Get Back-Part Two

John Lennon is an asshole.

But Paul McCartney can be passive-aggressive.

So the shock here is the old cars. Watching the miniseries you believe you’re in the present, so why are the cars in the street so ancient? It’s cognitive dissonance. Paul may be complaining about the quality of 16mm film, but just like the Beatles’ recordings themselves, the images are pristine.

So in the second part George is back, the songs are coming together and the Beatle magic is evident. It’s the vocals, not only Paul’s pure voice but John’s light grade sandpapery one too.

And there are revelations… John plays the into guitar part of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” and solos too. And he can play the lap steel, it’s him on “For You Blue.” And Ringo can even play the piano, but he’s definitely a secondary character here. He plays the drums, you can’t have a band without them, but he’s not a major songwriter, a good part of the time he’s staring into the distance, that is when he’s not camping it up, a la “A Hard Day’s Night.”

As for George… There’s really no room for him. Oh, there’s plenty of room for his guitar, just not his input. He’s relatively quiet, thoughtful, and he speaks slowly, at times self-consciously, whereas Lennon just spouts whatever comes into his brain and McCartney oozes a subtle confidence. And most of the time the music creation is a conversation between John and Paul, this is how they’ve done it for years. But George was in the band from almost the beginning. As for Ringo, not only is the drummer, but he’s a latecomer, a la Jason Newsted in Metallica, and never fully accepted by the others, or should I say never feels completely comfortable with them.

So for decades we’ve seen the Beatles as the epitome of the sixties, the paragon, the tertiary acts have faded away and everybody else has become secondary. But that’s not the way it was. As a matter of fact, the way it was was music was everything for the younger generation. TV was a joke. As for films… The renaissance started in ’67, with “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Graduate,” but it really didn’t gain full traction until ’69 and then the seventies. But in the interim, the youngsters had not only taken over music, but seemingly every other walk of life. This was the era when it became cool to be young, before this was not the case, your elders were respected and in control. Today, the boomers are in many cases out of it, just ask them for tech help, but they want to hold on to power and the younger generations believe that youth continues to rule, even though they have not demonstrated any reason why it should.

Bottom line, the Beatles were part of a scene, they weren’t the entire scene. Today the Beatles represent the sixties, during the era they were just part of the sixties.

And the band knew it.

When John talks about Fleetwood Mac… He’s not verbalizing from the perspective of a superior, but a contemporary, he digs what they do, he’s not quite envious, but he’s wowed.

There’s constant context. The Beatles are alone in a room, but they’re reading the newspaper, talking about what’s going on around them, yet still…


We see the Beatle albums as discrete, each one individual, with a definite forward progression. But to the band itself, it’s all just part of their work, all accessible, not in the past but still in the present. In the first episode John goes off on my favorite Beatle song, “Every Little Thing.” In the second episode, he sings “I Feel Fine” and…these songs are part of the band’s history, part of their conversation, they’re their catalog, not to be discarded and forgotten, but referred to on a regular basis.

And they’re not above publicity. They’re reading what’s written about them constantly, despite remarking on its falsehood and asking Derek Taylor if they can sue. Then again, this was the sixties, WHEN THERE WAS SO MUCH ROCK PRESS! Funny how in the internet era there are more words, but fewer facts, and the stories don’t drive the culture, whereas back then they were everything.

So John Lennon acts like that kid in high school…who bats below his intelligence, but does not care, who believes he’s superior to the system and doesn’t need it anyway, he can survive without it. He’s constantly cracking jokes, throwing off asides, but almost always they have an edge to them, if you’re the recipient of his words you can feel bad. The band tolerates him, would anybody else?

Well the truth is when you’re a rock star you can get away with so much, but as you age this personality wears thin. Most people mellow out, the ones who don’t end up isolated. I wouldn’t say John can’t read the room so much as he doesn’t care what the room has to say or think. This makes him John Lennon, a singular rock hero, but it also demonstrates how if he were not a Beatle he’d have a hard time making it in life, getting along with everyday people.

As for Paul McCartney…when the going gets rough, he shuts up. You can tell he’s pissed, but he won’t tell you why, never mind proffer a solution. So the others keep talking while Paul stays quiet, waiting for a breaking point. Can you imagine being in a band with these guys?

They’ve all got issues. Which is why they’re musicians, artists. They’ve got a calling, they know they don’t fit in anywhere else, and they’re not big on compromise, because if it’s not right, it’s worthless.

But George does say the band always meanders to a conclusion, and that’s the best result. It’s the opposite of business, which has a distinct target and is regimented in its journey to the destination. The Beatles are messing around, they’ll get it done, but they’ll also have some laughs, and they’ll do a ton of experimentation, but when it’s all said and done it has to reach a certain bar, they insist upon it.

But the band is constantly playing material that ends up on other albums, your jaw drops when you hear McCartney sing “Her Majesty,” the throwaway coda at the end of “Abbey Road.” You thought it was written that way, an afterthought. Hm, no. It was a piece from the past that was jiggled into the second side.

And there’s “Oh! Darling” and so many other “Abbey Road” songs, as well as McCartney’s “Another Day” and “Teddy Boy,” the former of which is not going to come out on wax for years.

And Glyn Johns is the engineer, quiet, as most of them are, unwilling to weigh in for fear of losing their job, trying to get the sound right while the band is ready to go.

But the studio equipment! It looks like it’s out of a war room from the forties, maybe even the thirties! Now the truth is recording takes a giant leap forward at just about this time, with 16 track machines and Neve and other consoles, this is the last vestige of the old. But it’s cognitive dissonance once again, everything is so modern, where did they get this equipment, is this a joke?

And there’s not the constant overdubbing and comping of vocals which took hold in the seventies and are even worse in the era of Pro Tools. That’s why they’re doing it this way, as a band, to get back to where they once belonged.

So yes, the second episode moves forward, the songs come together, the tracks are laid down, they’re building to a conclusion.

Yet George Martin is there in his suit, on the floor reading the newspaper, about as engaged as Yoko, what is he doing, the vaunted producer?

So if you don’t want to invest eight hours, you can start with Part Two.

And a completist can watch it all, even over again, but that’s not the way the Beatles themselves were. They were just making another record, other than Paul, they were not taking it that seriously. As Paul tightens up, John actually gets looser and more involved. George enjoys playing every day. They’re a band again, the way it once was. As for being worried that the new record has to be as good as what came before, it has to top the chart, we hear nothing of that. That’s the modern paradigm. Which is inhibiting. Because if you feel the pressure of the audience/world, you can rarely deliver.

And the truth is in this episode the band is removed, in their own private world, they don’t even acknowledge the Scruffs outside the building.

And of course I must mention Billy Preston. This is how music works, behind the scenes it’s a culture, a family, if you don’t keep up relationships you get no opportunities. And Billy is invited to sit down at the piano as a casual thought, he’d just stopped by to say hi, this spontaneity, this refusal to weigh every decision heavily, is what results in the unexpectedly great, if you want to push forward you can’t rigidly adhere to the manual. As a matter of fact, so many famous rock sounds were created by musicians messing with the equipment.

And Billy is so skilled. He doesn’t have to go home and study, he’s paid his dues for years, on the road, in the studio, he can just sit down and play what is right, it’s amazing.

So the truth is George and Ringo evolved. After his solo albums hit a wall, George got the Traveling Wilburys together. Ringo became an actor, made music in different genres and ultimately went on the road. John? John recorded solo tunes, many worked out in these sessions, and then canceled his subscription to “Billboard” and retired, he wanted to have a life, see what he had missed. Being famous was not important. Then again, he had plenty of money. And then just when he came back, he was killed.


He’s done the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Sure, the initial “McCartney,” done all by himself, was a revelation. And then Wings. But thereafter it became the McCartney show, the same thing over and over, he continued to hold the Beatles torch, but he was crippled by it. (Of course Paul eventually did the Fireman and recorded classical music, but he was never a leader in these areas, pushing the envelope.)

All the peripheral people… They were working with the Beatles, but if that’s all they had, they were heading for a big fall. Only the Beatles were the Beatles, only they could rest on their laurels. Glyn Johns and George Martin had to get other gigs. Ditto Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Even Derek Taylor. Time keeps running, you’ve got to keep moving, which can be hard to do after you’ve reached the pinnacle of success.

So the second episode moves faster, and is more interesting, but what you’ve got to remember is you may have more reverence for what you see on screen than the band itself. For them it was just another project, part of their life. It is not everything, it was just something. “Let It Be” was just another song. Ditto “Get Back.” Hell, they let Joe Cocker record “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” before they did. The band was in motion, and only Paul seems to be linked to the past, the others are exploring, wanting to move forward, the Beatles is something they’re doing now, but it’s not the only thing they want to do in life. There’s so much more to life. But in the ensuing years, when music has been commoditized, when it panders, when it’s massaged to be a hit, it’s hard not to look back at the glory days evidenced here without being wowed. But that was then and this is now. And in many ways, just like in so many other walks of modern life, then was better than now.

Comments are closed