It is almost a given that if you dedicate eight hours of your time to watching a Beatles documentary, you are not just a casual fan.
The events chronicled in this new Peter Jackson-edited Beatles documentary, Get Back, have been written about and reported to us Beatles fans for over 50 years.
It has been said that The Beatles have had more books written about them than any other historical figures except Jesus Christ.
I can’t speak authoritatively about that comparison, but I have read dozens of Beatles related books, which take up several shelves in my bookcase.
I realize that many Copper writers may have insights and opinions about this new doc – read Tim Riley and Larry Jaffee’s articles in this issue – but since I also write a Beatles column for Goldmine, I have spent far too many hours of my time forensically analyzing this band, and, although I’m still out promoting my new book, Twisted Business, I feel compelled to throw my two cents in.
What this new doc does is to finally blow many Beatles myths to smithereens.
Myth One: Yoko broke up the Beatles.
Once you watch how Yoko sits next to John for the entire month of planning this project, you come to realize that John, at this point in his life, was totally dependent on the stability that Yoko gave him. Without her, I don’t think he could have made it through the grueling timetable involved in making Get Back. She never gets in the way.
As a band member who has been at stress-filled rehearsals for albums, it is not surprising that, at certain times, band members bring in close family or friends to make the tension easier to bear. Mick Jagger once commented that the Beatles might have been the world’s biggest band, but they operated within a very tight, closed circle (four Beatles, Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall, Brian Epstein and George Martin), which over time became overbearingly claustrophobic. That is what led, in my opinion, to the demise of the band – the individual desire for freedom.
George did this with Clapton’s appearance during the recording of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on the White Album. George also had his cadre of Hare Krishna members sitting in the studio at the beginning of Get Back, probably to send him good vibes.
Ultimately, the addition of Billy Preston was probably the greatest example of when it came to smoothing out the inner band tensions, not only being a friendly face, but also adding incredible musicianship to both Let It Be and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” on Abbey Road.
For John, Yoko provides, in my eyes, what a comfort animal does for reluctant flyers. That is not a diss. It is an acknowledgement of where John was at this point in his life. My wife was so impressed that Yoko could last that long in this situation, hour after hour, day after day. My wife knows how boring all this stuff is. I know how boring all this stuff is. Kudos to Yoko!
Myth Two: Let It Be (the album and movie) signaled the end of the band.
Finally, we see what this movie/album was really all about. Chronologically it is absolutely not the end; in fact, now that the correct timeline is shown, we now know (although many Beatles fans eventually came to know this fact) that the Let It Be project was recorded before Abbey Road. I think what the new doc finally shows us however, is that Let It Be was really no different than creating A Hard Day’s Night, Help or Magical Mystery Tour. All of these movie projects had deadlines in which songs had to be created to go along with a film. Let It Be was no different. The immense talent of the Beatles’ songwriting rises to the occasion.
The problem with the release of Let It Be in May of 1970, however, was that it was sold to us as the last official studio album, and the movie was so depressing to watch in 1970 that I just hardly ever played the Let It Be album after that. In fact, several years ago I did a poll of Beatles fans asking them which were their most-played and least-played Beatles albums. Let It Be was, hands down, the least-played. Now we know that there was no reason to feel bad about the band. The songs were very good and the process of writing them led to Abbey Road.
Myth Three: Ringo was a lucky guy. He is just an average drummer.
I will go on record as saying that the Beatles were the lucky ones in getting Ringo. They have all said, in separate interviews, that Ringo was the most professional member of the band when he joined. There is no better proof of his greatness than watching him in this documentary. He is flat-out amazing. In fact, as each song is slowly developing in front of our eyes, (we finally see how the sausage is made) they don’t become “Beatles” songs until Ringo plays the drum parts. They are always the perfect piece. Every time. I have always felt this way ever since the Beatles opened The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964 with the song “All My Loving.” The song swings because Ringo swings. He is an absolute killer of a drummer and I appreciate him even more today after watching the doc.
Myth Four: Phil Spector produced the Let It Be album.
Phil Spector is nowhere to be seen. How he ever convinced John to give him full production credit (for adding strings to a couple of songs) is truly laughable. This was a Glyn Johns production with executive producer advice from George Martin.
It only goes to show how John gets manipulated by strong con men (Phil Spector, Magic Alex and Allen Klein).
Myth Five: The rooftop performance was insufferable to the band.
WTF?? They looked so damn happy playing live together for the first time since that final show in San Francisco in August 1966, I could almost cry! I’ll even go so far to say that this pure joy they experienced was the catalyst for the Abbey Road sessions that followed almost immediately after.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg was 29 (the same age as the band members) when he filmed and directed all this footage.
How he missed that joy with his original edit absolutely stuns me.
The incredible quality of the film makes it hard for me to believe that it was made 53 years ago. Over that time, the following band members, family members and band associates featured in this documentary are no longer with us to see how this incredibly historic moment in time has finally gotten its due:
Alexis Mardas (Magic Alex)
There is so much more. I urge you, if you are a fan, to watch this doc and get the one of the special-edition super-deluxe Let It Be 2021 box sets (available in various formats), as it has lots of musical extras including the full Glyn Johns mix (it’s original title was Get Back) which was originally rejected by all four members of the band, and then ultimately accepted.
Header image courtesy of Disney+. Photo courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd.