What We Learned From Watching “The Beatles: Get Back”

The biggest revelations from Peter Jackson's nearly eight-hour doc

November 29, 2021 1:56 pm
Beatles Get Back
The Beatles performing their famed rooftop concert, as seen in "The Beatles: Get Back."

Over the holiday weekend, Peter Jackson’s highly anticipated docuseries The Beatles: Get Back made its debut on Disney+, and since then, we’ve been reeling from some of its major revelations.

The lengthy doc — which is advertised as six hours long but actually clocks in closer to eight hours — draws from over 60 hours of footage originally filmed for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s Let It Be documentary, and it captures the Fab Four on the verge of breaking up while they struggle to write and record one last album in roughly two weeks.

Any Beatles fan surely already knows the lore, but The Beatles: Get Back provides some much-needed context and delivers some incredible fly-on-the-wall footage. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some of the biggest takeaways from the doc below.

Billy Preston got roped into playing on the album after stopping into the studio to say hi

We shudder to think of what Let It Be might have been without the contributions of Billy Preston. There’s a noticeable shift in Get Back‘s second episode when Preston — dubbed the “Fifth Beatle” — shows up. His presence very obviously lifts everyone’s spirits, and the Beatles are able to stop squabbling long enough to actually get some work done. And of course, musically, his contributions on organ and electric piano are enormous.

But as the doc reveals, Preston wasn’t even supposed to play on the album. He happened to be in London at the time to film a TV appearance, and he stopped by Apple Studios to say hi. (Preston’s friendship with the Beatles dates all the way back to their Hamburg days.) While he was there, they asked him to sit in on piano on a few tracks since they were trying to avoid overdubbing anything, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Paul wasn’t that annoyed by Yoko’s presence

One of the most common misconceptions about the Beatles is that Yoko Ono is responsible for the Beatles’ breakup, but Get Back does its best to dispel that rumor. There is a scene in which Paul and Ringo mention being a little annoyed by the fact that Yoko spoke for John during a band meeting, and she’s constantly by his side throughout the entire docuseries, but Paul’s careful to point out that Yoko and John being so inseparable doesn’t really bother him.

“She really is alright,” he says in Get Back‘s second episode. “They just want to be near each other. So I just think it’s just silly of me or anyone to try and say to them, ‘No, you can’t.’ It’s like that we’re striking ’cause work conditions aren’t right. But it shouldn’t be. It’s like they’re going overboard about it. But John always does, you know.”

And in an eerily prescient moment, he seems to be aware of what the prevailing narrative about Ono will be: “It’s going to be such an incredible sort of comical thing, like, in 50 years’ time, you know: ‘They broke up ‘cause Yoko sat on an amp,’” he says.

Paul wrote “Get Back” while John was running late to rehearsal

One of the most incredible moments of the entire eight-hour doc comes when we get to watch Paul McCartney casually craft “Get Back” while waiting for John Lennon to show up to rehearsal. “Lennon’s late again,” he remarks, while plugging in his bass. “I’m thinking of getting rid of him.” By the time Lennon actually does show up, he’s already got the seeds of what would eventually become a Beatles classic.

John hated “I Me Mine”

We can see George Harrison’s frustrations with Lennon and McCartney brewing throughout much of the doc’s first episode; one scene that stands out in particular features Lennon’s rather cruel reaction to “I Me Mine.” Harrison plays his bandmates the track (which eventually did make its way onto Let It Be), and while Ringo listens politely and Paul attempts to correct his grammar, Lennon opts for all-out mockery. “Run along, son. We’ll see you later. We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, you know?” he says, while Harrison is still attempting to play the song for him. Later, he makes another dig, implying the waltz is too old-timey by saying, “Well, I’ll get on the barrel organ.”

“I don’t care if you don’t want it,” a visibly frustrated Harrison responds. “I don’t give a fuck. It can go in me musical.” Lennon doesn’t relent. “George, have you any idea what we play?” he asks. (Of course, he never did wind up playing on it; by January 1970, when “I Me Mine” was recorded, Lennon had already privately left the group.)

George really didn’t want to play the rooftop concert

When George rejoined the Beatles after temporarily quitting the group during the Let It Be rehearsals, one of the conditions of his return was that they scrap a planned TV special that would have been centered around a live performance. Instead, that special is eventually replaced by the band’s famous rooftop concert, but as we learn in Get Back, that almost didn’t happen either. The Fab Four couldn’t agree on whether they wanted to play on the roof, and we see them debate calling the whole thing off the night before. Ringo and John are sold on the rooftop idea, while Paul’s more hesitant and George flat-out says he doesn’t want to do it. “Whatever, I’ll do it if we’ve got to go on the roof, but I don’t wanna go on the roof,” he says.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg was full of terrible ideas about where the Beatles should film their TV special

Before the TV special concept was abandoned, Let It Be director Michael Lindsay-Hogg spent much of his time relentlessly pitching the Beatles terrible ideas about where they should film it. At one point he suggests a hospital, but “not one where they’re really sick.” Later, he tries to get them to film the special at an orphanage. Eventually, he becomes fixated on Tripoli as a potential venue — despite the fact that the group has less than two weeks to put together and film the performance. He doesn’t want any Libyans in the audience, however, so he suggests the Beatles transport a bunch of their English fans over by boat. George quickly puts the kibosh on that: “The idea of the boat is completely insane,” he tells him.

John was an early Fleetwood Mac fan

Back in 1969, Fleetwood Mac was still a relatively new band, and of course, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had not yet joined the group at that point. But nevertheless, John Lennon was impressed. In one Get Back scene, he asks his bandmates if any of them had seen Fleetwood Mac on TV the night before. “They’re so sweet, man,” he says. “And their lead singer’s great. You know, looks great, and he sort of sings quiet as well. He’s not a shouter.” Paul chimes in and mentions they sound like Canned Heat, and John adds, “Yeah, but better than Canned Heat.”

George wanted to ask Bob Dylan to join the Beatles

At one point, when everyone’s talking about what a great job Billy Preston has been doing, Lennon floats the idea of asking him to officially join the band. “I’d just like him in our band, actually,” he says. “I’d like a fifth Beatle.” Harrison is receptive to the idea and sort of half-jokingly suggests they also give Bob Dylan a call and ask him to join as well. Eventually, the whole thing is shot down by McCartney, who points out that “It’s bad enough with four.”

The documentary crew hid a microphone in a flower pot to capture a private conversation between John and Paul

It’s not exactly the most ethical move, but Lindsay-Hogg’s crew was able to capture a private conversation between Lennon and McCartney by hiding a microphone in a flowerpot. The audio recording from their discussion about how to handle Harrison’s departure from the group is deeply revealing. “You have always been boss,” McCartney tells Lennon. “Now I’ve been sort of secondary boss.”

“We’re all guilty about our relationship to one another,” Lennon responds. “Me goals, they’re still the same — self-preservation.” He also admits that he and McCartney haven’t been treating Harrison properly.

“It’s a festering wound” with Harrison, he says, “and yesterday we allowed it to go even deeper, and we didn’t even give him any bandages.”

The most poignant moment, however, comes when McCartney imagines a future that tragically would never materialize. “Probably when we’re all very old, we’ll all agree with each other,” he says. “And we’ll all sing together.”

George was an absolute badass

This isn’t exactly a revelation — George has always been the coolest Beatle — but there are several scenes in Get Back that highlight the ways in which the so-called “Quiet One” stood up for himself and never suffered fools. After the cops show up to break up the rooftop concert after receiving noise complaints from neighboring buildings, they instruct Beatles road manager Mal Evans to switch off Harrison’s amp. Harrison is visibly annoyed by someone daring to touch his amp while he’s in the middle of playing, and he defiantly switches it back on and continues playing while glaring at the cops.

Earlier on in the doc, he quits the band in the coolest way possible, by casually standing up, saying, “I think I’ll be leaving the band now” and walking out. (“Get a replacement,” he adds when pressed about the matter. “Write into the NME and get a few people.”) His diary entry from that day is hilariously matter-of-fact: “Got up, went to Twickenham,” he writes. “Rehearsed until lunch time — left the Beatles — went home.”

Paul and John recognized how their unique bond subconsciously seeped into their songwriting

During the recording sessions, McCartney points out some recurring themes that have subconsciously cropped up in the group’s new material, connecting “Two of Us” to “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” to “Oh! Darling.”  “It’s like, after ‘Get Back,’ we’re ‘on our way home,’” he says to Lennon. “There’s a story! And there’s another one, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ — ‘Oh darling, I’ll never let you down.’” Lennon agrees. “Yeah, it’s like you and me are lovers,” he says.

There could have been a Stylophone part on “Old Brown Shoe”

The Stylophone didn’t hit the market until 1968, meaning that in January 1969 when the Beatles were recording Let It Be, it was still a novel new technology. On the day that the group was running through Harrison’s “Old Brown Shoe,” John Lennon brought one in, and Harrison and Preston in particular are transfixed by it. “This is too much, man,” Preston says, before picking it up and effortlessly playing a snippet of the song on it.

Ringo farted

Much of Get Back is bittersweet or tense thanks to the band’s looming breakup, but here Ringo provides some much-needed comic relief. In the middle of a serious conversation between McCartney and Lindsay-Hogg about the looming rooftop concert deadline, Ringo turns to the guy next to him and very casually says, “I’ve farted.”

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