It started streaming right at midnight (PT) Thanksgiving day, 2021 on Disney+. The line on our TV below summed up what The Beatles were facing by trying to write and learn 14 songs in two weeks, and then perform them in a concert in January of 1969.
The Get Back documentary is fascinating and lightly frustrating. It’s amazing to see The Beatles’ songs being born, but you want to tell them the lyrics and arrangements they’re struggling to find. There is no whitewashing of the problems originally shown during the Let It Be movie (in fact, more problems are shown), we just get a more complete look at what happened.
The Beatles were so young. George was about to turn 26, Paul was 27, and John & Ringo were 28.
We learn during the documentary that even though The Beatles weren’t breaking up, it was often mentioned as a concern. It would be fair to say Get Back shows the pending breakup of The Beatles.
The film also shows that the presence of Yoko Ono at the sessions did not cause the breakup. Of course John Lennon wanting to spend his time with Yoko probably did contribute to his announcing to the group eight months later that he was leaving The Beatles.
At the beginning of the sessions The Beatles are having trouble coming up with songs and completing them. Then on January 9th, Paul arrives early, sits down at the piano and plays portions of “The Long And Winding Road”, “Another Day”, “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight”. George soon arrives and plays “For You Blue”. At one point, Paul is strumming his bass, and we see the birth of “Get Back”. So, we’re reminded they eventually develop more than enough material for the album.
It’s hard to believe, but not only did they write enough songs for Let It Be, they also started 11 songs that ended up on Abbey Road, and other songs that later appeared on their solo albums…all in January!
Part 1 of the documentary ends shortly after George has casually left the band on January 10th, 1969. His leaving the band wasn’t included in the original movie, because The Beatles asked to have it left out.
George had been frustrated by the conditions at the cavernous film studio where they were working, by a concert he didn’t want to do, and by the domination of Paul and John over the songs and arrangements.
George’s leaving had the other three Beatles concerned, and they shared a private group embrace that the cameras caught.
Part 2 shows that all four Beatles met twice privately in order to work things out. George was right about nearly everything. The project moves to Apple headquarters, where a comfortable new studio is being set up. Plans for the TV concert at an exotic location are scrapped. Instead, they want to plan a more reasonable concert to provide a climax to a movie that will be made from the film footage.
As The Beatles are rehearsing, they realize that without overdubbing, they can’t play the keyboard parts some of the songs require. Billy Preston, a keyboardist for Little Richard & Ray Charles and a friend since their days in Hamburg, stops in to visit. He’s asked to join the recording sessions. What a difference he makes!
As you can see from this screen shot and the caption (reaction to a joke by George), things were getting better (all the time). The keyboard parts Billy Preston adds to “Get Back”, “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “Don’t Let Me Down” greatly improve the songs, and The Beatles’ own playing is elevated.
It’s noteworthy that at times The Beatles get upset with one another, but never really angry. There’s no shouting or name calling. Most of the time they’re working with affection for the music and each other, and with lots of humor.
Producer George Martin says… “You’re working so well together. You’re looking at each other, you’re seeing each other. It’s happening isn’t it? The other George nods in agreement. At the end of Part 2, the roof of the Apple building is considered as a concert site.
Part 3 is mostly the final recording and rehearsing before the rooftop concert. Actually, The Beatles are still debating whether they even want to do it. Ringo is the one who likes the idea the most, George the least, and John & Paul aren’t sure. No one knows if they can even pull it off.
The film gives us portions of songs in take after take, and there’s a feeling that none of the songs were completed. We only know they must have gotten some good takes, because words on the screen say… “This version was used for the Let It Be album.”
At one point, George tells John that he has enough songs for ten years worth of albums based on his quota of two songs per album. George says he wants to make a solo album to hear what all his songs sound like together (spoiler: really good). He says.. “I’m Just gonna do me for a bit.” He also says it would be nice if any of them could do separate projects as well, and still preserve The Beatles. So, even though he quit for a few days over some problems, he wanted The Beatles to keep going.
Finally (Jan. 30th), The Beatles start playing on the roof.
The filming of the concert is comprehensive, with ten cameras to capture the band and the reactions of people on the streets and rooftops. To dispel a minor myth…John and George did not borrow their wives coats. They wore those coats (their own) many times throughout the film, and their wives had different coats.
After the performance, The Beatles listen to the rooftop recordings, along with their significant others (Linda, Yoko, & Maureen Starkey) and the studio staff. The Beatles are energized, and want to keep recording, but the rest of the day is needed to get the equipment down from the roof.
The next day, Jan. 31st, is the last day of filming. The Beatles do the final studio recordings of “Two Of Us”, “The Long And Winding Road”, and “Let It Be”. We’d been listening to bits of those songs throughout the entire film. It was going to be great to hear and see them finally complete. Unfortunately, those final takes were not shown…just incomplete portions of them. With nearly eight hours of film, Director Peter Jackson couldn’t include the finished performances of three of the best songs, including two #1 hits?!
Jackson probably didn’t want to end the film with three non-rocking songs after that rooftop concert, but they deserved to be included. In fact, during the entire film, we only see five songs played through completely, all on the roof. It’s like a documentary of a house being built, but they never show the completed house!
Using complete versions of “The Long And Winding Road”, the more up-tempo “Two Of Us”, and then showing “Let It Be” (the last song they recorded that January) as the credits rolled would have been very effective. Using just bits of the songs, like we’d heard the whole film, was a horrible decision. It made it seem like The Beatles could never get through a song, but the truth is they nailed three of their best recordings the day after the rooftop concert.
Overall, it’s great to have a film record of The Beatles writing, arranging, and recording songs. Seeing the interactions of the four Beatles is enlightening, but the 3-part film is definitely too long (nearly 8-hours) to make for regular repeat viewings.
Peter Jackson said he didn’t want to leave out anything he thought was important, because whatever he didn’t use could go back in the vault for another fifty years. The film is a treasure chest of details that reveal The Beatles’ relationships at that time, so Jackson was probably right to get it all out there. It would be interesting to see what he would have included in a single movie-length version. We know the planned version of the Get Back movie for theaters was 2-hours-20-minutes. It would be great to have that available.
Update: Get Back has been released (all 8-hours) on DVD & Blu-ray, but the release was postponed from it’s original date of February 8th, because of an audio problem with the Blu-ray. My Amazon DVD of Get Back arrived February 28th, 2022. The new corrected version was released on July 12th, 2022. There’s a link to more info at the end of this article.
The original Let It Be movie, with the technical improvements to the film & sound, should also be made available, but there’s been no announcement. My memory from seeing the movie 51-years-ago, and watching the video disc nearly 40-years-ago, is that it included full versions of “For You Blue” & “I Me Mine”, plus the three songs completed on the final day of filming, and the five songs from the rooftop performance.
It was an extremely long and winding road for the nearly 60 hours of Let It Be footage to come together as Get Back. Even though there was a lack of completed songs, Peter Jackson’s hard work is very appreciated. The new version is definitely worth seeing, but don’t try to watch all those hours in one sitting.
Extra statistic: While this documentary takes nearly 8 hours to tell what happened during one month, you could listen to all 213 songs The Beatles released from 1962 to 1970…in about 10 hours.
Update: (March 2022) Get Back won the Producers Guild Award for non-fiction television. Then in July, the documentary was nominated for five Emmy awards.
Update: (Sept. 2022) Get Back won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary Series, and Best Director for Peter Jackson. It also won awards for sound & film editing. Paul, Ringo, Olivia and Yoko all won Emmys as executive producers.
Here’s the link to information about the DVD/Blu-ray release: https://ontherecords.net/2022/01/the-beatles-get-back-on-dvd-blu-ray/