I’ve said often there are two kinds of people in this world. There are Beatles people and Rolling Stones people. I’ve always leaned more toward the Stones, but perhaps that needle moved a little more toward the Fab Four over the last week as I watched Peter Jackson’s excellent documentary “Get Back” on Disney+.
The best way to approach this is probably just share with you the things that stood out to me. Warning, there might be some spoilers in here, but as this is fifty-two year old material, that seems unlikely.
The music is outstanding — and watching the process come together was almost like watching magic. There is a bit early on when Paul McCartney is sitting at the piano working on ‘Let It Be’ and the tune is there but he is just singing nonsensical words and noises because he hasn’t gotten the lyrics yet. Early on they do this a lot — but the music itself seemed to come together very quickly.
Speaking of music, it surprised me how often they ended up playing other peoples songs. You could tell they were having fun just making music as they sang all kinds of other songs. The absolute best parts of the documentary are when they are playing music and forget about the cameras, deadlines, albums and anything else and just play music. You can see it on their face.
Cigarette smoke. Lots and lots of cigarette smoke. And Paul McCartney smoking cigars. And the bossman coming in smoking huge cigars. And pipes. It is a wonder they were able to see through the haze. Or breath.
The personality of the four different people really emerged. George Harrison was super duper serious and moody. I didn’t know that he essentially quit the band before the album was made. John and Paul worked very hard to bring him back in to finish the project. Also, he quite plainly didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything so much so that at the end he was even against going up on the roof and playing. John is a goofball. I wasn’t aware of that side of John Lennon, but he had a hard time taking anything in the studio seriously. Paul is the one who is a control freak. With every single song he is the one telling everyone what they should do. Ringo is the only one I think I’d want to spend much time with. He comes across as laid back and very cool.
But they are all so dirty, especially Paul and John. It looks to me like they’ve not washed their hair for the entire month they were filming. I’m serious. Their hair looked awfully greasy. George was well dressed and fashionable, but he didn’t look clean. I just kept wanting someone to come bathe them.
Yoko Ono was there the entire time. Everyone had family members come and go, but Yoko was practically omnipresent. There are a couple of times when she would ‘sing’ — which was just screaming into the microphone. You can tell the other three are quite annoyed.
On the flip side, there is video of Paul McCartney’s soon to be step-daughter, Heather Eastman, at the age six years old just having a grand old time playing drums with Ringo, messing around with John Lennon, and singing. Watching her naturally interact with these rockstars was delightful.
Billy Preston saved the Beatles. The soulful Texan really added so much to the songs that it is impossible for me now to hear those tunes without seeing his smiling face as he bangs on the keyboard.
I was impressed that the original sentiment behind the song “Get Back” was as a protest song against Anti-Immigrant thinking in England. I prefer that better–and even those lyrics were better, IMHO.
The Beatles have potty mouths.
So, I’ve always had in my mind that the Beatles went off to India and all kind of became Hinduish. But apparently it was only George, and they endured that for him. There is an extended clip of them making quite a bit of snarky remarks about it all and not being that impressed. I think it was Paul said it al felt a little like, ‘being in school’ and something like, ‘we weren’t really being our real selves there, were we?’ and then George gets a bit defensive about it all and they move on. Very interesting.
My favorite scene is one in which they come in to take their lunch order and they ask them all what they want and George is like vegetables and cheese sauce, John and Paul are like whatever, and Ringo says, “MASHED POTATOES!” Just mashed potatoes. That’s it.
I still don’t quite understand what happened with the rooftop concert. No one could really see them, but they were loud. It was cold, so cold John complained he couldn’t play the chords. Did the police break it up and make them stop? Or did they just stop, using the police as an excuse. There is a moment near the very end where it seems like the Beatles quit of their own accord and used the police as a scapegoat — or was that staged by the handlers? I do know Paul McCartney was visibly surprised when he saw the coppers on the rooftop — and it is such a great moment
My mother loved the Beatles. I remember she cried, for like a month, when John Lennon was shot. We used to argue over what was the best Beatles Album. I have always said The White Album. She couldn’t separate her heart from her teenage years and always said, “Please Please Me.” She would have loved this documentary, but I don’t think you have to be a Beatles fan to love this film. Anyone who loves music and the creative process within tense teams would really enjoy it and probably learn from it.