On October 12, The Beatles in partnership with Callaway Arts & Entertainment will release The Beatles: Get Back, a companion book to the new documentary about the Let It Be recording sessions in January 1969 to be aired in late November 2021. This 240-page hardcover book is basically a transcript of the band’s conversations captured during three weeks of recording sessions, accompanied by over 200 photos taken by both Ethan A. Russell and Linda McCartney.
Get Back, both the movie and the book, aim to change that negative perception into the opposite view that The Beatles were still getting along very well and that the Let It Be film that was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg offered an extremely limited view. Paul and Ringo were believed to have blocked the re-release of the original film on DVD for several years due to the bickering shown between the band.
“I always moaned the original documentary was very narrow,” Ringo said in March 2021, “and it was built around a moment of like, aaahhh! and there was no joy in it. And I was there. We were laughing, we were the lads!”
Does Get Back help to change the negative perception?
Since the book offers transcripts of The Beatles’ conversations, it is left up to the reader to decide and interpret how well John, Paul, George and Ringo were really getting along. Here are some interesting facts revealed in the book that help to illustrate their relationship:
Location of The Beatles’ final concert
There were endless ideas suggested regarding where to film The Beatles’ “Get Back” concert. Countless ideas were thrown around by the band, the director and others as to where this proposed appearance should take place. What was originally planned to be a special TV broadcast could have possibly been filmed in places like Libya, Tripoli, Russia, Tunisia, Gibraltar and even The Cavern according to their suggestions.
At times, there was so much back and forth discussion on this and whether there should be an audience present. Anyone witnessing this would long for the days that Brian Epstein was around, so he could help them reach a verdict. Here was evidence that the group was in disarray and had a hard time making decisions.
Paul said Yoko was right!
It’s no secret that Paul, George and Ringo felt uncomfortable having Yoko present at all of The Beatles’ recording sessions once John and Yoko started dating the previous summer.
On January 6 at Twickenham studios, Yoko weighed in on the debate as to what kind of audience The Beatles should have for their televised concert. She suggested that they should have all types of people, not the typical teenage audience reminiscent of Beatlemania.
Paul agrees with Yoko and says: “What Yoko says is right, you know, that we can’t just have the same old audience… or the same old scene.” Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg also agrees.
It’s surprising that Paul would encourage Yoko’s participation in any decisions being made by the band. But on this rare occasion, he validates her opinion, which adds to the spirit of collaboration the band was striving for on this project.
Just two months later, John and Yoko would get married, and so would Paul and Linda.
George Harrison quits the band
The Get Back book includes the infamous exchange where George Harrison and Paul McCartney share a tense moment about George’s guitar playing. “I’ll play what you want me to play,” George told Paul. The original Let It Be film highlighted this incident and is one that stuck in most people’s minds.
While it may have been misleading to focus on this one incident in the original Let It Be film, the effect of George Harrison walking out and/or quitting in the middle of the sessions cannot be underestimated. George did not want to travel anywhere to perform a live show and that was part of his frustration. On January 7, three days before quitting, he joked: “The Beatles have been in the doldrums for at least a year…I think we should have a divorce.”
As a result of Harrison’s departure, The Beatles dropped the idea to travel somewhere and do a TV broadcast. They also agreed that they would move the recording sessions to their Apple offices in the basement studio. On January 21, George returns to the sessions and brings Billy Preston with him who will play keyboard for The Beatles for the remaining sessions. Having a fifth musician there helps ease the tension in the group.
However, the conversation that goes on between the three remaining Beatles while George is gone is rather cold. They talk about replacing George with Eric Clapton. That really may be the lowest point of the sessions which shows that the brotherhood of The Beatles was disintegrating.
Paul McCartney even jokes that in their proposed TV broadcast, they should end it with a big surprise climax saying “The Beatles Have Broken Up!”
Reminiscing about India
There are a few times in the book where The Beatles reminisce about previous experiences they had together in their career. One of the longer discussions is about their trip to India one year earlier in February 1968.
Paul is talking about home movie footage he has from their trip where they were taught transcendental meditation by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although their trip ended on controversial circumstances, they all held positive memories from the experience.
“Do you regret having gone there?” George asks. Paul and John both respond “no,” with John saying, “I don’t regret anything… ever.”
The rooftop concert was intended to be one of two performances
As evident from the transcripts in the Get Back book, the rooftop concert was not meant to be the “final” performance of the project, let alone The Beatles’ final performance. Paul, who was trying to take the lead on the whole thing, was not sure if the group should perform that day, January 30, 1969, on the roof because they only had seven songs ready to perform. He wanted to wait until they had 14 songs, which would fill a whole album.
However, time was running out on their schedule. That day when The Beatles came to the Apple offices, they still weren’t sure if they were going to perform – which may explain why they weren’t wearing any special clothing for the concert. In hindsight, it looks like a mishmash of clothing choices, except for Paul who is wearing a black jacket and pants. Finally, John Lennon made the decision for them all: “Fuck it – let’s go do it!”
Later that day after the concert, The Beatles reassembled back in the Apple basement studio discussing plans for the second part of the performance. They suggested that the most likely place to film the second part would be inside that very studio. As time would tell, the second concert never officially happened.
Each Beatles fan who reads the book may take away a different opinion on how congenial the band members acted towards each other. It is also hard to get the most accurate read of their mood without seeing the actual video. Although there are happy and fun moments portrayed in the book between John, Paul, George and Ringo, there are also many statements made that foreshadow The Beatles’ breakup. The writing was on the wall – and The Beatles themselves knew it – whether consciously or unconsciously.
That doesn’t take away from the historical and entertainment value of the Get Back book. It is an important resource for documenting The Beatles’ history and understanding what went on during those infamous recording sessions.
It will be interesting to see how the book compares to the 6-hour documentary. Does the book include conversations that are not in the film? How much of the documentary scenes are included in the book? We’ll find out beginning November 25!
In the meantime, make sure you get your copy of The Beatles: Get Back to give you a head start into preparing for the extensive six-hour documentary. This journey of The Beatles was definitely a long and winding road!
– Trina Young
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