Like a few million others, I found myself rooted to my television and Disney-plus for three consecutive nights while Get Back, Peter Jackson’s definitive documentary of the Beatles during their 1969 creation of Let it Be, unfurled before us almost as though it was in real time.
We were treated to the trials and tribulations that came with this album’s inception, rehearsal, and ultimate recording. At its climax, the film took us to the rooftop of the band’s Apple Studio on London’s Saville Row. Once there, The Beatles brought us their final live performance, a 30-plus minute jam that drew praise and ire from the unsuspecting fans and non-fans in the immediate area.
As I watched, I scribbled down a few notes. It’s not a review as much as it is s series of observations. Not everyone saw the film the same way I did. I guess that’s what the comments are for. I also took a minute to look at my thoughts a couple of weeks after the fact. That’s where the additional notes come from.
Here are my thoughts. All three parts are covered, so pace yourself.
* The quality of the film is stunning. It might not look like it was filmed yesterday, but it’s very, very close.
* Had I been in the band, I don’t know how enthused I would’ve been working in that large, open space like Twickenham Studios. It’s a massive echo chamber. Rooms like that bug me. But what do I know?
* Yoko’s presence also bugs me. George has friends there, but they maintain their distance. Yoko acts like she and John are literally joined at the hip. Boundaries, woman! Sheesh!
* The initial idea was incredible, even for the Beatles. New material for an album and a live gig — all being filmed — in two weeks? That doesn’t feel realistic. Glad I’ve never had to work like that.
* No real contention until Day 3, when Paul seemed to be getting frustrated with George, who goes passive and tries to acquiesce to Paul (or at least pretend to), with mixed results.
* Hearing “Get Back” take shape as it comes out of the ether is a really cool moment. George and Ringo knew Paul was onto something, and loved it.
* The band is feeling the loss of Brian Epstein, who kept them disciplined and productive. Paul seems to feel that the band is spinning its collective wheels more often than not.
* Material from All Things Must Pass, Abbey Road, and Paul’s solo albums were trying to make their way to the surface. And Paul’s piano build of “The Long and Winding Road” was gorgeous!
* Hey, guys? George is walking out! George, where you going? George? George? Oh, crap …
* SHUT UP, YOKO!!! NOBODY wants to hear your alleged singing voice!!!
Listen: I’m no full-on Yoko basher. I don’t say she’s the reason The Beatles broke up or any silliness like that. The breakup had a few moving parts, and is much more nuanced than the presence of a band member’s girlfriend. And I get that her singing was a goof during a jam. So no harm, no foul.
To me, the issue was a question of professionalism. That being said, I’m quite certain she was sitting next to John all the time for a reason. My guess is that she served as a buffer between John and Paul, as tensions were pretty high within the group at this time. So in a way, it may have been a GOOD thing she was there. But I’ll never know for sure, since John isn’t around to answer the question.
* The “Yoko Factor” is addressed right off the bat. She does alter the band’s dynamic, whether one chooses to believe it or not.
* The “private” conversation between John and Paul — mostly about George, who’s still AWOL — really humanizes the band. It also helps generate a bit of empathy for George, who might’ve been feeling like a third wheel within the writing/playing dynamic. The guys feel for him, but they want what they want, while each is trying to defer leadership of the band to the other to avoid stepping on each other’s toes.
* I really feel for Ringo, who seems to just want to get on with it, already! At times he seems positively BORED with all the drama going on around him. I can’t say I blame him.
* George comes back (duh!) and seems to be as silent as ever at first. But nobody is pestering him, so I guess he’s all right. He does finally chime in during some playbacks, which is good. And he gets more vocal as we go forward. John and Paul finally seem to hear him!
* Had this been a reality show, I’m sure the “George left” segment would have REALLY been played up. “Will he come back? What will the band do without him?” But we know the history, so there wasn’t a lot of suspense there. That being said, this is the part where the band really digs in, and that makes it a very interesting watch.
* The band seemed more inspired by the move to Apple Studios, but that could just be editing. I, for one, felt MUCH better about moving to the more intimate space that doesn’t sound like a massive echo chamber.
* Billy Preston wins the “Best Timing” award, showing up precisely when he was needed … by accident! The look on Paul’s face when Billy plays his first riff on “I Got a Feeling” is worth the price of admission. Billy was the ultimate breath of fresh air the Beatles needed.
* It was good to see the band have a sense of humor about the endless stories being written about them, especially considering the number of falsehoods they contained.
* Call me an old fogey, but how cool is it to see all this music going down to tape, as opposed to seeing it as input on a computer screen?
* Recording “Get Back” has been the highlight of the session so far. The guys are really in tune with each other, and having fun.
* The stage is being set for the rooftop concert. It just gets more interesting from here …
I don’t have a lot of extra thoughts here past feeling vindicated by my Yoko theory. One thing was certain: I was fully invested in what was taking place, to the point of occasionally talking to the screen like the band could hear me.
* We open with family members scattered throughout the recording space. This I don’t have an issue with, since this is clearly Family Time before the serious work starts. Everyone seems to have brought someone with them.
* Heather Eastman (Linda’s young daughter) doing her best Yoko impression is a hoot! She knows what she’s doing, too. She cuts her eyes right at Yoko while she “sings!”
* Three days short of the live performance, and the band is free and loose. It’s nice to see.
* It was also nice to see Paul and Ringo enthusiastically support George while he works out “Old Brown Shoe.”
* While I’m on the subject, this is where George really starts to assert himself. The rest of the band pays attention, which is, again, great to see.
* Once again, Billy Preston is the tonic to all musical ailments. He truly is the fifth Beatle. John in particular makes sure his presence is known and felt.
* Whatcha smoking there, Paul? Is it helping?
* Allen Klein starts to enter the picture. You can almost see the shadow starting to envelop the band.
* Paul is doing his damndest to turn the live show into a serious Thing. Problem is, he seems to be alone in this sentiment. As the Apollo astronauts said, John has “Go Fever.” He’s not worried about a grand performance. Everyone seems a bit clueless about what they want to do with all the film footage as it relates to the album.
* You can tell when John and Paul are comfortable with a new song, because they start getting completely goofy as they play it, like “Two of Us” being sung with their teeth clenched.
* The initial “What the hell …?” look from the people on street level when the band starts playing on the roof is priceless. It doesn’t take long for people in neighboring buildings to catch on and make it to this and other rooftops. Most people seem cool with it, but there are a couple of curmudgeons upset with the volume.
* Bonus points for keeping the guitars in tune on an obviously chilly day.
* It would’ve been nice to have some shots of Billy when he soloed. I get why they didn’t, but it’s still uncool.
* Cheese it, fellas! The cops have shown up! I hated breaking up events like these when I was on the Job, especially if the band was good. It’s possible that I might have occasionally dragged my feet a little before engaging the band. Well, I’m sure the Beatles could handle any fine levied on them.
* I’m surprised the cops were willing to have their faces shown while they tried to break up the show. I’m assuming they had to sign some kind of release, since they’re identified by name.
* This was the Beatles last live performance. Since they did it on a roof, I’m trying desperately not to make a joke about going out on top. Oops … sorry.
A confession: I’ve never seen the Let it Be film, so I’m unable to do a “compare and contrast.” But I have a hunch that Peter Jackson’s film will prove to be the definitive statement about the recording of this album. It’s nicely edited and give a nice “you are there” vibe.
I would’ve loved to see a film like this for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band , as that is the album that is credited for changing rock music as it was known. That being said, this document is more than satisfactory. I’ll be watching it again before long. And I swear, I’m not out to bash Yoko.
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