Last week we finished watching the marathon Beatles documentary series, Get Back. It’s really slow and probably not for anyone who isn’t a die hard Beatles Fan. As I am such a fan, though, I really enjoyed it! It pulls back the curtain for an intimate view of how one of the most accomplished bands in the world made an incredibly successful album in just a few weeks – with many surprises [to me] along the way.
My first impression is just how insanely talented the Beatles were – as individuals and as a group. Every one of them was able to play all the instruments and it was inspiring to see them effortlessly change from one to another depending on what was needed. It was also incredible to see just how much the music was in each of them. They really couldn’t sit still and had to be jamming, strumming, playing, singing, etc. at all times. Well, except for Ringo, who seemed to be asleep much of the time but then he would just wake up and rip off perfect drum fills! They were in their mid-20s and absolutely at the top of their game.
Still, it was apparent how, by this point, they were all already heading in different directions. Ringo was doing movies, George was quitting to explore his individual creativity, John was throwing himself into a partnership with Yoko, and Paul was evolving from a bassist to a piano troubadour. The tensions were quite evident, especially with Paul’s “one more take” perfectionism, which was a fantastic note (pun intended) on which to end the film.
Although they each went on to have successful solo careers, their real magic was as a group and, indeed, it was magical to watch them build on each other’s ideas to create songs in which the whole was greater than the sum of their individual contributions. Here the addition of Billy Preston seemed catalytic in unlocking their group dynamic, as if his presence collimated their previously incoherent energy. This effect had been observed previously when Eric Clapton joined the recording of While My Guitar Gently Weeps so it would seem that, by this point, the Beatles needed this sort of kick in the pants to focus. The music was truly in Billy too and it was a joy to watch him riff.
The other major catalyst seems to have been the forcing function of the concert. With their backs against the wall, they really seemed to gel in the days leading up to the rooftop concert (And, by the way, the movie catching the epiphanic moment of Paul considering the rooftop as a venue for the first time was sublime.) such that they only needed one further day of recording to complete the album. What can you say – the Beatles were gamers. It was incredible to watch what began as aimless chaos take form, focus, and substance into an iconic performance and album – all the more so because they built so much momentum that they were back in the studio three months later to record yet another album!
A few other observations:
- So. Much. Smoking! I don’t think there was a single shot without at least one cigarette or cigar butt. It’s amazing they could still nail their vocal harmonies.
- The Beatles looked . . . old. They were in their mid-20s with crow’s feet, pasty skin, and bags under their eyes. Their meteoric rise had clearly taken its toll – also see previous note.
- John seemed high much of the time, with unfocused eyes and zany antics – or maybe that’s just how he was?
- Yoko was a ghost – always there, never interfering, just kind of hanging around (and occasionally wailing or dancing with John).
They say you don’t want to see how the sausage is made but this labor of love from Peter Jackson and team shows sausage making at its finest. At more than 8 hours in length, there is a high temporal cost to watch Get Back but, to me, it was more than worth it. Let It Be isn’t one of my favorite Beatles albums but the opportunity to be a fly on the wall while arguably the greatest band of all time does its thing is truly priceless.