Since the Fab Four rose to stardom in the early sixties, there’s been fierce appetite among Beatles heads for an intimate glance into their writing process. How do some of the best pop songs ever get conceived?
At long last, The Beatles’ new docu-series, Get Back – directed and produced by Peter Jackson – answers that very question. Chiselled from 60 hours of footage, and 100-plus of audio, Jackson’s re-interpretation of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s derided 1970 Let It Be film, is a high quality, stereo, deep-dive into the dynamics of the band during their infamous Twickenham and Apple Corps sessions.
These rehearsals birthed most of the stunning numbers found on Abbey Road and Let It Be – which were released within just months of each other – but ultimately led to the band’s “divorce,” as George Harrison put it. The process is as dumbfounding as it is magical to watch.
Jackson’s partiality for an epic trilogy is not dropped for Get Back. With a running time of over 6 hours, the series has been criticised by The Guardian for being a schlep. So why commit to the slog at all?
Here are 5 reasons you must watch Get Back.
1. Witness the power of deep learning
Let’s not forget, to run the Let It Be film in cinemas, Lindsay-Hogg blew up his 16 mm footage to 35 mm. The resultant grainy picture, and low-quality mono sound pales in comparison to Jackson’s 2021 iteration.
This wasn’t achieved without serious massaging, though. By employing cutting-edge deep learning techniques, Jackson was able to teach algorithms what a guitar, bass, drum kit, or voice, sounds like. This enabled elements of the film to be isolated and deciphered. For instance, a distant monologue from Harrison, which is inaudible in Lindsay-Hogg’s Let It Be, is pushed into the foreground in Jackson’s Get Back – giving us never-before-seen insights.
This kind of technology, which was unavailable 5 years ago, is impressive to watch. These techniques have the potential to blow the dust off much archived music history.
2. See the impact of Epstein’s death
The fallout following The Beatles’ beloved manager, Brian Epstein’s, untimely demise is another reason to see Get Back.
Found dead in his bedroom from an accidental barbiturate overdose in August ‘67, Epstein gave The Beatles direction and discipline. He was lovingly referred to “as the fifth Beatle”. Two years after his death (during Get Back, episode 1) we see a band still grappling with the loss. The group lack an end-goal for the Twickenham sessions, as well as a consensus on when and where the finale (a live performance) should take place. They’re not even totally sure why they’re being filmed in the first place.
Without a manager, motivation to work together productively is in short supply. Lennon, at the height of his heroin addiction, seems to have already checked out. George – who is growing increasingly frustrated by the wall being erected between him and the Lennon-McCartney duo – quits. Even McCartney, the only member beating the dead horse, eventually capitulates and starts swinging on the studio’s scaffolding like an unhinged monkey.
“Daddy’s gone away now, and we’re on our own,” says Paul.
Little did they know then, the pursuit of Epstein’s replacement would prove just as disastrous for the group’s longevity as was losing their “Daddy”.
3. Meet old villains and new heroes
This ‘disaster’ came in the form of Allen Klein – the rambunctious manager of The Rolling Stones and Sam Cooke – who is pitched by Lennon throughout Get Back as the band’s next manager. It’s fascinating to watch the machinations of this villain, Allen Klein, unfold. Lennon, being played like a cheap fiddle, keeps slinking off to late-night meetings with Klein. “He knows me as well as you do,” Lennon tells a sceptical Harrison.
Although not covered in the documentary, Klein is soon pushed in against McCartney’s will by Lennon. He goes on to overhaul Apple Corps, slash expenditure, and fire Epstein’s long-standing assistant, Alistair Taylor. Klein was a fox in the henhouse.
Old villains aside, Yoko Ono emerges from Get Back an unsung hero, of sorts. She sits stoically through the exhausting rollercoaster of the Twickenham sessions – never interfering or derailing the writing process. Primarily, she is there to support Lennon, knit, and to a lesser extent, practice her calligraphy on the walls. As Paul says, “It’s gunna be such an incredible, comical thing in 50 years’ time – people thinking we broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.”
Other unsung heroes worthy of a mention are gentle giant, Mal Evans – whose delight at smashing a hammer on an anvil during Maxwell’s Silver Hammer is impossibly wholesome – and of course the inimitable, patient, and ever-diplomatic, Ringo Starr.
4. Behold the bunse behind the band
Nothing quite showcases the financial support enjoyed by the Fab Four, like listening in to some of the ideas chucked around by their management. Performing in Libyan amphitheatres, on cruise ships, and commandeering the world’s television networks for 2 hours, are all genuine suggestions from the insufferable, cigar-munching director, Lindsay-Hogg.
Throw into this mix endless inserts of red wine, white wine, weird orange-coloured drinks, sleeves of cigarettes, posh cigars, reams of toast and buckets of marmalade, and you really get a sense of the cash that was flying from every corner of Apple and EMI, at The Beatles.
“You do realise this tape is costing you 2 shillings a foot?” says engineer Glynn Johns, as Lennon and McCartney continue to piss about on the label’s time.
“…costing EMI,” corrects Harrison.
5. See solo careers seed
The most immediate outcome of Harrison’s separation from the song writing process was his preparation for the 1970 solo project. Watching his ideas formulate, alone, should be enough reason for any All Things Must Pass fan to check out Get Back.
While McCartney is out (possibly meeting with his father-in-law and entertainment law attorney, Lee Eastman, to discuss becoming the band’s manager) Harrison mentions to Lennon that he has 10 years’ worth of material up his sleeve. He considers getting other people to perform it, but decides: “Fuck all that, I’m just gunna do me for a bit.” Lennon is supportive of the idea, but All Things Must Pass gets a lukewarm reception, and is ultimately shelved.
Get Back also introduces us to the ‘Apple Scruffs’ – two women who loiter around the Apple Corps office for glimpses of the band in the flesh. Harrison immortalises them in his 1970 solo album, with the lyrics:
“In the fog and in the rain
Through the pleasures and the pain
On the step outside you stand
With your flowers in your hand, my Apple Scruffs”
There are songs knocking around in ’69 that eventually appear in Lennon and Paul’s solo work, too. There’s Jealous Guy, Back Seat of My Car, and Gimme Some Truth (which he co-wrote on), to name a few. For a moment, we even seen Heather tinkling on the keyboard while the band jams – a sign of greater Wings to come…
Last but not least, we watch the rise of guest keyboardist, Billy Preston. If the rooftop gig was all that remained of the final chapter, we’d have forgotten how important Preston was for the completion of Let It Be.
The transformative power this virtuoso blues musician brings when he joins the project is hard to overestimate. Upon entry, he refreshes the deteriorating dynamic in the room and vastly improves the soundscape of the record with his playing.
“You’re giving us a lift, Bill,” says Lennon, who soon lobbies for Preston’s promotion to a full-time Beatle. “There’s enough trouble with four of us,” replies McCartney.
Preston went on to record two solo LPs with EMI.
Re-writing (or rather, correcting) history
Get Back is a must-watch for committed and causal Beatles fans, alike. Its depth and richness make it one of the most exciting rock documentaries of all time. Consider longstanding myths about Ono’s negative influence, or The Beatles’ unhappiness in ’69, busted.
Unlike Lindsay-Hogg’s Let It Be, Jackson’s Get Back depicts a band with fire in its hands, the world at its feet, and a bottomless well of talent to tap into.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jackson said: “There’s a joy in the songs they sang. In decades to come it’ll never be dulled. It’ll never be suppressed. That joy that infectious joy is part of the human psyche now.”
This film will change the way you remember The Beatles.