Updated: Nov 26, 2021
1. I’d read a lot about the Get Back sessions and listened to many bootlegs, but seeing this all was something else. Fears from the jolly first teaser that this would be the happy, whitewashed version of Let It Be have proven unfounded. This is a more complete version, with plenty of up and down moments.
The big picture confirmed my impression that Paul was the most engaged and enthusiastic about pushing the Beatles forward and shaping the music. He comes off as overbearing in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s Let It Be and probably didn’t want that movie released on DVD/Blu-ray for that reason. He still can be overbearing in Peter Jackson’s Disney+ series but with necessary context.
Gaunt and reportedly strung out on heroin during these sessions, with Yoko constantly at his side, John has few songs to offer and takes a passive role with them. Instead we see Paul arranging “Don’t Let Me Down,” as he comes up with vocal counterpoints (eventually not used) and suggests drumming cues to Ringo.
A common narrative out there is that by this time in Beatles history, Paul was doing Paul songs, John was doing John songs and George was doing George songs—so Paul’s contributions to those others songs can get overlooked. “Come Together,” which kicks off Abbey Road, is seen as a quintessential John song, but it wouldn’t be “Come Together” without Paul’s slinky bass groove and swampy keyboards and Ringo’s drum rolls. Paul’s bass line to George’s “Something” elevates that song as well.
I assume Paul is OK with being seen as bossy in Get Back because the series shows why he felt the need. With John distracted, George frustrated (with reason—he had a lot of songs being overlooked) and Ringo just wanting to get on with it (before he would leave to act in The Magic Christian), Paul was the band’s undisputed leader at this time.
2. Not to turn this into a Paul worship forum, but, man, that guy was on an artistic roll. Early in the Get Back sessions, John brings in “Don’t Let Me Down” and revives “Across the Universe,” which the Beatles recorded before leaving for India in 1968. (“Dig a Pony” comes later in the sessions.)
Paul has them rehearsing “I’ve Got a Feeling” (to which John supplies the middle eight) and “Two of Us,” and in a stunning scene, we see him improvise the melody, structure and key lyrics of “Get Back” while he, George and Ringo wait for the perpetually late John to arrive.
Paul leads the band through “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” both bound for Abbey Road, and in the background of one scene we hear him working out the piano chords to “Let It Be.” Then there’s a breathtaking sequence in which Paul, at the piano, plays “Let It Be,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Another Day” (a solo hit in 1971), “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight.”
Yes, Paul and John should have paid more attention to George’s ascendant songwriting—“All Things Must Pass” should have been a Beatles song—but you can see why Paul wanted to go, go, go. He was carrying that weight.
3. Now that we’ve all dispensed with the Yoko-broke-up-the-Beatles narrative, we should nonetheless acknowledge the Yoko factor. The Beatles are sitting in a tight circle learning new songs and sparking ideas on a ridiculous deadline, and there’s Yoko, almost physically attached to John, reading the newspaper. How much did the other three have to bite their tongues about this boundaries violation? How could her presence not inhibit them, as well as John?
This disruption to the Beatles’ creative process is on John.
4. It’s stunning to see how the Beatles—the FREAKIN’ BEATLES—had to cater to the needs of people far beneath them on the artistic food chain. They’re rehearsing and planning to shoot a TV special in Twickenham Film Studios because Denis O’Dell, an Apple Corps exec, had leased the space for the movie he was producing, The Magic Christian, starring Peter Sellers and Ringo. (Continuing his hot 1969, Paul would write and arrange the hit song for The Magic Christian, “Come and Get It,” and give it to new Apple signees Badfinger.) The sound and vibe at Twickenham suck, there’s no adequate recording equipment, and the Beatles are unhappy, yet there they are.
Meanwhile, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the director of this TV special that will become the movie Let It Be, keeps pushing these terrible ideas for where the Beatles should perform live. How about a hospital with people who aren’t too sick? How about an orphanage?
He also won't stop pitching this seaside outdoor amphitheater in Libya. Maybe the Beatles could take a ship there with an English-speaking audience instead of playing for the Arab locals. George understandably does not want to be stuck on the sea with a ship full of Beatles fans.
The band members discuss on camera having been in the “doldrums” since Brian Epstein, their manager, died of an overdose in August 1967. Their going along with such a rushed, barely conceived project as Get Back, under such substandard conditions, shows why they still needed a bad-ass manager.
5. In my deep dive into the new Let It Be box, I noted the absence of the widely bootlegged songs that showed the evolution of “Get Back,” so I was delighted to see them performed in Get Back. At one point Paul had the idea of turning “Get Back” into a political song, so on “No Pakistanis” and the offshoot, “Commonwealth,” he satirized British politician Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration intolerance. Peter Jackson makes sure to put these songs in proper context, with clips and headlines showing the white nationalist sentiments against which the Beatles were reacting.
It’s one thing to have heard these Beatles performances on bootlegs, quite another to see Paul singing “Commonwealth” and John responding, “Yes!” to Paul’s amusement. The same goes for seeing how the creation of this album progresses day to day. I can’t be objective about how the uninitiated are reacting to this abundance of fly-on-the-wall Beatles work, but to this Fab Four nerd, it’s revelatory.
On to Part 2…