Get Back-Part Three

I used to ski with Scott Brooksbank, the World Freestyle Champion. Every day he was just one of us, but when he hit competition he took it up a notch, he was SPECTACULAR!

As were the Beatles on the roof of the Apple building.

You can’t appreciate how great they were unless you’ve watched the previous seven hours. The noodling, the disagreements, the endless repetition, the tweaking… Like they say, the more they played certain numbers they got tired and the productions got worse. The definitive statements were elusive. As a matter of fact, in some cases the definitive recordings, the ones that ultimately appeared on the “Let It Be” album, were cut live, outside, and that’s positively jaw-dropping, especially in this day of Pro Tools and hard drives and…

It’s funny how Paul, the driving force of the project, is reluctant to hit the roof. Whereas John and Ringo are into it, it’s a lark, why not? It’ll be a new and different experience, it may not work out. But Paul is gun-shy. It’s not exactly clear why, whether it’s the raw fear or the feeling it’s not the proper conclusion to the film.

And it is film, with big heavy cameras. You see that at the end of this documentary, when we see the slate and the other intrusions the filmmakers make. How inhibiting! Then again, most creative people require complete silence or complete noise, they need to be in their heads, with their thoughts resonating.

Which also makes it hard to understand the presence of Heather McCartney. Talk about intrusive. But Paul’s got time for her, and in truth how long was she there really? There was so much footage, and so much unshot, ultimately you could make any film you wanted, positive or negative. The 1970 version was negative, this is positively positive. Sure, George leaves the band, but in retrospect, was he really leaving? He is certainly integrated after the fact.

And place matters. Twickenham did not have the right vibe. A smaller room with all the clutter did. And it’s fascinating how they’re using brand new Fender amps and PAs, no one seemed to use Fender PAs thereafter. As for these latest Fender amps? They were all transistor based, the cognoscenti pooh-poohed them, tubes rule, but now there is some affection for this CBS era gear. Imagine, a record company owning a musical instrument company! Then again, the conglomerate ultimately owned the Yankees. It’s kinda like a Don Henley song, they build ’em up and then they tear them back down. Gulf + Western, aka Engulf + Devour, bought Paramount Pictures in the sixties. Coca-Cola even owned a movie studio. Now they’re selling GE for parts. Turns out the so-called greatest manager of the century, Jack Welch, cooked the books to show a steady profit and left Jeffrey Immelt with an unmanageable company, not that Immelt rose to the challenge.

So as the episode moves on there’s a discussion of what they’re actually doing. Is it an album, a movie, a TV show, or..? And what is made clear is it’s the Beatles decision. This was the sixties, the acts took charge, and since the Tommy Mottola era their power has been slowly whittled away. But the artists know best, not that they really know, they’re just on an endless quest until it feels right.

So for an album they need fourteen songs. But they’ve only got seven. But in reality maybe they have fourteen. And then it occurs to you that rummaging through these tapes to create an LP would be very difficult, which is why they abandoned the project and ultimately left it to Phil Spector. Would I hate “The Long and Winding Road” as much without Phil’s strings? It resonates much more in its naked version in the documentary.

And the whole concept of writing in the studio. As for everybody marveling how Paul McCartney created “Get Back” on camera out of thin air, I don’t buy it. He probably had the elements in hand before the cameras turned on. Having said that, watching the band spontaneously add and change words, and watching George work with Ringo on “Octopus’s Garden,” is revelatory. George says it’s got to RESOLVE! There is a method to the madness, they know all the chords, they’ve paid all those dues on stage previously, as demonstrated when they spontaneously play the fifties classics. Records are finite, but until they’re finished, they’re fluid.

And you see George Martin finally weigh in. And John Lennon is more amenable.

And then comes the roof.

First, will the structure support the weight?

Then there’s the set-up. With Glyn Johns and George Martin downstairs in the control room. But there’s a tape op on set with a Nagra. Nagra, the state of the art, what all the Grateful Dead shows were recorded on. Rare and expensive Swiss machines with utmost quality, normally used for films.

And Mal has the drums nailed down wrong. When did they start nailing down drums, and did they do it at every gig?

And it’s cold. And there’s fur, a no-no today. And despite being hesitant, Paul’s got on his look, and then…


You almost can’t believe it. Sure, there were moments of perfection in the studio, mostly with the vocals, sometimes with the instruments, but it never ever sounded THIS GOOD!

It’s a band. Not the kind of band you see in an arena today, but the kind of band that permeated the landscape in the sixties, they were everywhere, oftentimes with the same construction: drums, bass and two guitars. Occasionally you got a keyboard player, like Mike Smith in the Dave Clark Five, and a lead singer sans instrument, like Eric Burdon in the Animals, but one thing is for sure, everywhere you went people were forming bands, live music was everywhere.

But how can it sound so good without modern effects? Without backup musicians? Without hard drives?

Not only Paul’s voice, but John’s guitar playing, he’s picking the notes and they sound just right. And Ringo proves his worth after being an afterthought so much of the time downstairs. And you watch George Harrison and you realize this guy invented so much of this, he was there first. He’s talking about Eric, but he’s no slouch.

But it’s the way they come together that astounds. It’s a mellifluous sound.

And they play long enough for you to analyze. What sounds good at the gig oftentimes doesn’t sound good at home, you were caught up in the moment, filling in the gaps. But the Beatles on the roof sound…well, a bit rougher and noisier, but mostly it’s the energy of a live performance, different from a studio concoction, it breathes, it’s alive!

But not only is reluctant Paul delivering, he’s INTO IT! The way he twists his body, he’s got the music in him.

As for John… He’s bouncing like he did on Ed Sullivan. Almost like a frog. They’re musicians, not stars. They’re doing their jobs and we can just watch, with our jaws dropped.

They’re so comfortable, they haven’t played live for years, but there’s no rust to shake off, they’re right back into it. And you can see the band before the studio productions, when the albums were cut nearly instantly and the band made its bones on the road.

As for the assembled multitude…

It’s unclear how good the sound is on the street, and you certainly can’t see the band. But one thing is very clear, everybody’s so OLD! People don’t get old anymore. They dress young and hip, even if they don’t get plastic surgery. And almost no one is this formal anymore. And mostly the band gets kudos, as for the naysayers…you wouldn’t get that today, then again if it was hip-hop…

As for the Bobbies… Doesn’t that strap on your chin annoy you? And then one cop starts chewing on his!

And then there’s the subterfuge. The sincere lying, the dissuasion, of Mal Evans and others. This happens all the time. There are layers of interference protecting the band, allowing them to do what they want. And even when the Bobbies get to the roof Mal keeps them at bay, ultimately turns off the amplifiers but the musicians turn them back on, and keep playing.

As for the Bobbies… I can’t believe they’ve got their names. Where are those guys today? Never mind the Apple receptionist, Debbie Wellum. (See a cast list here: It was a long, long, time ago. Hell, “American Pie” is fifty years old!

And when you hear the casual asides, never mind the music, that end up on the final album your adrenaline spikes. The circle of life is complete.

And then it’s over. But not really. The rooftop was not finality, there’s more recording to be done, they’re back in the studio the next day. But before that… They wanted to keep recording that afternoon/evening, but the instruments were still on the roof and ultimately they’re all sitting in the control room, listening to the playback, grooving. No airs, it’s just them.

And now you know why you wanted to be them. For a zillion reasons, not only the money and the perks, but the ability to play, channel their thoughts and emotions AND LIVE BY THEIR OWN RULES! Freedom, and not the kind that allows you to avoid getting a vaccine. The Beatles were leaders, they kept looking forward, unlike Jo Jo, they didn’t want to get back to where they once belonged, rather the four of them wanted to get on the 909 and experience life and its tribulations, to ultimately distill it into music.

So it’s cognitive dissonance. You’re watching the documentary and you think you’re in the present, but you’re firmly in the past, which has already been written. The recording equipment, the automobiles, the clothing…they’re all passé, yet the music is curiously modern. It was created on barely more than a whim, and it’s FOREVER!

So ultimately the pace of the beginning pays off in the end, with the rooftop performance. You feel what the band feels, you see the challenge, and you’re overwhelmed by the delivery.

But it wouldn’t go down that way today. Because everything is fixed in post. To the point where almost nothing is alive and kicking. And it’s humanity we’re looking for. We want our machines to be perfect, but not our art.

But that’s it, done, definitive.

John and George are dead. John by the bullet of a deranged assassin, George by lung cancer… You’re astounded everybody in the film is not dead from lung cancer, they’re smoking up a storm, everybody’s a chimney. Remember when you could smoke in public buildings?

Oh that’s right, most people weren’t born or conscious when this was the case. So many commenting on the Beatles were not there the first time around. Sure, you can listen to the records but you don’t know the experience. Just like you can listen to Robert Johnson but really have no idea what it was like being an itinerant blues musician a hundred years ago.

But if you were there, you not only remember the Beatles, but the clothing, what you were doing. Life was going on while the Beatles were playing and recording. You were going to school, or working. And music was not everywhere, there were no smartphones, never mind portable tape players. And you couldn’t afford everything. So the albums you did purchase you played ad infinitum, you know them by heart, not only the tunes, but the clicks and skips.

That was then and this is now.

Turns out history is not written in stone. During the recording of what ultimately became the “Let It Be” album it turns out the boys were not at each other’s throats, the band was not about to implode, that was a narrative that took hold when the “Let It Be” movie and album were released after the subsequently cut “Abbey Road,” after “McCartney” had already come out.

But the band had to break up, for so many reasons. We didn’t want it to, but life is a journey, and you can’t cripple someone’s trip. Which is why parents should guide their children but not dictate to them.

And John was still an impressionable child, mesmerized by Allen Klein, even though Glyn Johns lays out a detailed case why the manager should not be trusted. In retrospect, Paul was right. But charlatans will always permeate the music business, you need someone to speak to your dreams, to speak to the suits, to make you feel you’ve got an advocate on your side. But it’s a rare manager who can subjugate their priorities to those of the band. I’ll make it simple, if the band doesn’t work the manager doesn’t get paid, and managers want to get paid, which is why so many bands tour year after year.

So now what?

Turns out no one could ever replicate the Beatles’ success. Not only did we never get a new Beatles, no one even makes this music anymore, especially today, it’s too hard. You’ve got to have experience, you’ve got to have talent, you’ve got to have not only chops, but great voices. You’ve got to be willing to fly without a net, and continue to do this even when the financial struggle is in the rearview mirror.

And you’ve got to cut records with melody and changes that people can sing along to, that they can’t get out of their head.

That’s the Beatles. Demonstrated exquisitely, at length, in “Get Back.” You can watch it as nostalgia, you can watch it as a learning experience, or you can watch it to be inspired. Yes, that’s the ultimate lesson, you’ve got to put one foot in front of the other, you’ve got to risk, you’ve got to do it.

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