when he didn’t expect it, clearly scaring him!

The first and only time I saw the original Let It Be documentary was in Germany, which I believe was in the late ’70s. Perhaps I should have watched it again before seeing the Jackson documentary. I didn’t recall that until the morning of the rooftop concert, The Beatles still had not made their final decision whether they wanted to move forward with what would become their final public live performance. Lindsay-Hogg, George Martin and all other production staff seemed to take it in stride – that’s just remarkable!

The Beatles: Get Back gave me a new appreciation of the Let It Be album. Don’t get me wrong: I always considered it a decent record, but if asked for my top picks, I’d mention Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road and Revolver. Now I would add Let It Be to that group.

I think the Jackson documentary is mostly suitable for Beatles fans. Folks who are new to the band or who are casual listeners probably won’t get as much out of it. While as a longtime fan and hobby musician I find it fascinating to watch John, Paul, George, Ringo and Billy in action, it’s safe to assume the constant rehearsals and even their goofing around aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Even as a Beatles fan, I have to say I’m glad this documentary is presented as a three-part docuseries, given its total running time of close to eight hours. In fact, I think they should have broken it up into four episodes of two hours each.

Sources: Wikipedia; Disney+; YouTube

They Say It’s Your Birthday

Happy birthday to you, Sir Paul!

You say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday too, yeah
They say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time
I’m glad it’s your birthday
Happy birthday to you

Today, Paul McCartney is turning 79 years old – wow! He’s one of my greatest music heroes of all time, who continues to inspire me after an incredible close to 60-year recording career. Paul’s biography has been written up countless times, and it’s safe to assume there is nothing new I could reveal. Instead, I’d like to celebrate Macca’s birthday with some of the great music he has given us over the decades.

...Yes we’re going to a party party
Yes we’re going to a party party
Yes we’re going to a party party

Things We Said Today (1964)

A song from The Beatles era I’ve always loved, which appeared on the U.K. version of the A Hard Day’s Night album released in July 1964 but wasn’t part of the movie soundtrack. According to The Beatles Bible, McCartney wrote this tune on a yacht in the Virgin Islands in May 1964, where he vacationed with his girlfriend Jane Asher, as well as Ringo Starr and his future first wife Maureen Cox.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

The title track and a Macca tune from my favorite Beatles album on most days, which was released in May 1967. The idea of the song and the entire album of an alter-ego band that would perform before an audience came to McCartney in November 1966 on a flight from Nairobi back to England.

Maybe I’m Amazed (1970)

The highlight of McCartney’s debut solo album McCartney from April 1970. Written in 1969, the tune is about his first wife Linda McCartney (née Eastman). Linda who passed away from breast cancer in 1998 undoubtedly had an enormous impact on Paul. Instead of picking the studio track, I’m cheating a bit here and feature what I feel is a superior version that appeared on the great Wings Over America live album from December 1976.

Band on the Run (1973)

The title track from what I think is the Mount Rushmore of Macca’s solo period, released in December 1973. The tune was McCartney’s response to drug laws he believed unfairly criminalized him and his friends. Noting the latter included the Eagles and The Byrds, Songfacts quotes Macca as follows: “We’re not criminals… We just would rather do this than hit the booze – which had been a traditional way to do it. We felt that this was a better move.”

Letting Go (1975)

A nice rocker from Venus and Mars, McCartney’s fourth studio album with Wings, which came out in May 1975. Letting Go is another tune about Linda McCartney, a reflection on Paul’s relationship with her and that she deserved more freedom to pursue her own interests after she had given up her photography career. Linda received a co-credit for the song.

Here Today (1982)

A moving tribute to John Lennon Macca wrote wrote in the wake of Lennon’s senseless murder in December 1980. It appeared on McCartney’s third solo studio album Tug of War from April 1982, another gem from his solo catalog I previously covered here. This song can still make me well up!

Fine Line (2005)

Time to continue the party by jumping to the current century. Fine Line is the opener to Macca’s 13th solo album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard from October 2005. It’s a great piano-driven pop song that also showcases the multi-instrumental talents of Sir Paul. In addition to piano and vocals, he provided guitar, bass and drums – pretty much the track’s entire instrumentation, except for the strings that were played by London-based session players Millennia Ensemble.

I Don’t Know (2018)

A beautiful piano ballad from Egypt Station, McCartney’s 17th solo studio effort from September 2018 – a late career gem in his solo catalog, in my opinion! You can read more about it here. Yes, Paul’s voice is clearly showing some wear and tear, but I think it works very well for this and the other tracks on the album.

Lavatory Lil (2020)

A nice rocker from McCartney III, which is yet another intriguing late career release in my book. I would also say it’s the charm of Macca’s three DIY home-made albums, as I previously wrote here. Check out the cool descending bass line of Lavatory Lil.

Birthday (1968)

A birthday celebration calls for a birthday song, so I’d like to wrap up this post with exactly that. Conveniently, Sir Paul also wrote the perfect tune for the occasion. It first appeared on The Beatles’ White Album from November 1968 as the opener to side three (speaking in vinyl terms here!). Instead of picking the original studio track, let’s up the fun with a live version captured during a performance at New York’s Grand Central Station in September 2018 to celebrate the release of the above noted Egypt Station album. It’s just great to see how much fun Macca continues to have when performing in front of an audience. This absolutely makes me want to see him again!

I would like you to dance, birthday
Take a cha-cha-cha-chance, birthday
I would like you to dance, birthday
Dance

I would like you to dance, birthday
Take a cha-cha-cha-chance, birthday

I would like you to dance, birthday
Dance

You say it’s your birthday
Well it’s my birthday too, yeah
You say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time

I’m glad it’s your birthday
Happy birthday to you

Rock on, Paul, and here’s to good health and many more years to come!

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts; YouTube