(Get) Back To School. Or, How The Beatles (Didn’t) Split Up In 1969.

… it wasn’t a happy time. It said(on the back of the sleeve) it was a ‘new-phase Beatles album’ and there was nothing further from the truth. That was the last Beatles album and everybody knew it.

Paul McCartney, November 1971

I thought it would be good to go out, the shitty version, because it would break The Beatles, it would break the myth. That’s us with no trousers on and no glossy paint over the cover and no sort of hype. ‘This is what we’re like with our trousers off. So would you please end the game now?’ But that didn’t happen, and we ended up doing Abbey Road quickly and putting out something to preserve the myth.

John Lennon, 1970

For me, to come back into the winter of discontent with The Beatles at Twickenham was very unhealthy and unhappy. I remember being quite optimistic about it, but it was soon quite apparent that it was just the same as it had been … and it was going to be painful again.”

George Harrison, Beatles Anthology Book.

Going back on the road would be like going back to school…it never works.

Ringo, 1969.

What about (playing in) a children’s hospital? I don’t mean for really sick kids, just ones with broken legs or something.”

Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1969

““I’ll tell you what is really fabulous about it, it shows the four of us having a ball,”

Paul McCartney, 2021

Preamble – TL:DR.

Get Back is the story of how The Beatles were only humans. Humans who, emotionally, never really developed their relationships beyond what you’d expect to find in most school playgrounds. Primary school playgrounds at that.

Peter Jackson’s Get Back is fantastic. Let’s get that out of the way. It looks and sounds great. You see them writing amazing songs from scratch, and watch them develop and go through changes as they reach their final forms that we’ve been familiar with for so many years. You see that the songs and records didn’t just happen because they were from another planet, they happened because they tried lots of things and most of them didn’t work. It shows that The Beatles were human, but they were fucking great all the same.

I’ve seen lots of footage from Let It Be, in addition to the film itself, and most of it’s ropey as hell. Jackson’s done really well. It’s not entirely unbiased, but it’s not far off. Even bits we’ve seen before are often from different cameras and, while that’s great, part of me wonders if some of the choices haven’t been made in order to show a particular side of the story. Particularly in terms of Yoko Ono, who’s just not on camera in Get Back to the extent that she seemed to be in Let It Be. Which makes her more palatable – the less we see of her the better because at best, she’s just there and insipid, at worst, she’s wailing or looking moody because John’s paying more attention to George Harrison or something

What it doesn’t show is a gang breaking up because of Yoko Ono. In fact, it doesn’t show a band breaking up at all. It shows that The Beatles were, basically a gang with a surrounding hierarchy that comprised George Martin, Mal “Organ” Evans and Neil Aspinall. Slightly further towards the periphery were new producer Glynn Johns, Billy Preston, and then Beatle wives and girlfriends. Then everybody else. Yoko annoyed the other three, and she had John’s ear, but she didn’t have the power to split them up like she’s been blamed for.

The four Beatles had their own internal power struggle continually going, which is what most of this essay is about, but even if three of them had fallen out with the other one, those same three would defend the outcast if anyone below them tried to join in their attack. Most of the time.

The Beatles started 1969 under the control of Paul McCartney, who could be a bit much, let’s face it. A bit of a bossy know it all who knows best. You know the type, and they’re a pain in the arse. What it then shows is how George Harrison and John Lennon were totally sick of Paul being a pain in the arse, and how they then went on strike, which lead to Paul making compromises in order to keep them together. Once that happened, John took control back and, with George playing the part of a hanger-on, John mercilessly bullied Paul and, with his sense of control over The Beatles regained, he pissed about without much in the way of direction, gave noted conman Allen Klein their bank details, and effectively broke up The Beatles by breaking their agreement that, if one of them didn’t agree to something, they didn’t do it.

George didn’t break up The Beatles by going on strike in the middle of the Let It Be/Get Back sessions because he was sick of Yoko, and sick of Paul telling him what to do all the time, and ignoring his contributions to arrangements and writing. Also, George turns out not to be so much a groovy, cosmic hippy as a someone who’s happy to not let a friend join in with their gang. To be mean.

Paul announced the breakup of The Beatles just before Let It Be came out, but in a remarkably similar way to Jane Asher’s announcement in summer 1968 that “Paul broke off our engagement,” when actually, Paul didn’t intend to break off their engagement at all, just sleep with Francie Schwartz at their house. Paul announced The Beatles’ split only because John made it impossible to be in a band with him in the same way that Paul made it impossible for Jane to be in a relationship with him. John didn’t want Paul to break up with The Beatles any more than Paul wanted Jane to break up with him.

John broke The Beatles up. Not because he insisted Yoko accompany him everywhere, not because he said he was leaving but kept it quiet in a meeting with Allen Klein, and not because he wanted to put out avant garde musique concrete albums with Yoko, but because he was an arsehole and Paul couldn’t cope with him anymore. John’s absolutely not a peacenik, despite his loud claims. John’s a bully. Why is John a bully? Well, read on for the details, but I blame his parents, myself. Their treatment of him left him vulnerable and afraid and the only way he knew how to cope was by being a nasty bastard. Yeah, he’s an arsehole at times, but it’s not his fault, really.

Still, Get Back is the movie that shows that The Beatles were no more emotionally mature or pleasant than the characters in Mean Girls. John’s a bully, George was his hanger on, and Paul was their victim. Ringo wasn’t mean to anyone, but he didn’t have the power to do anything about it.

Get in, loser, we’re going recording.”
Pauline McCartney, Georgina Harrison, Ringoette Starr, and Joan Lennon. Not a pleasant group of people, it turns out, The Plastics Beatles.

If Get Back has a theme, it’s not love, peace or understanding: it’s power. It’s about how Paul had it and gave it away to keep them together, and how John took it and did nothing with it but rub Paul’s nose in it, and give The Beatles’ fortune away to an American crook whom everybody warned him about, but he knew better. And it’s about how, like wild animals or teenaged girls – take your pick – when a leader is deposed, what happens next is that everybody piles on.

To begin with a diversion, there’s a bit in Of Mice And Men where the boss’s son, and ranch bully Curley tries to have a go at the ranch’s alpha male, Slim, and Slim tells him where to get off. At this disruption of the power structure on the ranch, all the rest of the ranch hands turn on Curley too, even the disabled cleaner.

It’s not the most remembered part of the book maybe, but it’s important because it shows what happens when someone who was previously in charge, is no longer in charge, and absolutely everyone piles in to get their pound of flesh.

And that’s what happens in Get Back. Paul’s not as bad a person as Curley is in Of Mice And Men, but he starts off in charge, and when he deposed, everybody in the gang turns on him. Everybody except Ringo, that is. Because Ringo’s not like that. On the day when Paul has been treated so badly that he’s practically in tears at the end of the day, Ringo stands up, sits next to him and puts his arm around him. At that point, George and John realise that they’ve pushed it a bit too far today – even the roadie, Mal “organ” Evans ends up telling Paul what to do, having witnessed John’s and George’s playground tactics of pointedly leaving someone out

Introduction

  1. Ringo.

In A Hard Day’s Night, Wilfred Bamble, playing Paul’s cantankerous, though scrupulously clean, Grandfather winds Ringo up by pointing out how none of the others value or appreciate him, leading to Ringo going walkabout before a television programme is about to be filmed, leading to panic among the others who, it turns out, love him really.

A Hard Day’s Night, despite being fictional, was based on reality. Alun Owen hung around with the Fab Four in early 1964 to pick up on their language and group dynamic in order to accurately write for them for the screen.

A mere five years later, The Beatles were making another film, technically their fifth, although John Lennon considered it only their third, presumably not counting Yellow Submarine because it was a cartoon and they didn’t even provide their own voices for it, and Magical Mystery Tour, because that was more a television special.

On the surface, there aren’t a lot of similarities between The Beatles’ first film and Get Back, now their most recent: they don’t even look very similar: A Hard Day’s Night showed four fresh faced, clean shaved, cheeky mop tops poking fun at and making the stuffed shirts of the entertainment industry obsolete overnight. Get Back shows the same Fab Four, but with hair and lines of bitter experience all over their faces. The dark suits of 1964 have been replaced by bright but casual post-psychedelic clothing. Paul’s appearance in Get Back gets commented on as resembling “A DH Lawrence miner,” and it’s absolutely spot on.

On the other hand, Pattie Boyd turns up in both of them for a bit, and Ringo’s still underappreciated, and although there’s no Wilfred Bramble to point that out to him, his hang dog, melancholy expression throughout shows us that he’s worked that one out for himself.

In Get Back, the four Beatles are sitting talking about getting “a divorce” like reasonable adults. John Lennon says, “Who’d get custody of the kids?” And Paul thinks about it and replies, “Dick James.”

It’s a bitter joke because Dick James ran Northern Songs, The Beatles’ publishing company, and would sell a majority share of it to Lew Grade, the boss of ATV, meaning John and Paul would never have any control over their own songs.

However, as bleak and metaphorically consistent as Paul’s glib and pithy response was, it wasn’t really accurate because, when parents divorce, the real victims are the kids, but The Beatles’ songs weren’t victims and they didn’t suffer as a result. The Beatles songs were more like the assets – the house, the car, the telly. The one who suffered was Ringo. Ergo: Ringo was The Beatles’ kid.

Even though A Hard Day’s Night showed that Ringo was the best actor among The Beatles, leading to his central role in Help!, and eventually to appearing in Hollywood films that weren’t Beatles vehicles such as The Magic Christian, Ringo’s role in Get Back is the smallest of the Fab Four and, naturally, the saddest too. In Get Back, the other three are the main players – even George. Speaking of whom…

Ringo and Peter Sellers in a poster advertising The Magic Christian, which is relevant to Get Back/Let It Be because its filming schedule meant that The Beatles had to have written, arranged, played and recorded their new album by the end of January 1969, when The Magic Christian was due to begin shooting – also at Twickenham Studios. Peter Sellers, a big hero of The Fabs called in on them towards the end of their time at the studio and John’s nervousness, which tended to lead to his neurotically attempting to dominate situations, made it a rather uncomfortable meeting. Sellers had previously recorded the lyrics to A Hard Day’s Night in character as Shakespeare’s Richard III. It might have been funny for the time, but it hasn’t aged especially well. A bit like The Magic Christian itself, which is the most late-1960s film in the world. I like it, but I would, wouldn’t I?

2. George

Imagine you’re George Harrison. It’s Friday the 10th of January 1969, you’ve just finished your dinner and the row you’re embroiled in with John Lennon in a canteen in Twickenham has escalated. You’ve been here for a total of seven days, alternately playing McCartney’s Maxwell’s Silver Sodding Hammer and listening to him telling you how you’re doing it wrong, morning, noon and bloody night. That or Teddy Boy, The Back Seat Of My Car, or something equally fruity. You’ve written stacks of songs: All Things Must Pass and I’d Have You Anytime for example, but Paul and, especially, John just dismiss everything, like you’re a daft kid, unlike Bob Dylan, who you wrote I’d Have You Anytime with, and treated you like an equal. Speaking of John, he’s written a total of one and a half songs, both of which you’ve helped arrange, come up with inventive parts for, all of which were criticised by Paul, who told you how you were doing it wrong and gave you impressionistic ideas about how to achieve his impossible standards of fruitiness, and all of which had more time spent on them than yours. Paul and, especially, John have implied that the Maharishi fiasco was your fault, and you made them look daft. Ringo’s Ringo, but he just wants everyone to be friends. You know, like the kids do when mum and dad are rowing.

The Beatles have given you fame and fortune. You have possibilities in front of you – that would be closed to the majority of the world’s population – as a result of being in that band. On the other hand, as a Beatle, you’re also in demand. Which can be a nice thing, providing the people who want you aren’t on the make.

Speaking of which, John, with whom you were best LSD buddies until recently, has now pretty much cut you off completely since Yoko arrived on the scene. And not just socially, which would have been bad enough, but she’s been with him all the time since the middle of The White Album sessions. Which you could live with because The Beatles had pretty much stopped playing as a band by that point, just coming into the studio separately, working on their own songs, getting other people to add bits where necessary, so it wasn’t like you were stuck in a room with Yoko in 1968.

George and John in 1966. Paul’s tendency to take charge of Beatles activities lead to George and John finding common ground in terms of not wanting to be bossed around. They bonded over LSD, which Paul was reticent about taking; they both bought into the Maharishi period of meditation and being cosmic to a far greater extent than Paul or Ringo; they both lived close to one another in the stockbroker belt outside London, as did Ringo, unlike Paul, who lived in central London. Then John met Yoko, and George had his nose pushed out of joint, although he could evidently tolerate her providing he didn’t have to be around her every single day – hence his appearance in the Lennon’s Imagine film, which shows George playing slide guitar on Lennon’s vitriolic swipe at Paul on How Do You Sleep? John and Paul traded insulting songs for a while, but neither of them wrote a finger pointing song about George. I suspect this was more due to the fact that neither of them felt that strongly about George, whereas they did about each other.

Unlike now. And not only that, but she was evidently under the impression that she was in The Beatles now, and she should have an equal say in what they did. “Beatles will do this. Beatles will do that,” is how you describe her input.

The other thing was, of course, Paul. Paul who wants everything to be just so, including your bits.

When the film comes out over a year later, it will be edited to strongly imply that you’d walked out as a result of Paul McCartney being a pain in the arse, as opposed to your fight with John Lennon, and you’re not going to set the record straight because it suits you to leave it that way. Oddly enough, it also appears to suit everybody else too. Most oddly, including Paul.

Possibly even more oddly, or perhaps not oddly at all, 50 years later, when Peter Jackson takes the tapes and puts together a three part, 8 hour long documentary on the Get Back/Let It Be sessions, what everyone’s looking for is the answer to the 50 year old question: why did The Beatles split up?

From the time it happened to, realistically, now – there have been several perspectives, presented here in order of popularity: Yoko being Yoko, Paul being bossy, John not being interested, George feeling creatively stifled, Allen Klein being Allen Klein, and Ringo’s lack of social skills. All of those things played their part, except the last one which I made up. It’s a bit like Murder On The Orient Express – spoiler alert(!) – in which it turns out that there wasn’t one murderer because, actually, everybody did it. Except Ringo, naturally.

Context: Late November 1966 – Christmas 1968

The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released at the start of The Summer Of Love, having begun recording it at the end of November 1966, and completed it by the end of April 1967, They were flying high. Everybody loved Pepper’s because they’d invented hippies and drugs and wearing crushed velvet purple loon pants. They invented fashionable facial hair, drugs and not hitting people who were into flowers. Sort of. It was a time of great optimism and positivity which, as regular readers of whatever the hell this is will be aware, is incontrovertible evidence that everything was imminently about to go down the toilet. See also Britpop.

In August, a couple of months after Pepper’s was released, The Beatles were introduced to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the London Hilton, and arranged to go to a series of lectures in Wales. Evidently, everyone had such a lovely time there that they arranged to go to India with him to go on a meditation retreat in Rishikesh, on the banks of the Ganges river in January 1968, even though their manager, Brian Epstein, died of an overdose while they were in Wales with the Maharishi.

Prior to that, they’d recorded and broadcast All You Need Is Love on a worldwide satellite link up, filmed Magical Mystery Tour and recorded the songs for the EP that was released to go with it. The psychedelic explosion of colour that was the Magical Mystery Tour was broadcast, famously in black and white, on Boxing Day in 1967. It went down quite badly with Joe Public because, let’s face it, it was a bit shit. Yeah, I Am The Walrus, alright, bits of it here and there, but mainly: no.

At the time, it was seen as being a bit, “Oh, The Beatles have had it.” Well, I wasn’t around at that point so I don’t know, but it seems that the British disease of build em up and knock em down was in full swing as far as The Fabs were concerned because the media was saying the same thing when Sgt Pepper wasn’t ready for Christmas 1966, and the word was “Have they run out of ideas?” because their traditional album every six months release schedule fell apart as there was no new Christmas 1967 album six months after Revolver had been put out. Magical Mystery Tour was only an EP, and most of that wasn’t too great. The title track was lively enough but a bit meh, Fool On The Hill was pretty good, I know Flying‘s not the greatest work of art of the 20th century but I like it, Your Mother Should Know‘s another of Paul’s “music for grannies” (©John Lennon) and is alright without having any of the charm of When I’m 64 or Honey Pie. I Am The Walrus is fantastic, and Blue Jay Way might be the absolute worst thing that The Beatles ever put out. It wasn’t great. The Americans put it out as an album, including the non album singles of the era on it, including Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, Baby, You’re A Rich Man, All You Need Is Love, and Hello, Goodbye on it, making it a much more attractive proposition. Had they had it? No, there was plenty more in the musical tank but there were slim pickings remaining in the psychedelic storage unit.

Paul and Jane Asher, meeting Maharishi in 1968. I will never not enjoy the look on Jane Asher’s face as she regards him.

So, they had January and half of February off, then they flew to India where they learned meditation and folk guitar picking from Donovan. Oh, and that Maharishi was a bit of a pervy old man. Ringo lasted 10 days, Paul a little less than a month, John and George, nearly two months.

To me, that’s interesting. It’s not like they’ve hidden the reality – everybody knows Ringo didn’t like the food and packed baked beans, and that John and George stayed the longest – but Ringo spent 10 days there, in comparison to two months that John and George did? That’s a big difference. Even Paul’s month – just about – is notably much shorter than John and George’s time there. The Beatles, who are often described as being a four headed entity evidently weren’t anymore.

Still, by the middle of March, they were all back and they all had a load of songs ready to record for what would become The White Album, which they start recording at the end of May to be released at the end of November. In between, Lady Madonna and The Inner Light were released on a single while they were India, and Hey Jude and Revolution previewed The White Album at the end of August. the Yellow Submarine cartoon film – including “new” songs Hey Bulldog (recorded post White Album), Only A Northern Song, All Together Now, and It’s All Too Much – all recorded during Pepper’s sessions – was released at Christmas 1968.

The context is important because what it shows us is that The Beatles had been fucking busy.

That’s a lot of work for two years, man. Sgt Pepper’s, Magical Mystery Tour – EP and film, Going to India to invent Western pop stars’ interest in Eastern spirituality, The White Album – a double album, plus Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane, All You Need Is Love, Baby You’re A Rich Man, Hello Goodbye, Lady Madonna, The Inner Light, Hey Jude, Revolution on non-album singles. Half an album for the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. That’s a lot of work, a lot of creative energy was going on. And that’s not even including John having an affair with Yoko, getting divorced from Cynthia, and getting busted for pot in October 1968. And it’s also not including Paul getting caught having it off with Francie Schwartz by Jane Asher and having her announce that they’d split up in summer 1968. Oh, and Ringo leaving and returning during The White Album sessions, of course. Oh, yes, and they also created Apple, which encompassed their own record label, clothes shop (and manufacturers), electronics division( Zapple, cheers), offices and recording studios. Oh yes, and George recorded (sort of) and wrote (even less sort of) Wonderwall Music (another film soundtrack) and began recording Electronic Sounds (I’m not convinced anyone actually wrote music for that one…). Oh, and John released his first solo album Unfinished Music 1: Two Virgins in November 1968, which also doesn’t contain much in the way of music in the traditional sense of the word. Oh, and Lennon was taking heroin from the middle of 1968 until around the end of 1969. Which belies the traditional stereotype of the inactive smackhead rather, doesn’t it?

John – not as relaxed as he often liked to suggest. I’m So Tired, I’m Only Sleeping – John doth protest too much, I’m afraid. He was generally pretty busy.

By pretty much anyone’s standards, The Beatles had a hectic couple of years. Alright, they weren’t touring anymore after summer 1966, but they seemed to manage to find plenty of things to do to fill their time alright.

Get Back – Part 1

The point I’m making is that The Beatles, having recorded and released 40 – that’s forty – new recordings and two films, in 1968 alone, not including the two solo albums that John and George recorded and released – must have felt a bit burnt out by the middle of winter 1968-9 and in need of a rest.

But no. The second day of 1969 saw them reunite on a soundstage at Twickenham, ready to get going again. This time, they were going to be filmed writing, rehearsing and recording before finally performing a concert that would be filmed. They didn’t know what songs they were going to be playing, and they hadn’t decided where the concert was going to be taking place. It wasn’t that they were recording an album as such, the idea – as much as one existed at all – was to get ready to play a live concert somewhere that would be filmed and shown on television.

Ringo had signed a contract to act in the forthcoming Peter Sellers film The Magic Christian, starting on March 1st 1969, so it needed to be done by then. They had less than two months to get ready and wrap it all up. It was looking a bit optimistic if you ask me, based on recent events. N ot to mention a bit arbitrary. Why did they have to do this now? They weren’t in the mood, and they’d only just released The White Album. I expect Paul was chivvying them along. Giving them a deadline, like Mr Epstein – as they refer to Brian – used to.

But that was the point of calling it Get Back. Their first album famously took less than a day to record. They turned up and knocked it out, and everybody loved it. Then, by Revolver, they’d gone all psychedelic and that meant that recording was no longer a matter of sticking a microphone in front of the amps and playing live because now they were spending weeks having a right old faff, making pianos sound like guitars and vice versa. And they were sick of that. 1968 was different from 1967. 1968 was about being real and being honest, which meant telling it as it is, man. Which really meant, less psychedelic frippery and tea in the garden with Alice and the Cheshire Cat, and more men with beards sweating into denim ensembles, and taking themselves enormously seriously.

Some other people were sick of it too. The suggestion that George Martin was really the talent behind The Beatles’ records had grown louder, especially since the advent of all that psychedelic sound that was all over all their records, and The Beatles weren’t happy about that either. With good reason. Martin was a great facilitator, and their records sounded a lot better than, say, The Hollies’ records of the same time, recorded using the same equipment, in the same studios as The Beatles’, so there was certainly something in it, but The Beatles were the ideas men, George Martin had to translate those ideas into something practical, but that’s not the same thing as being the talent behind The Beatles, is it?

So, The Beatles were going to be Get(ting) Back to their roots. Man.

But it wasn’t even just that, was it? While The Beatles (or George Martin, depending on your perspective) were perfecting psychedelia in 1967, Bob Dylan was recuperating from his 1966 motorbike crash and deciding that he was going to strip back his recordings to something a bit more down-homey. With the help of The Band.

I love 1968. I like all of the 1960s, especially 66-68, but 1968’s my favourite year. Yet, what was occurring in 1968 was that Dylan’s John Wesley Harding album, with its browny-grey cover and acoustic songs, was showing the way forward for adult orientated pop music. Then The Band released Music From Big Pink, which was a similar down-homey sort of thing in summer 1968, and that was pretty much what was going on, along with heavy blooze jams. And The Beatles’ White Album, of course. I mean, it wasn’t all terrible. Although Yer Blues wasn’t great. The Beatles weren’t a blues covers band – as Paul has recently accused The Rolling Stones of being, not without some justification.

George Harrison visited Bob Dylan at his Woodstock home in late 1968, where he also met with The Band, and he was very much taken with what he witnessed. Very much. On the first day of rehearsals in January 1969, he was raving to the other three about The Band and their attitude towards making music. In fact, it would be fair to say that George Harrison liked The Band a lot more than he liked his band, The Beatles, and his idea was, pretty much, that The Beatles should use The Band as a template for their next direction. Which wasn’t going to happen, apart from not really being that psychedelic anymore. And thank God for small mercies.

The Band, rehearsing at Big Pink, their base in Woodstock. Doing their best to pretend they were Appalachian woodland folk. Robbie Robertson is on the far left. I can’t stand Robbie Robertson, and that might be part of the reason I hate The Band so much. He’s such a smug twat. I ought to like him slightly more than I do because in The Last Waltz, their equivalent of Let It Be/Get Back – the documentary about their last concert before they split up, Robertson has a guitar duel (and it pains me to even type shit like that) with Eric Clapton, and people who care about such things like to comment on how Robertson wiped the floor with Clapton. I hate Eric Clapton more than I hate Robbie Robertson, so I should enjoy that, but I don’t because I hate the concept of guitar duels even more than I hate the both of them put together. And I hate The Last Waltz too, so what I’m saying is that I still hate Robbie Robertson because he invited Eric Clapton to have a guitar duel with him. There’s a story later about the Harrison/Clapton/Pattie Boyd love triangle in which it’s alleged that Eric and George had a guitar duel to see which one of them would “win” Pattie. Can you imagine? That’s one of the worst things I’ve ever heard. I hope it’s not true, but it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if it was, or at least if Eric Clapton didn’t suggest it following his announcement to George that, “I’m in love with your old lady, what are we going to do about it?” How about not having a guitar duel for starters, Eric?

At Twickenham, the four of them would turn up in the morning, which wasn’t late night Lennon’s idea of a good time, present songs for consideration, show them to the other three, and learn and arrange them.

If you’ve ever been in a band, you’ll appreciate that what that means is hours and hours of going over the same bits of the same songs, making minute adjustments and suggestions as you go along. It’s how you knock songs into shape.

I’ve been in bands, I know what rehearsals are like. I enjoy the process of writing and arranging: it’s my favourite part of being in a band. I like doing those things, with the emphasis on the word doing. I’ve been in bands when the singer – it’s always the singer – brings his girlfriend to rehearsals. Bearing in mind that most local band rehearsals go on from about 6 or 7 at night to about 10 or 11, you’re looking at somewhere between three and five hours sitting on a knackered, revolting settee, listening to the same songs played at high volume over and over again, stopping and starting, interspersed with bouts of inarticulate musicians failing to communicate what they want to other musicians. I always felt sorry for singers’ girlfriends in rehearsal rooms because, unless you’re involved in the creative process, it must be excruciatingly boring.

And, of course, at these particular rehearsals, which weren’t going on for a mere 3-5 hours, but office hours instead – were attended by one of The Beatles’ girlfriends in particular…

John had left Cynthia during The White Album recording sessions the previous summer, having let her come home from a holiday in Greece to find Yoko wearing her dressing gown, sitting at her breakfast table across from John, in her own house, which is a bit of a shit trick, isn’t it?

From that point onwards, John and Yoko were inseparable, including at Beatles rehearsals.

There’s been a lot written about Yoko Ono and The Beatles, mainly blaming her for breaking up the band with occasional added racism in some accounts. Some commentators have suggested that The Beatles were unreconstructed sexist pigs for not being wild about Yoko’s presence at recording sessions.

The Beatles and Yoko Ono at Apple Studios, January 1969. Yoko Ono took a lot of flak from the 1970s onwards for breaking up The Beatles and nobody did anybody too many favours during those years. John was defensive about it, understandably; Yoko bore a grudge towards Paul at least; George tolerated her in order to be part of Lennon’s life, but tended to drop pointed asides about her, and Ringo was Ringo. The bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, is that Yoko didn’t break The Beatles up, although her high opinion of herself and consequent tendency to treat everybody like they were her servants – see Imagine for evidence – didn’t help. There was certainly some racism and sexism thrown at her, which were horrible, stupid and irrelevant because Yoko Ono is a royal pain in the arse, and that has nothing at all to do with her race or sex. She’s got no idea how to talk to people without pissing them off. She also happens to be rich and powerful, which means people have to deal with her and tiptoe around her. Having power tends not to improve many people’s personalities. Yoko is no exception to that rule.

Even Paul McCartney got onboard with a bit of casual, late-60s racism when he anonymously sent John a postcard that read, “You and your Jap tart think you’re hot shit.” Which wasn’t very nice, but he claims he meant it “as a joke.” So that’s alright then…Hmm.

So, this is the situation on January 2nd 1969: the four Beatles plus Yoko Ono would spend the working day going through a set of songs that they’d recently written as well as regular diversions into playing old rock ‘n’ roll songs, like the ones they’d played in Hamburg when they were kids – all filmed, all recorded.

As they were rehearsing, there were also continual discussions about a live concert that would be the focus of the television special they were filming between the five of them and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who’d directed the Hey Jude and Revolution videos in summer 1968. George Martin, who’s not listed on the Let It Be album as producer or anything else – although he is thanked on the sleeve – was also regularly present.

Suggestions for the concert venue included the Roundhouse in London, a disused flour mill, an ocean liner, and a Roman amphitheatre in North Africa. Ringo didn’t want to go abroad because of his commitments to The Magic Christian rehearsals. Paul was dead keen to play and get involved with the details. John was non-committal on the whole, although he did express enthusiasm for playing live periodically. George didn’t seem keen on playing live but, like John and Ringo, would go along with it provided it wasn’t too much of a pain in the arse.

Those attitudes are a pretty good reflection on how they all felt about The Beatles full stop. John was sometimes quite keen, but not as keen as he was on spending every moment of his life with Yoko; George was going along with it, but didn’t really want to do it anymore; Ringo had made new friends and was getting into acting; Paul was taking the reins and making them all do things because, as far as he was concerned, if he didn’t, nothing would ever actually happen.

Still, none of them really wanted The Beatles to end at that point because collectively, they were a bigger deal than any of them were individually. It’s easy for those of us not connected to the situation to rhetorically wonder why he didn’t just walk out and have done with it, but those of us who’ve invested years in things that get less and less appealing as time goes on will know all too well that it’s easier said than done.

Rehearsals begin. John notices a Hare Krishna disciple mumbling in the corner, presumably brought in by George. “Who’s that little old man?” he asks. “Is he one of the Hare Krishnas or something?

Clean though,” comments Paul, referring to Wilfred Bramble’s character in A Hard Day’s Night. No-one laughs.

John says, “We should have a bass and guitar all in one – that’d be great, wouldn’t it?

By the time they get to Apple studios a week or so later, Magic Alex has made a prototype bass and guitar in one – with a revolving neck. It’s useless and they’ll laugh at it.

John and Paul have a bit of a laugh doing I’ve Got A Feeling, and George looks pissed off.

George Martin’s there too, although he’s not credited as producer because that job went to Glyn Johns and his amazing collection of coats.

George keeps trying to get them to be The Band, as he’s been over to see them and he loves them, and nobody’s very impressed.

Paul helps John put Don’t Let Me Down together, and John’s appreciative. John’s not on smack, Paul’s confident and, realistically, running the show and John doesn’t seem to mind.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the director of Let It Be, is keen on them playing in a roman amphitheatre in Libya, but nobody’s into that, which is a shame because it looks amazing. Pink Floyd would play a similar sort of roman amphitheatre in Pompeii a couple of years later, and that’s a fantastic location too. I think they missed a trick, but playing on the roof turned out to be iconic in itself in the end.

Sabratha amphitheatre, Libya. It looks great, doesn’t it?

Ringo’s “put his foot down”, which shows us that The Beatles’ unbreakable rule that if any one of them didn’t want to do something, they wouldn’t do it stands at this point. It’s important, because when that rule finally does get broken by John, George and Ringo signing Allen Klein as their manager when Paul doesn’t want to, that’s what causes the final break up. Not Yoko.

Paul shows them Two Of Us, and George keeps asking questions, but Paul doesn’t really answer. He just keeps playing it over and over again. George doesn’t seem very happy.

Paul was meticulously drilling the other three through Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (which wouldn’t get recorded until Abbey Road later that year), Two Of Us, Oh Darling, Let It Be, and The Long And Winding Road. He also grafted John’s Everybody Had A Hard Year onto his own I’ve Got A Feeling. John contributed Don’t Let Me Down, Across The Universe (which had already been recorded in early 1968, though not to his satisfaction), Dig A Pony, and Dig It, which was more of a jam than a song. George presented I, Me, Mine, For You Blue, All Things Must Pass, Let It Down, Hear Me Lord, Wah Wah, Run Of The Mill, Isn’t It A Pity, and probably a load more too. The fact that I, Me, Mine and For You Blue were the ones that got on Let It Be suggests something peculiar was going on because they are probably the worst of the lot. John laughed in George’s face when he heard I, Me, Mine, saying, “We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, we don’t do Spanish waltzes.” The fact that it got on the album is probably due to it appearing in the film, with John and Yoko trying and failing to waltz to it. John, evidently, was past caring by the time Let It Be, the album, was being put together.

John, frankly, isn’t remotely interested. He’s on heroin. “Only” smoking it, but still. And you can tell. He’s glazed and only half there. Perhaps he’s on heroin to help him deal with Paul McCartney who, also frankly, is a bit of a drag now he’s in charge. He’s all enthusiastic, like a square teacher who tries a bit too hard to be groovy and down with the kids. He makes them work, and he tells them all exactly what to do, and he doesn’t really listen to anybody else. Especially George.

And that wasn’t even it. In addition to everything else: working towards by rehearsing at a film studio; writing and arranging songs; tolerating Yoko Ono, who evidently regarded herself as a member of The Beatles who deserved an equal say in their affairs – they also had the weightier issues of Apple and their management occupying their thoughts.

Apple – their business umbrella – had been created in order to deal with the tax situation. Either they spent a load of their money, or they’d have to pay 90-odd percent tax on it. To avoid paying tax on it, they decided to use the money to pursue their own pet projects. With their own record label (Apple Records), they could sign and put out records by people who they liked, bypassing the square old farts who ran all the other record companies. Magic Alex, whose magical abilities didn’t extend quite as far as creating a mechanical sun, or invisible walls, or anything else much apart being able to con John Lennon out of hundreds of thousands of pounds, ran Apple Electronics, but not to the extent that they ever made anything that actually worked.

Consequently, Apple was going to go bust in the very near future, unless someone who knew what they were doing took over. They all agreed on that, what they didn’t agree on was the question of who. More of which later…

The idea that the Let It Be sessions were the most depressing things in the world has also been widely accepted, not least because that’s how John described them. “…the shittiest load of badly recorded shit with a bad feeling…” But it wasn’t all like that. In fact, a lot of it was the opposite of that. Much of the footage in Let It Be shows that they were having a good time at least some of the time. They were joking and laughing, they were playing together without having paddies at anyone.

Well, most of the time…

At this point, we need to consider Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s position. Brought in to direct a film, he was never realistically going to be able to direct anything beyond what the set looked like. The Beatles weren’t going to do what he wanted. And what did he want? A story in which they start here, do that, and end up there. He wanted a film about The Beatles that everybody would want to watch. Bearing in mind that all he really got was hours of The Beatles rehearsing, which is an extremely dreary process to witness, however much you like a band, I suspect that Lindsay-Hogg was concerned about how he was going to make it exciting. Throughout the sessions, he’s suggesting that they play in exciting locations, to no-one’s enthusiasm, except periodically Paul’s.

So, how did Lindsay-Hogg spice things up a bit? He cuts the film together to show The Beatles breaking up. On camera. Who doesn’t want to see that? It’s like motorway crashes when cars slow down on the other side of the road to look at the piled up cars on the other. Thus, Let It Be, being a disaster for The Beatles, would be something that people would pay to see. Sort of. Especially considering that Paul announced they were breaking up shortly before it was released.

Orson Welles and Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Alleged father and love child.

And that’s what Lindsay-Hogg does.

Probably the most famous part of the original Let It Be film is where Paul is telling George what to play, and George eventually tells Paul, “I’ll play whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.” That happens after they’ve played Two Of Us through, and John and Paul are gazing into one another’s eyes, singing about all the things that the two of them got up to – even though it’s about Paul and Linda. Poor George, though. The two of us. Not including him, basically. Which was what was going on at Twickenham.

And then George quits.

The inference we’re supposed to draw from Lindsay-Hogg’s Let It Be movie is this: George quits because Paul is a pain in the arse. I’m not suggesting that Paul’s hectoring, patronising attitude towards George’s playing was water off a duck’s back, but the exchange is edited to make it look worse than it is. There’s a big section in the middle of the discussion where they’re chatting amicably about another song, which is what George is referring to, but the cut makes it look like they’re having an extended argument about the same thing – and they’re not. And George doesn’t even quit that day.

And so, Lindsay-Hogg gets his hook for the film. Yeah, it’s about The Beatles rehearsing for a gig, yeah, it’s about a live concert film, but really, it’s about The Beatles splitting up.

Of course, by the time the film and album came out in May 1970, they’d already split up and the world knew about it because Paul told them in his press release for his solo debut, which came out in April 1970. In a way, it was what had happened.

In Peter Jackson’s Get Back, we see more of the “I’ll play whatever you want me to play...” conversation, and we see it in context – which is to say that that conversation wasn’t the tipping point for George because he doesn’t leave straight after that.

However, in Jackson’s cut, we still don’t get to see what actually happened. All we do get is clarity that the “I’ll play whatever you want me to play...” conversation wasn’t what caused George’s departure.

What Jackson does is show us that George didn’t leave following that famous exchange, but he doesn’t really attempt to show us what actually happened either. You know, it’s like someone telling you that you’re wrong about something without telling you what the right answer is. Not all that helpful, really. Although he’s left enough in for us to work it out for ourselves.

But… the 21st century Beatles’ legacy and story is a meticulously curated thing. It’s revisionism. Of course it is. Paul wants the story to go a particular way – and that way is, basically, all about four lads from Liverpool who formed a pretty good band that got really big, and then they went their own ways and, okay, maybe there was a bit of falling out here and there, but really, they all loved each other. You know, like families. Your biggest bust ups are likely to be within your own family, but it doesn’t mean you don’t love each other all the same, does it?

Which is how Paul frames The Beatles’ story these days, and I don’t blame him.

Still, at the end of part 1 of Get Back (which is great, by the way, but I can’t imagine many casual fans are going to be particularly thrilled by eight hours of playing the same songs over and over, interspersed with comatose Lennon at Twickenham or manic Lennon at Apple; with bossy Paul at Twickenham and subdued Paul at Apple; with narky Harrison at Twickenham and happy Harrison at Apple, and Ringo being Ringo wherever they are) they go for dinner, they come back out again and George says, “I think I’ll be leaving now. Leaving the group.” and off he pops. His diary entry, shown onscreen is just as prosaic, stating: “Went to Twickenham in the morning, left The Beatles, came home.” More or less.

There was a suggestion that John and George had a fistfight in the canteen which prompted George’s departure, but that seems to have originated from a gossip column written by Michael Housego at the time.

Paul, John, Ringo and Yoko have a bit of a jam/wail, John says if George isn’t back by Tuesday, they’ll get (Eric) Clapton in. Lindsay Hogg asks him if anyone’s ever left like that before, and John says, “Ringo, last year.” Referring to Ringo quitting because he felt unloved.

Then a caption appears on screen that they all went to a meeting at Ringo’s house and it didn’t go well. Thus endeth part 1.

Get Back – Part 2

Recapping that George has left, then the text appears onscreen, “A meeting on Sunday did not resolve the situation. The future of not only the project, but the group itself, is now in doubt.”

The question that occurs to the viewer, following this summary of offscreen events is – “What happened at this meeting?

The run up to the 2021 release of Get Back has mainly focused on two main ideas. First, even though George left, and everybody said how fucking horrible the sessions were at the time and also since then. Actually, they were all having a lovely time. Second, even though Paul, George and – to a lesser extent – Ringo (even John, in trying to justify why she looked so miserable all the time in Let It Be, said that “You’d look fucking miserable if you’d had to sit through all that shit.”) all commented on how awkward it was, having Yoko around all the time, actually, Yoko wasn’t really a problem at all. Everybody’s got her wrong all these years. Misogyny, racism, not being that into avant-garde black and white silent films in which nothing happens, you name it.

It seems a little bit disingenuous to me. I’ve heard some of the tapes, and Peter Jackson, while he’s used a hell of a lot of them, what he hasn’t used – perhaps pointedly – are many instances of Yoko speaking. What he has included, perhaps pointedly, are examples of the other fab’s on set guests. George has a Hare Krishna devotee or two at Twickenham. Paul brings Linda. Ringo brings Maureen. Dick James turns up, and so on. It’s fairly subtle by Hollywood standards, but really, what we’re being encouraged to think is that Yoko wasn’t 1) the only guest brought in, and 2) she didn’t make a nuisance of herself. Yoko’s a pain in the arse alright and, in exactly the same way that George and John will later ostracise Paul, Paul, George and Ringo never speak to Yoko. she ‘s there almost all the time, and they don’t say a word to her. They don’t tell her to go away, but they don’t want her there, and it’s really obvious. It doesn’t mean they split up because of her, but she’s definitely not made welcome.

There are other bits excised from Let It Be too – the part where Paul is telling George how to play the guitar – “there shouldn’t be any noticeable jumps as it comes down...”, on I’ve Got A Feeling‘s bridge part is conspicuous by its absence.

Jackson’s version is a lot longer than Lindsay-Hogg’s, but it’s what he doesn’t show us that tells boring, middle aged men like me what the angle is here. When Yoko’s being a pain in the arse – don’t show that, show the others’ guests a bit more though to give the impression that it wasn’t just her who was supposedly intruding on The Beatles’ sessions – they were all doing it – ahhh! Similarly, he’s chopped a few bits of Paul being a bossyboots, to make him look a bit less domineering.

However, the first scenes of the morning after the night before are illuminating, if not especially earth shattering for us middle aged Beatles anoraks…

Ringo turns up first at Twickenham with wife Maureen, to the surprise of Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who tells him that Neil (Aspinall – former roadie, then manager of Apple and, husband of former drummer, Pete Best’s mother, I know, right?) rang him to say that, following the disastrous meeting, none of the fabs would be in that day.

Then Macca and Linda turn up. John is called and he says he’ll be there in an hour.

In the time between that and John and Yoko turning up, the rest have a chat. What’s discussed is handy for us because, finally, the underlying problems that haven’t really been made explicit are made explicit. To an extent, although Jackson does add clarity by transcribing a “private” conversation between John and Paul a little later.

Still, at Twickenham, without John and Yoko, the talk is all about how George in particular has had it up to here with Yoko. Macca makes the astonishingly prescient statement that, “It’s going to be such an incredible, comical thing in 50 years time — they broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.”

It’s said incredulously, as if it’s a stupid thing to split up over. And it is, really. The point is though, that while Paul is presenting it as a minor thing, it evidently wasn’t to George. Not just sitting on an amp though – Macca’s being glib – it’s her continual presence and obliviously overbearing personality that George objected to.

Recently, there’s been a strong suggestion that blaming Yoko for The Beatles’ split was sexist, racist and stupid. It was certainly the consensus among people who weren’t there for many years. The reality is that, in 1969, when it had just happened, Paul blamed Yoko entirely. Because George must have said something, because they’re talking about it the morning after. Let’s not get carried away – Yoko didn’t split The Beatles up, but she sure as hell pissed George off, and then he walked out. There’s no denying that’s true, although there was more to it than that, as we’ll see.

Back at the impromptu Twickenham meeting though, Macca points out that if they give John an ultimatum – it’s Yoko or The Beatles, he’ll pick Yoko. Paul doesn’t have anything good to say about Yoko – not a single word – and he’s making it clear that he’s tolerating her presence because they need John, and they come as a package. Paul’s not keen either. However, as Macca also points out – this is what John always does – he throws himself completely into new people’s ways of life, he puts them on a pedestal – the Maharishi just being the previous one, for example. What Macca doesn’t say is that, following time on John’s pedestal, what always happens next is that John decides they are then the worst person in the world and then he rejects them completely. Paul’s playing the long game, as far as he’s concerned. He is, but with the benefit of hindsight, not long enough.

He’s right though. At that moment, Magic Alex was building a studio – apparently, although it doesn’t work out very well – at Apple. Magic Alex was on the pedestal, and soon, following the realisation that his studio doesn’t work, Alex is deposed from the pedestal and then he’s a load of unmagical shit. Allen Klein has yet to be mentioned at this point, but he’s not far off, and he’ll go exactly the same way as Maharishi and Magic Alex by 1975.

In fairness to The Beatles, they seem to realise that Magic Alex is a charlatan and they openly mock his useless inventions. It’s very much like they’re in on the joke, as opposed to being conned. They think he’s a dick, but worth keeping around for the stupid things he churns out.

Magic Alex Inventions advert 1969 – A Beatles penis enlarger, eh? I don’t even know if this is real, but I hope it is.

Macca’s suggesting that, if they just weather the Yoko storm, John’ll do what he always does, and get sick of her, and then he’ll be theirs again.

He suggests that Yoko’s only a problem if they make her a problem – which George clearly isn’t on board with.

Linda, who was obviously also at the meeting the previous evening, explicitly states that John “didn’t say a word“, and Yoko had plenty to say, which would have inevitably pissed George off even further. Perhaps John keeps schtum because Paul, George and Ringo won’t speak to her. Who knows?

That’s evidence of Yoko’s arrogance, isn’t it? A meeting between The Beatles about one of them quitting and Yoko has no doubt that her contribution was worthy of attention. It’s not that she’s Japanese or female, it’s that she’s not one of The Beatles. It’s none of her business, and she doesn’t recognise that. Yoko lacks self-awareness and social skills.

This meeting, without John, shows us that, as far as Paul’s concerned, George’s main problem was with Yoko. being there all the time, thinking she was one of The Beatles when she wasn’t.

John and Yoko turn up. Paul and John go for a “private” chat which Lindsay-Hogg secretly records the audio of, and the transcription appears onscreen, and the gist of it is this.

  1. John either doesn’t realise that George has a big problem with Yoko – he’s oblivious to it – or he chooses not to address it.
  2. As far as John’s concerned, the problem is that Paul – mainly, although him to a lesser extent – treats George like a lesser Beatle. Telling him what to play, not being interested in the songs he keeps presenting. Treating him like a kid, basically.

This meeting, without George or Ringo, shows us that, as far as John’s concerned, George’s main problem was with Paul running the show and turning the whole thing into a drag.

And, to his credit, Paul the diplomat, agrees with John and tells him that he understands and how he’ll make the effort to fix those things if George’ll come back.

Paul wants to keep The Beatles together. That’s what this is all about. Paul has compromised, and I strongly suspect he’ll have reflected on that moment later and wondered if he made the right decision. To be fair, he was cornered at that point, and when push came to shove, unlike John, he’d pick The Beatles over any individual.

John, let’s be honest, has vacillated between having a giggle – enjoying making Macca laugh – and he’s really been just going through the motions of playing and writing songs. He’s brought Don’t Let Me Down in, his new song. That’s about it. The previous year’s Everybody Had A Hard Year, only a snippet really, has been grafted onto Paul’s I’ve Got A Feeling. John has also suggested recording Across The Universe, which they’ve already recorded once the previous year, but weren’t happy with. John’s got one new song. George has got hundreds and John can’t really be arsed working on any of them. He’s openly mocked some of them. Paul’s got The Long and Winding Road, Let It Be, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, I’ve Got A Feeling, Get Back, and he’s shown playing nascent versions of Another Day and Back Seat of My Car, which he’ll record solo on Ram the following year. John’s not pulling his weight and Paul’s churning them out. John would complain about that later, viewing it as a power play by Paul, but to be fair to Paul, their contract stipulated a ludicrous quantity of original Beatles material every year, and he was one half of the main songwriting partnership. The other half couldn’t keep up with Paul’s output. Why?

John’s on heroin. John’s a bit sick of being in The Beatles, even though he realises he still needs them. John’s not great at arranging songs, but Paul is, and George can do a great job sometimes – She Said, She Said from 1966 is largely George’s arrangement – and it’s great. Macca walked out of that one, and George did a great job. Hmm. Ultimately, without a musical collaborator, John’s songs are a bit bare bones.

Look at Plastic Ono Band – held up as being wonderfully bleak and stark, matching the mood of the material. Yes, but all of John’s records would have sounded stark and bleak without someone more musical than he to arrange the instrumentation.

So, John’s sick of being in The Beatles, but he needs someone like Paul to make his songs more palatable. George is sick of being in The Beatles because nobody listens to anything he has to say, and they just shout at him and tell him what to play all the time. Paul recognises that they’re better together, but he doesn’t really need them as such. Not like they need him. Ringo’s Ringo. He wants them to get on.

Then they have another meeting at Ringo’s house, as we are again told via caption, and this one goes much better. John appears to have realised that he needed to speak for himself. Whether any of The Beatles’ wives or girlfriends were present, I don’t know, but the result was – to be relatively detailed – no live TV show, no foreign travel with hundreds of Beatles fans, less bossing George about if your name’s Paul, and no more recording at Twickenham. To be less detailed, they listened and acquiesced to George’s requests. Finally. Well, most of them. Evidently, Yoko’s presence was non-negotiable. The other thing that nobody talks about is that, at Twickenham, George played almost constantly through a wah-wah pedal, and at the Apple sessions, he never played through a wah-wah. I wonder if that was a concession that George had to make. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

And, when they move to Apple, everything’s instantly a thousand times better. I say “everything”, everything except Magic Alex’s recording studio, which doesn’t work. Paul now notably, and literally at times, bites his lip and makes virtually no suggestions as to how George should play the guitar, John speaks about George’s ongoing assault charge in France, defending George and commenting on Michael Housego, the journalist who writes that John and George had a physical fight at Twickenham – and it wasn’t the first one they’d had either. The Beatles discuss this and ask Derek Taylor, their press officer, about the possibility of suing Housego for printing lies. Derek shakes his head, but he might not have read the article properly.

Whether Housego had someone on the inside and George and John did have a fight, or whether he just made it up, the effect is that John is attentive towards George, at least on a personal level.

It’s a bit like after you have a row with someone you care about – for a while afterwards, you’re both on your best behaviour, showing the other that you’re sorry. And fair dos, eh? They obviously are sorry, and they obviously want to get on.

And then Billy Preston turns up. In the film Let It Be, he seems like a nice enough fellow and George always said how much better everyone played when he turned up, but in Jackson’s Get Back, you realise, Billy Preston makes everything a shitload better. They work on I’ve Got A Feeling, and his electric piano part makes all the difference. He’s filling the sound out, he makes it sound instantly more professional, and The Beatles really do up their game at this. They’re looking at one another as Billy drops in fiddly little fills with the ease that you or I would idly scratch our ears – and no wonder, Billy Preston makes all the difference. They were getting on better anyway – if a little bit on-our-best-behaviour-following-a-rowschtick, they’re dead pleased he’s there, but it’s musically where he becomes, to use a cliche, the glue that binds them together.

I say they love Billy being there, but actually, George and John love Billy being there, and Ringo loves everybody, but Paul looks slightly reticent. Paul’s The Beatles’ best player – certainly on bass, definitely on the piano, and probably on the guitar too. Billy’s doing stuff that Paul can’t on the electric piano though, and you’re left with the impression that maybe Paul wants The Beatles to do better than they have been, but maybe only if he’s the one making it better. George and John make positive comments: “You’re in the group“, says John, following their first run through I’ve Got A Feeling, and it cuts to Paul, looking dubious and nibbling his fingernail, as if shoving the nearest thing to hand in order to stop himself from blurting out whatever it is that’s going on in his head. John’s being quite casual as regards who can be in The Beatles. Paul’s into Billy playing with them at this session, but he’s not about to become one of The Fab Five anytime soon.

And then, as if to emphasise that nothing good can happen to The Beatles for any length of time in 1969, Peter Brown (…called to say, you can make it okay, you can get married in Gibraltar near Spain…) tells John that Allen Klein wants to meet him on Friday, and John puts him off until Monday. And, as that conversation is playing out, You Never Give Me Your Money rises out of your telly’s speakers, as if to make it absolutely explicit, that that’s a bad thing.

And it is. Paul knew it then, and John, George and Ringo didn’t, but they would by 1975. Anyway, he’ll keep, even though he ends up the real bad guy of the piece.

Anyway, the reason Billy Preston is around at all is only because he’s playing some television programme. The Beatles didn’t ask if he’d go and see them, he just called in because he was mates with them in Hamburg in 1960 – never mind George being kicked out for being 17, Billy Preston must have been 14 years old. That can’t be right, can it? Regardless, he just called in to Apple to say hello, and they asked him to play with them because they were doing it live and needed a keyboard player. He’s delighted, but he has commitments to play this television show over a few days, so he can’t go in every day. If you were in any doubt as to the effect his playing had on the other four, see what it’s like when he’s away – it sags notably. The mood’s fine, but they don’t gel musically, and they can tell.

On one of those Billy Prestonless days, John says that he’s the only one who wants to play a concert – as long as they just turn up and play, and that’s it. But nobody else seems to want that. Looking around, nobody dissents with John’s summary. Paul keeps his mouth shut, because what Paul wants is a big finale, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to get one.

At Twickenham, it was like this: Paul was going to make it work, and he was going to take charge, because if he didn’t, nobody else would and nothing would happen – which Paul thought was because Brian Epstein wasn’t around to tell them what to do, where, and when. Paul had little interest in George’s songs. John was off his tits and didn’t appear to have much interest in the whole thing, hadn’t written many songs and wasn’t interested in any of George’s songs or suggestions, or anything else much. George was writing loads of songs that neither John nor Paul gave a fuck about. Paul was running the show, and you could tell that he thought everything George played was crap and everything that George suggested was ignored. John, George’s big mate, barely looked at him now Yoko was there and openly mocked I, Me, Mine in front of his new girlfriend, Yoko.

George didn’t like Yoko being there for three main reasons:

1. John had stopped being his mate when he met her.

2. Yoko was acting like she had an equal voice among the four Beatles. “Beatles will do this, Beatles will do that,” George recited years later. As the most junior and un(der)valued Beatle, of course George was going to feel the most threatened at someone else muscling in – he was already bottom of the pile – Ringo was Ringo – Yoko was a bit of a threat to Paul, but she was a big threat to George. He especially didn’t like it at the meeting after he’d walked out and John sat silent, letting Yoko speak for him.

4. She sat on his amp. And ate one of his digestive biscuits without asking.

That was Twickenham. One of his stipulations for going back must have been that Paul would lay off him a bit, and they’d treat him more like an equal.

At Apple, Paul’s laying off almost entirely, and treading gingerly when he doesn’t -in general. George’s arrangement suggestions are listened to and sometimes attempted and praised. They record For You Blue, a very slight, lighter than his normal portentous and hectoring hymns that plodded sanctimoniously to whatever conclusion George had most recently reached about the nature of the universe, and had deigned to share with us, markedly less cosmic squares and breadheads. Anyhow, John makes the effort on the lap steel slide guitar, and he does a lovely pastiche, like he did a beautiful 1920s Jazzy guitar solo on Paul’s Honey Pie, from The White Album.

Back to John’s speech. As a result of Paul being told to back off, or they’re splitting up, John and George have seemed much happier. John almost ridiculously so at Apple. He’s having a wonderful time now Paul’s back in his box. George too. Ringo’s Ringo. And John makes it explicit. “What are you trying to make a show of now?” he asks Paul, pointedly. All eyes on Paul. Now instead of Paul running the show, the other three seem united. Paul looks uncomfortable at being in the spotlight not on his terms. “I can’t answer that,” he replies, squirming. George suggests that everything they’ve ever done has just sort of happened, and they should go along with whatever the cosmos has lined up for them. He doesn’t say that in so many words, but he that’s what he means. Paul’s physically rocking and stroking his beard. He’s struggling at this point. His big finale isn’t going to happen unless someone sets one up, and he’s not allowed.

Then, talking about him like he’s not there, John says, “See, it’s turned out it’s not what Paul wants. It’s like, if it’s his number, this whole show – it’s actually turned into our number more than his number.” Paul’s sitting, legs crossed, arms folded over the acoustic guitar in front of him, chewing his lip. He feels attacked. He’s been deposed as leader and John’s telling the other two that’s what’s happened, talking about Paul like he’s not there, and Paul fucking hates it.

Paul said previously about, but not to, John that one of them would have to make a compromise to show good willing so that the other would too – meaning him and John. Paul was the big man about it and compromised, and John and George took over and weren’t magnanimous about it in the slightest. Because how could they be? What they wanted was a group effort, and what Paul wanted was him running the show. It’s one or the other, isn’t it? You can’t compromise on that, and Paul, presumably, hadn’t realised. But John’s rubbing his nose in it now, being cutting like he used to be now he’s got the reins again.

I know, it is majority decisions and all that…” Paul mumbles, evidently not entirely in favour of that sort of thing due to not getting his big final scene and who knows what else?

John continues to talk about playing a low key live set of to camera performances and Paul’s not listening, he’s deep in thought. Billy Preston later had an album out on Apple records called That’s The Way God Planned It. I don’t know exactly what that is referring to, but Get Back sure as hell wasn’t going the way Paul planned it.

They’re talking about how to present the songs in their final form for the movie. John’s suggestion that they sing them to camera – like pop videos, but played live at Apple – will be accepted. Moreover, his wish that they play live without fuss will also be what happens, proving that, against all odds from day one in January 1969, Let It Be was the John show. Even though he didn’t write most of the songs, it happened the way he wanted it to, because he and George made Paul compromise. On the other hand, playing on The Apple roof works for Paul’s big finale idea too. A compromise has been reached, but it’s mainly Paul who’s given in. John and George have dug their heels in, but Paul can live with the result. The majority rule worked in the end, despite it being a drag for all concerned. In a way, George was right – it just worked out alright in the end without any guiding hand other than that of the universe. Hare fucking Krishna? Too right.

And that’s where Allen Klein needs to get a mention. By 1969, even John couldn’t compete with Paul’s leadership. John needed Paul for his songs, but Paul didn’t need him. However, what John and George could do was to go on strike, which George literally did, and John just ineffectively and passively-aggressively went through the motions at Twickenham. They took power – because Ringo didn’t count – and The Beatles’ majority vote, that Paul refers to with regret in his voice before he turns off altogether, became more firmly established.

John went with Allen Klein after he charmed and flattered both him and Yoko. John signed with Klein, without consulting the other three. George, wanting to keep in with John, because with him he was treated better – they were getting on better now, signed too, and Ringo went with them because that’s where the power was.

Paul didn’t want to sign with Klein because he wanted his brother and father in law to be to manage them. And, he reasoned, what about the majority decision thing? And you can’t blame him, can you?

Paul gave an inch in the spirit of compromise, and John and George took a mile. That’s Paul’s perspective, and you can see where he’s coming from. He was right about Klein, but he was daft to suggest the Eastmans as an alternative, but when they’d already signed with Klein, he’d have been equally daft to go with anyone else, as the Eastmans were practically family, and he was on his own in The Beatles now.

And that’s why he left. It wasn’t Yoko really, like Paul said it wasn’t. But, as the straw that broke George’s camel’s back and lead him to add her as a reason why he was going on strike, Yoko’s unwelcome presence – for at least two of them – worked to John’s advantage in getting George on his side.

At the end of Part 2 of Get Back, they’re running through Let It Be, but it’s still not happening without Billy Preston. Paul flags and suggests that they call it a day and try again tomorrow. John’s response is as clear an indication as any that he’s in charge now, even though he’s playing the bass, and it’s a Paul song they’re working on by saying, “I’m just trying to get the group working, you know, like every day.”

Paul replies, “I know, but office hours,” and laughs. The roles have been reversed. At Twickenham, John was going through the motions and George went on strike for better conditions. Now, at Apple, Paul‘s working to rule under the new boss.

John responds, “Yes, Paul, you have to be strict. Some discipline. Get a shave, get your fucking hair cut, you know?” Yoko laughs. He’s joking about being the boss, but he is.

By the end of Part 2, they’ve agreed to play on the roof, which is a compromise – Paul views it as a win for him and his big finale idea, John and George view it as a win for them because they don’t have to travel and they don’t have to get screamed at by fans. It’s going to happen four days from then.

Get Back – Part 3

At the start, we see that George and Ringo are the only Fabs present to start with. Ringo plays what he has of Octopus’s Garden for George, which consists of the first verse. George immediately goes over to the piano where Ringo’s playing and shows him where to go next. George Martin pays attention, John and Yoko turn up and John joins in on the drums. It starts taking shape – and it’s due to George helping Ringo to write it.

Paul arrives with Linda and Heather McCartney, and it’s one of the loveliest parts of the whole Beatles saga, watching them larking around with a seven year old little girl. Heather announces to George that, “I’m a tame tiger – rrrr!” and George says, “I’m cool with that.

Heather tells John that “We’ve got some kittens that are only that big,” to which John replies – maintaining Heather’s game of being a tiger – “Are you going to eat them?” Heather says, “No!” And John says, “Lots of people do, you know?” Being daft, isn’t he? Playing. It’s nice. Heather tells him off, “You can’t be eating kittens. They’ve just been born yesterday,” while rolling around on the studio floor.

Paul joins in with, “On toast?

John runs with the joke, “You put pastry around them and you have cat pie.

Heather repeats how young they are, and John adds, “Well, you’d better wait a week or two before you eat them, then.

Heather assures the Fabs that she’s “never gonna eat them.

John tells her, “That’s very good,” before Ringo joins in with, “We’ll put the meat on then.

Heather, evidently very taken with the new kittens, tells John that one of them is “Very beautiful… with a big black spot there.” and John says, “Oh, you don’t eat them if they have black spots.”

It’s not earth shattering, but it’s really nice – The Beatles being daft with a little girl. I’d expect nothing less.

Billy’s back – which augurs well for the day – and Heather is still larking around as they’re recording Let It Be, trying Ringo’s coat on, lying around in front of George before his guitar solo, Ringo pretends to jump when she hits a drum as he’s having a fag, and he makes her laugh. He even gives her a couple of drum brushes to join in on his hi-hat as they’re playing. It’s dead sweet. She ends up joining in with the singing.

At the playback in the console, John’s taking charge again, telling Paul how he should end the song, with a big Elvis gospel thing.

They have another go at it, and Paul tells Ringo to play lighter, and he’s alright about it, but there’s an slight suggestion in his eyes of, “Here he goes again...”

John lightens the mood by singing about a cat to the tune of Let It Be for Heather’s benefit, who joins in with the game by making up her own improvised little verse. She’s having a right laugh, which nobody ever accused Yoko of doing at Beatles sessions.

Speaking of whom, Yoko then does a bit of her wailing over a jam, and Heather, bless her little tame tiger socks, sits with John, takes his microphone and does an impression of Yoko’s wailing with the absolute best look on a seven year old girl’s face that you’ve ever seen. She knows what she’s doing – she’s taking the piss out of a grown up who does stupid things, and she looks around to see how the others react to it.

John exclaims, “Yoko!

Heather and Ringo larking about. Beautiful.

But, as kids often do, she keeps doing it which has the dual effect of making you think first, yeah, alright, it was funny for a bit, but now it’s annoying, and second, if it’s annoying when a seven year old does it for more than about thirty seconds, how annoying is it when a grown adult does it over an entire career?

Finally, the wailing stops – the seven year old’s and the grown woman’s – and Heather dances around and is thrown into the air and caught by Paul as they listen to the playback of Dig It – a slight jam, but I quite like it.

Following Dig It, George Martin gently suggests that they get on with it and asks what they haven’t done yet. John calls out Blue Suede Shoes, and they have a ball playing it – all of them – as it morphs into Shake, Rattle & Roll. Paul slips into a lounge version of The Long And Winding Road before guiding them through that more seriously. He’s being careful. John’s still in messing about mode, and his bass playing on The Long And Winding Road is fucking dire. The others are getting serious, but John’s using his new powers of command to arse about. Paul doesn’t pick him up on it, but he does tell him how to play the bass, and John takes it – to an extent, claiming that’s what he has been doing all along. He hasn’t.

It’s considered for a final take, and Paul’s non-committal about whether he wants strings on it – he dislikes Phil Spector’s lounge strings and had Let It Be remixed and the Spectorisms removed from it. You don’t hear about Let It Be… Naked, much these days, do you? I thought it was alright in some ways – it should have Don’t Let Me Down on the album, at least. Anyway, Paul’s just doing what John did at Twickenham now. George Martin’s there, and he’s producing. He’s not credited, but as they’re talking about making The Long And Winding Road sound like Ray Charles, which it doesn’t. But maybe that’s Phil Spector for you.

It’s all jolly japes to start with the next day, too. John leads them through a load of rock ‘n’ roll classics, and they’re sort of alright. They’re enjoying themselves, that’s what’s happening, but what they’re actually enjoying is nostalgia for what they were like ten years previously. They’re getting back alright, and they’re letting it be. With John running the show, less work gets done but they have a better time. Paul wants a good time, but he’s there to get the job done. The other three aren’t bothered – they’re The Beatles, why shouldn’t you enjoy yourselves when you’ve made it to the extent that they have? You can’t work all the time. But Paul’s in a relationship with Linda, along with her child Heather is his new family. Paul messes about with them for fun, and makes music for his job – it’s art too, of course, and it’s great, but you still need to work at it is Paul’s philosophy, and he’s got a point.

George shows himself to be a keen student, talking to Lennon about some songwriting advice he’d given George – George showing he did as he was told. He asks Billy Preston about a piano chord. Now he feels more valued, George is relaxed enough to admit gaps in his knowledge in order to learn from the best: John for songwriting, Billy Preston for piano. Notably, George passes wisdom onto Ringo when he writes Octopus’s Garden for him. Even more notably, in terms of what doesn’t happen being as important as what does happen, is that George pointedly doesn’t ask Paul for any help.

Paul and Linda are off home, and as they get ready, Linda talks about Heather’s eating patterns. Heather starts to speak, and Paul butts in, “You’re just going back in your box, that’s where you’re going.” to much laughter from all present. It’s a nice moment, and one that many people would be wary of making in these twitchy times. Mind you, while Heather wouldn’t get out into a box when nobody was looking, that’s exactly what John and George have done to Paul while nobody was looking into the Apple basement. Metaphorically.

George is having a good go at Old Brown Shoe on the piano, and he’s tentative, but you can see he’s more or less got it, apart from not being a great piano player and not having quite finished writing it. Paul watches, and he’s into it – or he’s making the effort to show that he’s into it at least. And George doesn’t even acknowledge that Paul’s there as he asks Billy Preston about a piano chord. Paul, the recent victim of a passive-aggressive-mirrored-ignoring skulks off and awkwardly clambers over some equipment, presumably wondering why George wants to learn from everybody except him. Paul couldn’t do right for doing wrong, as far as George was concerned.

That’s not terribly cosmic of George, now, is it? Hare fucking Krishna, eh? Yeah…

Paul starts playing the drums with brushes and George smiles. Paul’s his drummer now, not his songwriting partner. Paul really wanted to keep The Beatles together.

Later, Ringo gets on the drums and Paul plays George’s guitar. Upside down, mind. It falls apart and Paul offers encouragement about the parts that do work – you have to hand it to him, you really do. George is stuck on where to go on the piano and Paul’s suggestion is cut short by George, talking to himself about what he’s trying to do. Songwriting advice from Paul McCartney? Not welcome, apparently. George doesn’t want Paul in his and John’s little gang.

At the end, George has enjoyed playing with Paul, as long as Paul knows his place. He says, “Pianos are difficult, aren’t they?” We’re equals, you’re not my teacher. That’s what George is saying.

Billy Preston adds the great organ part on Let It Be that goes into George’s solo, and looks at Paul for approval of his beautiful little addition. Paul comments in a Yorkshire accent, “Cause coming from the north of England, it doesn’t come too easy, you know, all the soul.” He’s either thick skinned or enormously patient with passive aggressive guitar players called George.

Paul comments that the ballads are “plodding a bit“, and that’s sort of a metaphor for what’s going on in general as far as the lively McCartney’s concerned. There’s a lot of fannying about. They don’t have long, and they’re fucking around a bit.

But he’s stuck. He doesn’t know what to do about it and this time, he’s asking the others for help. And he’s faced with silent, stony faces. John, in particular, doesn’t give a fuck. George tells him, “It’s nice though,” as Macca stares at the ceiling, presumably wondering what the fucking hell he’s supposed to do to make John and George let him join their gang? That’s what it is, John froze him out sometimes, when he felt like it.

I give up,” Paul says, and slumps back on his chair at the piano. And he doesn’t just mean on the ballads. He means fuck this for a game of soldiers. He’s doing his best and now he’s being treated like George Harrison was at Twickenham. They just can’t play nice, those four, can they? George might call it karma, but karma just happens, doesn’t it? If it does. This isn’t just happening, this is George being an ungracious twat. This is tit-for-tat.

Then they complain about the PA, and John blames his mood on that. George Martin tells him to turn his bass down, and John says he can’t hear himself and should he just guess what he’s playing? George Martin’s come in and taken charge, which means sorting John out, and John doesn’t like it so brings up a complaint of his own to distract attention from George Martin telling him what to do.

George Martin – knew what he was doing, frankly. Handsome chap, isn’t he?

While John is making demands for a PA to be attached to the ceiling and he doesn’t even know who to tell to get that done, the poor lamb – he’s having a right strop, and George Martin placates him saying he’ll look into it, but he won’t. George Martin knew what he was doing alright. And Paul, playing politics, sides with John, saying it is the PA that’s the problem. The PA isn’t the problem, but Paul’s siding with Lennon over Martin is yet another attempt to gain admission to John and George’s gang.

Following that, they start playing a little bit more nicely. For a bit.

They have a go at Oh! Darling, Paul’s song, and John messes about during it before announcing with glee that Yoko’s divorce has just come through and makes up lyrics about that during the next run through.

Don’t Let Me Down is played much more seriously than Paul’s song. Then the papers arrive and they stop to read an article about John announcing his love for Yoko. Paul reads it aloud, encouraging John to believe that he’s the sort of person you’d want as a friend – he laughs at his jokes. Honestly, he’s doing his best.

Then Paul plays and sings Strawberry Fields Forever – a John song – on the piano in a slow, stately, reverent version. As if to admire its wondrousness- and it’s a fucking great record – but in front of John. Did I mention that Paul’s doing his best? He’s laying it on pretty thick here. John barely looks in Paul’s direction, let alone comments on it.

Next, they try to record Get Back properly, and what it demonstrates is enormously significant in the day’s bullying of Paul – because that’s what it is.

John says, “Sweet Loretta Fart, she thought she was a cleaner, but she was a frying pan“, ribbing Paul’s lyrics to Get Back, but he says them to George, who laughs at John, and Paul’s not included in their private joke about Paul’s song. And it’s not very funny. George is playing hanger on – a winnet – to John’s playground bully, and it’s unedifying. Paul looks nervous. Shaken to the core, really. They’re picking on him, and everyone knows it.

George counts it in…yeah… Eh? Why is George counting Paul’s song in? They start to play and George and John are exchanging glances and smiling at each other. They might say they’re smiling at playing a great Paul song, but I don’t think that’s what they’re doing. They’re picking on Paul, and they’re doing it passively aggressively, like Mean Girls. It’s Wednesday, and George is wearing pink trousers. A coincidence? Well, maybe. The Beatles invented everything, didn’t they? 😉

Paul calls the take to a halt, suggesting the timing was off a bit fast- a slight retaliatory dig at George, who is counting Paul’s song in, remember – that’s a bit odd, isn’t it? George has taken a little bit of power from Paul – setting the tempo, Paul’s not happy about it and makes them do it again.

George counts them in again, they get to the first line and Paul stops it again – too slow this time. They go again. John comments, “It’s picking up speed I think” – suggesting they’re speeding up as it goes along. and then demonstrates how fast he’s having to play the guitar solo. They go again.

It stops, and John plays and sings an exaggeratedly slow version of Get Back, messing about again, and Paul puts his foot down as gently as it’s possible to. “All right, boy. All right, John. I’ve gotta call order, John,” Paul’s asking permission to ask if John will play properly now. “Valuable time here, son.” Paul’s joking, but not really. He values the craft, and John’s mucking about. Remembering that he’s trying to get in with John, Paul starts messing about singing Take These Chains From My Heart to the tune of I’ve Got A Feeling with the others. Glyn Johns – producer and wearer of the craziest clothes in the films, even with George’s ludicrous ensembles, but they both look great – comes over the intercom and asks, “You do realise this tape is costing you two shillings a foot?

John and George both pipe up with a comment to the effect that it’s EMI who are paying for it, showing exactly how much they understand about the recording industry – which is nothing by the sounds of it, because recording costs are recoupable, meaning the artist pays for it all in the end. George and John don’t realise that and aren’t in the mood to have their contract explained to them by an uppity young producer and engineer. Glyn Johns just laughs.

They decide to keep going with Get Back. George Martin suggests they try something else in order to avoid “going stale” on Get Back.

John demures, and in solidarity – yet another doomed attempt to ingratiate himself with John and George’s gang, Paul agrees with John. He’s sticking to the rules – The Fab Four stick together.

Roadie and general dogsbody Mal “organ” Evans (as credited on the back of Rubber Soul) comes through to the band area and suggests to Paul, “You can always go back to it.” And that’s what I was getting at at the very start of this essay – when Slim turns on Curley, all the other ranch hands turn on him too. Mal “organ” Evans, the roadie is now telling Paul what to do. Poor Paul.

Paul doesn’t have to take it from him though, and treats him like Curley treats Lennie – at last, he’s found someone who he can dominate. “Do you want your head kicked in?” He asks Mal.

Mal “Organ” Evans – not about to get his head kicked in. Dogsbody. He had a bad time, post Beatles. He had an episode, shall we say, that culminated in him getting shot by the police and his ashes getting lost in an airport, never to be found again. Poor Mal.

You know what I mean though,” replies Mal, evidently not remotely concerned at the prospect of Paul kicking his head in, and laughs at him.

Paul asks if they want to do it once more, and John impatiently tells him, “Yes, yes.”

Paul gets them together with a camp voice and they’re off again, and it drags. They go again, now it’s far too fast. They’ve totally lost it now.

Again, George Martin suggests they try something else, and again John shows he’s the boss by saying that they’re sticking with it. It doesn’t seem like the best idea. They keep going. And going. Because John says so, and what John says, goes.

George counts in take five million, and it’s great, except John louses up the guitar solo. It all has to be done live for the conceit of Getting Back. It’s draining on them.

And then, finally, they get it, and John and Paul chat as Yoko literally grooms John’s hair, like Heather had before. Except Heather’s seven and Yoko’s getting on for 40. Physically, if not emotionally.

Before going into I’ve Got A Feeling, they decide to tune up to Billy’s electric piano, well George and John do. Paul doesn’t. A man has to have his pride, and if Paul is anything, he’s in tune.

First take, and Glyn Johns stops them. Paul’s “bass is slightly out of tune.” And George and John laugh their tits off because now even Paul’s legendary ears are being called into question. Paul looks like he’s trying not to cry, bless him. He’s having one shitty day.

They start again. Paul’s alright, but his singing isn’t what it could be. John’s alright, Ringo’s alright, Billy Preston’s great, and George isn’t doing a great job. He’s sloppy on this one. John then sings his part like he’s recently had a tracheotomy. Nobody says anything to George or John about their sloppiness.

They listen back to it in the control room and Paul opens up. “I don’t feel as if I’m singing it any good.” And he’s not. And the reason he’s not is because his confidence is completely shot. He’s been on the receiving end of George’s and John’s bitchy, infantile little digs all day, and they won’t let him in, no matter how hard he tries.

Glyn Johns realises what’s going on and, using classic non-verbal communication, crouches down to face Paul and tell him, “It’s because you’re standing up.” It’s not because he’s standing up, but Johns is giving Paul an out, as they say. A convenient excuse. Johns knows what’s been going on, and he knows Paul needs a bit of TLC, so he massages his ego. It’s one of the things producers do, and Glyn Johns wants to work with The Beatles. If he makes an ally of Paul now that he’s the outcast, it would do no harm, plus, he might make his reputation on this album. He doesn’t.

Paul doesn’t really go for it though. He doesn’t want Glyn Johns to give him love, he wants John to love him. Or even George. And John’s not even there. “Maybe,” says Paul, dejectedly.

You should sit down. Enjoy yourself,” recommends Johns kindly, and Paul appreciates it, but he doesn’t leave it. “Maybe, it just feels like today…” and he leaves the thought unspoken, because what it feels like today is that George and John have been bullying him and everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong, and nothing Glynn Johns can say makes any difference, because only the four Beatles can do anything about this, and the two in question don’t want to.

John Lennon (left), and Glyn Johns, wearing just one of his, frankly astonishing, 1969 coats.

Paul talks to George Martin about the two slow ones, “Mother Mary and…Brother Jesus” he calls them, mocking his own songs before George or John get in first. He’s struggling, but he gets a laugh that far exceeds how funny it actually is, but that’s because everyone there knows that John and George have put Paul through the mill today, and they’re trying to cheer him up by ostentatiously laughing at his crap jokes now the chief bully’s gone home with his new girlfriend. And Paul knows it.

Glyn keeps trying to do the producer thing and reassure Paul that the version of The Long And Winding Road they’ve got in the can is “okay.”

George Martin, the old hand who knows how to deal with the boys, recognises what Johns is doing, and approves. “He’s so good for your morale, this boy,” Martin says in an avuncular manner. This is Johns’ gig, and George is happy helping, but the pressure’s off him – he’s refused to really be involved because even he’s sick of dealing with this lot, and he’s well practised and good at it.

It’s in the open now. Paul’s been put through the mill today and he’s had enough.

Paul mentions that he and John both have separate engagements tomorrow at 1:30pm, but they’ll be back at 3pm.

Ringo puts his arm around Paul because he’s realised that Paul’s suffered enough, and he’s kind, Ringo. He asks Paul what his meeting is, and Paul evades it by saying, “I’m meeting a fella.

With John gone, George offers an olive branch to Paul by checking what time he wants him into the studio. And that’s it for Paul’s harrowing day. John and George have ganged up on Paul and been mean to him all day, when all he wanted was a bit of love. Yeah, alright, he was a pain in the arse at Twickenham, but he realised that and did something about it. George has sort of realised that he’s gone a bit far and made some noises to indicate that Paul gets a say in when they start, Ringo’s given him a cuddle, but John’s buggered off, and he was the ringleader.

Next day, George Martin and Lindsay-Hogg start off trying to work out what they’re going to play on the roof. Paul asks what it is that they’re actually doing – are they just recording another album? John, making sure he’s keeping George sweet, points out that he wants them to one of George’s songs for the first batch – John’s sticking to his deal with George, because he needs him if he’s going to be in charge. George plays a nascent version of Something, and it’s not quite there yet, but it’s not too far off. He’s not got the lyrics yet, and today, in total contrast to yesterday, George pointedly asks, “What could it be, Paul, “something in the way she moves, attract me like a...?”” And it’s as if John doesn’t like that and butts in with, “Just say whatever comes into your head each time. “Attracts me like a cauliflower,” until you get the word, you know?” Paul’s been directly asked, and John won’t let him answer. John’s carrying on from yesterday, but George is making the effort. George teaches John the chords and Yoko looks bored out of her skull, legs crossed away from John and George, eyes to the floor. She’s not happy at George and John’s new gang. John’s finding the chords a bit complicated, and there are some complicated changes in Something, and you can see him losing interest as he fails to get it.

Recognising that, George suggests they do a new version of Love Me Do – one that John will be able to join in with – and they mess about with that for a while, but it’s boring. Then it’s 1:30pm and Paul has his meeting to go to.

Evidently, Paul expects that the rest of them won’t – can’t – continue without him, and anyway, John had a meeting at the same time with someone else, but that doesn’t appear to be happening now. Bemused, Paul leaves as the other three plus Billy Preston continue. They only messed about when George walked out because there’d have been no point without him, but they’re going to keep going without him? What?

John tries singing Paul’s parts on I’ve Got A Feeling, but it doesn’t really work. George tries something new on the guitar, but it’s not great. John gets George to play a different way – with no complaint from George, in contrast to how Paul’s similar suggestion went down at Twickenham. It’s not going very well. They can’t really do it without Paul. John’s taking charge, George explains how it goes to John, who obviously doesn’t know.

Then John starts to tell George about how he met with Allen Klein the previous night. He tells George that he doesn’t want to talk about it with Paul not being there, but he can’t help himself. He’s totally fallen for Klein’s flatter patter – John’s a genius and Klein can give him all the money there is, basically. Oh, and Yoko too. Klein’s done his homework alright. Klein’s going to put Yoko’s art on display where it belongs – and he means a fancy gallery, not in the corner of an exhibit about things that people only care about because they have some tenuous relationship with the great art of The Beatles. John says he’s going to get Klein to represent him, at least, but that the others should meet him because he’s fantastic. Like Maharishi was. And Magic Alex.

But George doesn’t seem very interested. “He knows me as much as you do,” John tells George, his close mate for the past eleven years, about the man he first met last night. John is supremely unaware about some things. Totally self-absorbed. He doesn’t realise that he’s only just joined forces with George over shared experience, and now he’s belittling that because he’s found his latest guru. Always on the lookout to trade up, is John.

Realising that getting George on board would strengthen his position, John tells George about Klein’s plan to release a book, film and album of The Rolling Stones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus – that John and Yoko appeared on – and give all the proceeds to the starving in Biafra, which would chime with George’s charitable attitude to third world countries, and Africa’s a bit like India, surely(!).

It’s dramatic irony, isn’t it? We know that Klein didn’t do any such thing. The Rock n Roll Circus would remain unreleased until the 21st century because The Who blew The Stones offstage and The Stones didn’t want anyone to see that, so they kept it under wraps, and the Biafran people continued to not benefit from Allen Klein’s non-existent charity. Allen Klein was about the least charitable person in the world, but it was the sort of thing that would go down with Lennon, and Lennon thought it’d appeal to George too. George doesn’t look remotely convinced.

Lennon leaves it and wants to go through more of his own songs, but they do George’s Old Brown Shoe instead. George interrupts it to send someone out to get some black slip on size 8s from a shoe shop. They have another go, and someone brings out a stylophone and they try playing Old Brown Shoe on that instead while he waits for his new black shoes.

What Peter Jackson is subtly doing here is showing us that when Paul’s away, the others are unfocused, easily distracted, or playing power games, in terms of bending ears about Allen Klein while Paul is away. It’s all there, but nobody’s coughing and pointing.

George Martin sarcastically comments that they deserve a prize for their stylophone version of Old Brown Shoe, and the message is that they might not like it when Paul takes charge, but when he doesn’t, they end up pissing about and getting nowhere. With stylophones…

Paul comes back, and they work on Don’t Let Me Down. John tells George to get on with it. George Martin suggests they all tune up, which Paul flatly dismisses. John references Bob Wooler, a Liverpool DJ he beat up in the early days of Beatlemania for suggesting that John and Brian Epstein had a gay love affair. “Peace on Earth?” mocks John, who will make a tour of posh hotels later that year, having public Bed-Ins for world peace…

Then they get it, pretty much straight away now Paul’s back. Jackson’s playing with the timescale ever so slightly, but the message is there – things get done when Paul’s there, and they don’t when he’s not.

Paul’s feeling a bit better today, then John announces that Allen Klein’s here, and they go to meet him. End of the day.

The next day, Ringo talks to John and Yoko about what they should do that day, and then asks how much longer they stayed with Klein after he left last night. John says until about half midnight. Glyn asks if he’s met him before, and John tells him he had. Glyn Johns is tentative, and he evidently doesn’t want to overstep the mark, but he’s not convinced about Allen Klein, subtly suggesting that he talks to lesser people than The Beatles in a horrible way, and that his own dealings with him have left a bad taste in his mouth. He’s warning Lennon not to trust Klein because he’s a cunt, but Lennon’s already smitten, and the results would be disastrous. With Lennon, either you’re fantastic or you’re a dick, there’s no in-between in the black and white world of Lennon. “He’s really very strange. He’s very clever.” Johns backhandedly compliments Klein.

Allen Klein: nice (pipe) rack. As seen in Get Back. His pipe rack, I mean. Now on Disney+, folks.

A conman who’s on our side for a change,” says Ringo, suggesting they know what Klein’s like, but that he won’t rip them off because they’re The Beatles. Suggesting that, like John and George’s ignorance of who pays for studio tapes, Ringo doesn’t really understand how music business sharks work either.

They’re all talking to Lindsay-Hogg about how best to present the songs they’ve been working on and Ringo makes the most pertinent comment of all of them by breaking wind and announcing, “I’ve farted. I just thought I’d let you know. I was going to sit here silent and look at you. Then I thought, no, I’ll tell you about it.” And, in a way, even though it’s funny, it’s a metaphor for the whole fucking thing. Someone drops a smelly fart and keeps quiet so someone else gets the blame. Except it’s Ringo, and he decides to come clean. If only the others could do the same in terms of their toxic relationships, eh? Ah well.

Paul, as he does, ignores the stink, and wants to know what the big end of the film is going to be. Paul doesn’t just want to do another album, but John, the leader tells him, “But albums is what we’re doing.” Paul’s looking to get a bit of control back, for their own good, and John won’t have any of it. John tells Paul how it’s going to be. Paul wants to take charge again and do a big show, and John’s not having it. John wants to play on the roof, and Paul thinks it’s a damp squib.

John does that thing that crap managers always do and says, “What’s your practical answer?” Meaning, don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions. But Paul’s already come with solutions – a cruise ship, a Roman amphitheatre in Africa, The Roundhouse – and they’ve all been turned down. John wants to be the boss and he’s fucking hopeless. And it’s someone else’s fault, naturally.

Paul tells them they need to make a group decision, and they can’t because John’s in charge and he doesn’t have any ideas and he can’t go with anyone else’s because that’s mean they’d be in charge. Paul has plenty of ideas, but nobody else will let him run the show because he makes them work harder than they want to.

Finally, Paul tells them straight, “Now I know how to get this TV show together in about a week, but I can[‘t do it with you. I can’t produce you.” Because they won’t let him.

John replies, “‘Because we don’t allow it, you know. We don’t allow people to come and say, ‘You do that.'”

Unless it’s John, George and Ringo telling Paul “You do that” in terms of signing with Allen Klein, of course. Unless it’s John telling everyone else what to do. Paul’s not “people“, Paul’s the driving force behind The Beatles. And now John’s in charge, he’s not going to give it back to Paul.”

Get Back? It’s that alright. The Beatles are getting back to having John in charge, that’s what they Got Back to.

If George wants to think we’re making a record, and if you want to think we’re rehearsing, it makes no odds,” John says. Too right. It makes no odds because it’s what John thinks that matters, and only that.

Next day is the last day. They’re going on the roof, and I’m not going into that really, except to say that you see the gang being a proper gang at last there. In front of the public, not wanting to balls it up, they’re together again without any bitching or sniping because that’s how they do it – they’re back to being the Fab Four at last. Mates from Liverpool – and they are – and they’re doing this now, and they do their best while they’re in public. The only thing I will comment on is how desperate they were to get arrested at the end. They’d played all their songs, it was fucking freezing on the roof in January, they were spent, and all they wanted was for the coppers to drag them away, kicking and screaming. And the coppers, perhaps due to not generally getting involved in the sorts of power playing games that you’d normally associate with 14 year olds, deal with it without resorting to making a fuss – which The Beatles were annoyed about. The Beatles played games with each other, but the coppers weren’t getting involved in that petty sort of crap. I don’t have much good to say about the police on the whole, but they did well not to get involved with that shit.

The Beatles on the roof at their Savile Row building. Nice mint green pants on George.

The reality was that when Paul ran the show, George got ignored and John lost interest because Paul knew best and they had to do what he said about every last little thing, like being back at school. When John ran the show, there was less graft, George had more attention paid to him, and together they picked on Paul, like being back at school, except behind the bike sheds instead of in Mr McCartney’s classroom.

The four of them never really made it out of school in some ways. Not musically, naturally, but emotionally, definitely.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because Let It Be and Get Back both don’t show a group splitting up, mainly because they don’t split up in January 1969. Let It Be came out a month after Paul announced the split, and that’s what it’s associated with. They split up after Abbey Road.

Abbey Road tends to be viewed as a bit of a “let’s get the old gang back together for one last album and then split up on a high note after all that horrible Let It Be thing where we split up,”, as per Lennon’s quote at the top of this, and there aren’t really any signs that that’s true. Certainly, if we’re now accepting the new version of events, which was that Let It Be was a really happy session, then the story about, “Let’s do a proper last album before we split up,” narrative that was still being peddled on the Anthology series now looks like a crock. The Beatles want to write their own history, but they can’t make their minds up what they want it to be. Revisionism comes with its own problems, evidently.

There’s a recording of a meeting after the release of Abbey Road in which John’s talking about them going back to the studio to record another album. They split up after Abbey Road, but not because they already had really and were just pretending for a bit so we could have some lovely, non-preachy or whiny (except for the middle 8 in Something) George Harrison songs for a change. They split up because Paul said they’d split up. Paul split The Beatles up because they broke the rule of veto – if just one of them didn’t like it, they wouldn’t do it. And they signed Klein to run Apple, Paul vetoed it, and they did it anyway.

As far as Paul was concerned, the other three had broken what The Beatles were all about, and it was unforgivable. He didn’t say “The Beatles have split up.” He said he couldn’t imagine working with them again. And fair dos, that was why The Beatles split up, Paul said so.

That was what forced it, but it wouldn’t have happened had he not tried to keep them together by ceding power to John, with the help of George. It would have happened sooner.

What it was, was that Paul wanted to run The Beatles, and John and George didn’t want that. Furthermore, George would have liked to have run the show, but John was never going to let him. George was useful to have on his side, but John was always going to be calling the shots. The trouble was, John didn’t really have much in the way of things that The Beatles could or should do. He just didn’t want Paul running it.

John, famously, said that he wrote songs about “me“. In contrast to Paul’s “boring songs about boring people doing boring things“. John was mainly interested in John. He was keen on working on his own songs, and sometimes he’d get into others’ – his guitar break on the song Get Back is great. But look at Plastic Ono Band and Imagine. They’re both all about him. They’re very personal songs. I mean, Oh, Yoko! wasn’t going to get written by anyone else, was it? Mother? The Beatles could have done them, but it would have been odd – they’re both very solo albums, whereas something like George’s All Things Must Pass isn’t.

Paul left The Beatles because he was in a crappy position: he was bringing most of the songs in, doing most of the arranging, and John had the final say on what would happen. Paul was the creative force, and John called the shots. He might as well have gone solo, mightn’t he? Abbey Road wouldn’t have happened at all, had it been up to John. John’s best song on that, Come Together, is great because of its swampy groove – and that’s entirely down to Paul. It might have been interesting if George had more control, but Something, Here Comes The Sun and, realistically, most of Octopus’s Garden are down to him – so it’s his best return since Revolver, when he last had a bit more sway, including arranging She Said, She Said after Paul flounced out of the studio for not getting his own way, presumably. Some good bass playing by George on that too. It’s one of my favourites – it sounds great. But, mainly, Abbey Road is a Paul album because, once he’d won the battle for dominance, John wasn’t really interested in doing anything with it. John liked to say that the first side of Abbey Road was all him and the medley on side 2 was Paul’s, but that’s nonsense. Almost all of all of it was Paul’s, including the best bits of John’s songs.

Yoko Ono – more boring than destructive.

So no, Yoko wasn’t the major factor in The Beatles’ breakup. The bottom line was that it was about power, not love. The Beatles were a bigger deal collectively than any of them individually and everybody except Ringo wanted control. First John had it, then Paul had it for a bit, but he pushed it too far and John and George made him stand down. George wanted to move them in a direction of his choosing, but neither Paul nor John would entertain that. John ended up being the de facto ruler of The Beatles, but only because he didn’t want Paul to be in charge, so Paul, the most talented, the best looking, the most popular one, still had to play second fiddle to someone who was less interested and capable than Paul.

Of course Paul left. You would, wouldn’t you? Of course John was bitter about it, he’d wrested power back and Paul took his ball home. For George, it was less of a big deal, because he was never going to be in charge anyway unless he went solo. Ringo, being Ringo, had most to lose if they split up, and though the others rallied around him, it was damage limitation. The Beatles needed Ringo just as much as Ringo needed The Beatles. And even though there was no Beatles to need Ringo, Ringo still needed them. Ringo always appealed to kids because he was the most childlike of the Fab Four, despite being the oldest. And, as with all divorces, the children are the real victims of it, and Ringo was no different.

Not that any of them saw it as such. Everyone saw themselves as the victim, and everyone saw everyone else as the villain. Even Ringo was painted as such by Paul when he threw him out of his house later on in a Klein related incident.

Even Klein wasn’t really the problem. He just forced the issue, because that’s what Klein did in every situation. They would have split up anyway, it just happened faster and more acrimoniously because of him.

And that’s why they didn’t get back together really. Everyone’s hurt and everyone’s getting fingers pointed at them. Yoko probably did try to keep John away from Paul and reunions, but she needn’t have bothered – nothing would have lasted for long, even if they had buried the hatchet. Pride was the problem, as much as anything.

Let’s not forget too, that this film has had editorial choices made. It’s an Apple film. I don’t know how much freedom Jackson had, or if anyone demanded anything be taken out or out back in, but we’ve been speculating over The Beatles for years, why stop now, eh?

In the runup to the release of these films, there’s been a definite party line, which has been, basically, that the Let It Be/Get Back project wasn’t a misery after all – they all love each other and they have loads of fun.

And they do – sometimes, but they’re also quite mean to each other, albeit in a really rather subtle and unpleasantly childish way. I wonder if Paul hasn’t played a blinder here, bearing in mind he’s been dealing with Yoko Ono for over 50 years now, and he might have finally done something quite clever in a way.

In the end, it’s Paul who comes across as the most musically gifted, the best writer, the most reasonable, and the most picked on. He must be delighted. Ringo’s the most affable, and the most universally loved – at least within the group. George looks the most pissed off with the situation, and his behaviour towards Paul shows that he’s not even as cosmic as Ringo is – he’s a petulant, mean-spirited whinger, although he does appear to realise that he’s been a twat after his worst day. John looks like he’s not good enough to sort his own songs out without someone like Paul to help him out, and that he wants to be the one making all the decisions, despite being extremely naive and lazy. Yoko just comes over as someone who doesn’t have anywhere else to be, or have anything else to do. Whereas once she seemed like a nightmare, now she just seems boring. Unconnected to her environment. A spare part. The seven year old Heather McCartney has a much better time, and gets on better with everyone else than Yoko does. Yoko? She’s a drag, alright, she’s just nothing in this. The alternative would be having her be an overt pain in the arse, like she is in Let It Be. Yoko Ono: nothing if not a pain in the arse. Literally. Mind you, being nothing would probably be preferable to the shit she’s put up with over the past 50 years, eh?

Which was it, then? Get Back or Let It Be? Which summed up early 1969 best? Well, the answer’s a bit of both. They got back alright, probably too far. All the way to the playground. And then they Let It Be when John decided he was going to make all the decisions. Which was also getting back a bit, wasn’t it?

That’s The Beatles for you. Get Back and Let It Be mean the opposite things but, somehow, like they always do somehow make the they make them mean the same thing after all. It’s unplanned and unstoppable.

Get Back, though? It’s great. Gear. Fab. What a story, eh? Too right.

Postscript.

Let It Be – The Film

Have you seen Let It Be? It’s not been officially available for years but, if you wanted to see it, you could, especially since the internet happened.

I quite like Let It Be, the film, even though it’s miserable. And it is miserable. It looks miserable. Maybe I even like it because it’s miserable. After the first day, Lindsay-Hogg realised that the light was stark and unpleasant, so he arranged a coloured light projection behind The Beatles, but the film – at least the ones I’ve seen which are, admittedly and naturally, bootlegs – the quality of it is typical of British films of the late 60s and early 70s. It emphasises the browns and oranges. It’s cold and damp looking. Don’t get me wrong – I like browns and oranges and the cold and damp, and I like a lot of films of that era for that precise reason, or at least partly – but the late 60s film stock always has that look about it, which is great for gritty drama, but for happy go lucky, cheeky chappies The Beatles? Nobody looked like they were having a good time in British films in 1969, and The Beatles were no exception.

The rehearsals we are shown, in the majority of cases, are really ropey. They’re lacklustre and shambolic. There’s no energy. George put his guitar through his wah-wah pedal all the way through everything. John’s often silent or sullen. Paul’s patronising and bossy, Ringo’s pleasant but doesn’t really say anything, and Yoko’s just there. All the time.

However, as there are audio tapes of days and days of the sessions that have been bootlegged, we can hear them as they go along. I’m obsessed with The Beatles but even I’ve not sat down and listened to the whole lot. I’ve read Doug Sulpy’s book though – he has listened to the lot and given a precis of what was happening at each point. This is where we find out what happened with Lennon and Harrison – Lindsay-Hogg knew something was kicking off and he bugged a flowerpot in the canteen so he could earwig what was happening. Unfortunately, all the clanking of cutlery and crockery renders most of the conversation inaudible. George Martin also provides an eyewitness account of the fistfight in one of his autobiographies.

Anyway, the point is that the rehearsal performances that Lindsay-Hogg chose for the film are, largely, almost comically bad and he didn’t have to do that because there’re are plenty of far better run throughs of the songs.

When you watch the film, and you think about it, it’s obvious that Lindsay-Hogg has made a point of presenting The Beatles as a very ropey band who are also enormously dysfunctional when they were often really good, as well as having a laugh and getting on well with each other.

Why? Well, Lindsay-Hogg wanted to tell a story, and what better story than The Beatles split up on camera? And the reason they split up is because they’re crap and they hate each other. That’s a good story, isn’t it?

And, even though they’d split up, it just doesn’t seem to be an accurate reflection of events. Was Paul a pain in the arse? Yes, sort of, even though you can see why he was taking charge. Was Lennon so obsessed with Yoko that it made your toes curl? Quite possibly. Was Harrison sick of being a lesser partner in the biggest band in the world? Certainly, to a degree. Was Ringo Ringo? Of course Ringo was Ringo. Nobody in their right mind blames Ringo for anything.

The film is, effectively, a fly on the wall documentary about the end of The Beatles, and it’s set up as such from the very start. Let’s have a look at what happens.

Opening shot – roadies, including Mal “Organ” Evans, shifting a piano onto the Twickenham soundstage over an overdub of Paul playing Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which is a very sad piece of music indeed. The scene is set: this is going to be a sad film.

Then it’s The Beatles going through a bit of Don’t Let Me Down, which is okay, even though we’re shown Yoko looking meaningfully at John as he sings it with devotion in her eyes. A bit of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, played shoddily. Two Of Us is livelier, featuring John and Paul sharing the same microphone, which finds Yoko, unusually for this film, standing more than five centimetres away from John for two minutes, and she doesn’t seem to like that very much. John and Paul are having fun and messing about doing Elvis voices and larking around with guitar poses. Maybe she didn’t like that either.

Then it’s I’ve Got A Feeling, which is quite lively. Then it’s Paul by himself at the piano, singing the opening line to Oh Darling before he tells us all about the genesis of One After 909 from their early days. Then they play it, and Paul and John, at least, enjoy it.

All of that is presented as if it took place over a single day, and it didn’t. It’s a compilation of the first seven days’ filming. The next scene shows Paul playing the piano alone, waiting for the others to turn up. Ringo’s first, and he joins in on a 12 bar rock ‘n’ roll song on the piano.

The rest arrive and they go into Two Of Us, which is ropey. Paul stops it and takes charge. Someone needs to because it’s not great, but doing it clearly irritates the others. That incorporates Paul telling George how to play the guitar and George telling him his famous line about his willingness to do whatever it is that will please Paul.

John, unlike George, evidently hasn’t written anything much new and he digs out Across The Universe, which they’d already recorded and readied for release in the last year before pulling it from the schedule. This is still at Twickenham, following the Paul – George argument, and yet George is still there, playing through his wah-wah pedal. Still. John’s Dig A Pony is next, and that’s a shonky performance too, but no amount of polishing is going to make that particular turd gleam. No wonder he’s presenting Across The Universe again, because that’s a lovely song and Dig A Pony is typical of John at this point: where once he made a point of constructing clever, literate lyrics, now he’s happier with either plain doggerel like this, or simple direct repetition such as Don’t Let Me Down.

John complains that all his songs are slow and asks if anyone has a fast one. They cut to Suzy Parker which is faster, even though it’s no better – and possibly even worse – than Dig A Pony. It’s a straight 12 bar rock ‘n’ roll song that sounds pretty much the same as all 12 bar rock ‘n’ roll songs sound.

The last thing we see at Twickenham is George sitting down to play Ringo I, Me, Mine about which, he states that he doesn’t care if The Beatles don’t want it or not because it can go in “the musical” if they don’t. At this point, he was planning to write a musical, but it didn’t happen. The first part is him singing it acoustically, then it segues into a band version with drums and bass, and John and Yoko (presumably Spanish) waltzing, which might sound like fun – and it’s alright – but what it’s really showing is that John doesn’t have any interest in playing or singing George’s songs. Paul plays and sings along, as he always did on George’s songs. Lennon didn’t play or sing a note on a significant number of Harrison songs throughout The Beatles’ career.

Then they’re at Apple, at which point we ought to pause and clarify what’s actually gone on.

The overall picture is like this: The Beatles are now in their late 20s, they’re no longer totally devoted to being in The Beatles. John is devoted to Yoko and his life being his art, like she told him it should be; George is devoted to developing himself and his songs – which isn’t going to happen in The Beatles because they keep rejecting them; Ringo’s got one eye on developing his acting career with his first Hollywood (sort of) movie coming up. Paul, even though he’s had plenty of external interests – avant garde art, music and poetry – has now met Linda and her daughter Heather, and is turning into the noted family man he would be throughout the rest of his life. As he said in the Anthology: “Wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine.” And they are a bit. They’re growing up and they’re finding that they want to do things that they can’t really do within the framework of The Beatles. Fair enough. The other three are, sort of, preventing you spending your time a you’d like.

John and George, in particular, want out but don’t really know how to do it. John’s interest has waned due to wanting to be a serious artist now. George is very much the same. Paul wants The Beatles to stay together because they’re The Beatles – they’re a big deal, and they’re better together. the only problem is that Paul wants them to be versatile light entertainers more than anything. Yeah, there’s space for seriousness – Let It Be and The Long And Winding Road are sad songs but, as far as Macca’s concerned, there should always be room for frivolity. Meaning, his “granny music” as noted edge lord Lennon would put it.

And that’s sort of the point.

Even though Let It Be and Get Back are, to a large degree, just different names for the same thing, they mean opposite things, don’t they? To get back is to return to somewhere you’ve previously been. The Beatles were going to be getting back to being a no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll band, like they were in the early sixties. Yeah, being a tight little band, but The Beatles were never just that. They were a bit cheeky, weren’t they? They were irreverent without being rapscallions. From 1966-1968, they’d become psychedelic, and they’d ventured further into the avant-garde and the political. to get back from that would be to reject their psychedelicism and their recently acquired revolutionary zeal in favour of a return to being cuddly mop tops. Alternatively, if they were going to let it be, that means they would be just accepting whatever it was that their something was and leaving it like that, with the emphasis on leaving.

The problem being that there was never any real consent between the four of them as to what The Beatles were all about because they weren’t all about anything. Yeah, they were “a single four headed entity“, but they also weren’t. While John was writing Revolution and not making his mind up about violence for a little bit, Paul was writing pastiches of 1920s songs with Honey Pie. On the other hand, while Paul was putting together – the still unheard, but presumably proto-Revolution 9Carnival of Light (January 1967), John was writing Good Morning Good Morning, inspired by a Cornflakes advert on telly. As far as The Beatles were concerned, nothing was that straightforward.

Well, not that straightforward because even though John and Paul both explored the avant-garde in The Beatles, they also both wrote light, fluffy third person songs about “boring people doing boring things“. The difference was that Paul was happy to be seen as an entertainer whereas Lennon wanted to be considered a radical avant-garde political activist.

At that point in time, Lennon wanted to be seen as a serious artist, in which his entire life was a work of art, too radical for the squares, and McCartney was more than happy to produce art for those same squares.

George Harrison, despite Lennon’s horrible attitude towards him and his work, sided with John because that would mean that he too was a serious artist. Maybe not a particularly avant-garde one, or one interested in bringing down the political establishment, but in terms of being fucking cosmic and having an affinity for Eastern mysticism? Yes, absolutely.

And that’s why, I suspect, George sided with Lennon and signed with Klein, as opposed to going along with McCartney and Eastman. He took himself enormously seriously, at least in terms of his art. Paul had jokes in some of his songs: “four of fish and finger pie“, , John was often one for putting in a bit of humour in them: (It’s getting better) – “It can’t get no worse” but there is no humour in any George Harrison songs because there’s no room for any amid all the sanctimony and superiority over everybody else who was less cosmic than he was. Which was everybody.

So, Paul wants The Beatles to be a group of versatile but essentially light entertainers, John wants them to reflect his avant-garde and political agenda as long as he doesn’t have to really do anything, George wants them to take themselves – but mainly him – much more seriously, and Ringo’s Ringo.

If they were going to Get Back, that meant doing what Paul said. If they were going to Let It Be, that would mean that they were going to say, “Fuck it, we can’t agree on anything anymore”, which is pretty much John and George’s attitude in Let It Be.

In short: John and George, as products of the time, were embracing and influencing the counterculture, and wanted to be recognised as doing that. Paul was at least as avant-garde as either of them, but still liked the squares and their preferred art. Plus, there are more squares than anything else, aren’t there? If you appeal to them, you’ll be a lot more popular than if you’re on the fringes, being radical. And The Beatles we’re nothing if not popular.

The Beatles’ relationships with each other was described by all of them at various points as “a marriage”. John, later in 1969, would talk of them “Getting a divorce, like I got from Cynthia.” And, like the old folk song, Love Is Pleasing tells us, in the early days, love is a wonderful, exciting thing, but as time goes on, it can get a bit boring and fraught at times. For The Beatles’ four way marriage, by 1969, things were getting a bit fraught at times. Married couples who’ve been together for a long time don’t necessarily fight all the time, but they can get on each other’s tits and have rows, as well as finding one another a bit boring, and that’s where The Beatles were at in 1969. They still loved each other, but the first flush of romance was long gone, they’d drifted apart, wanted different things now, and they periodically bored and annoyed one another and rowed about it. And, as everybody knows, the best thing you can do in that situation, if you’re going to split up, is to try to do it amicably and keep the lawyers out, because once they’re involved, everything escalates and things get really unpleasant. And expensive.

Let It Be the film, is like a lawyer stirring things up and escalating the conflict for their own benefit. and, bearing in mind that The Beatles had already got their lawyers involved, the film fanned the flames. Which, given Allen Klein’s influence over it, was probably the point. It’s worth having, and it’s worth seeing, but Get Back’s infinitely better.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s