January 30th, 1969. It was chilly and damp; not rainy, but there was a dreary moistness to the air like there always is in January in London. It was noon, lunch time, when the four Beatles emerged from the hatch in the roof of 3 Savile Row, the Apple Corps headquarters. With them was a cadre of crew, both sound and film, as well as producers and engineers. Yoko was looking down to the street, and John was plugging in. He was visibly cold, so Yoko lent him her fur coat. Amused by this, Ringo also donned his wife Maureen’s red mac. They tuned up and did a few sound checks, then went right into “Get Back.”
It was about noon, coinciding with lunch hour for the lawyers and accountants populating the buildings surrounding Apple headquarters. This idea for a live, unannounced concert to premiere their new material – and simultaneously record their new album – had been around for awhile. Some grand locations were thrown around, like a peak in the Himalayas and even the moon. But in the end, they didn’t feel like hauling all their stuff around, so they just went upstairs instead. After only 42 minutes (not enough time to perform all the new stuff), the police intervened and shut the concert down.
The sessions and rehearsal for the Get Back album in the closing months of 1968 were fraught with disaster. Personal and professional problems reared their ugly heads around nearly every corner. The egos of all four Beatles had grown to mythic proportions. The capstone was when John insisted that Yoko, whom he had married only a few months before, was to be physically with him at all times. His rationale was that Yoko was a part of him now, in every sense of the phrase.
After the experience of The White Album in which each of the band members had functioned almost independently, nobody was willing to work for the greater good. There was no compromise, no give-and-take, and no understanding. In truth, they weren’t really a band anymore; the Beatles were over.
After that rooftop concert, Get Back was scrapped. The concert idea hadn’t really panned out seeing as they hadn’t gotten enough good material on tape to construct a full album. That lark on the Apple rooftop would prove to be the final public performance that all four Beatles would give together – they broke up just a few months later, but not before recording a one-last-hurrah album of new new material, called Abbey Road.
It quite often seems impossible and unthinkable to me, but the entirety of the Beatles’ meteoric rise to the absolute pinnacle of pop stardom and then their implosion and sad demise… took 8 years. While they were together, they released 11 albums of new material, a bevy of singles, and were without a doubt bigger than sliced bread and the wheel combined (though not Jesus). No band today could accomplish all that in less than 20 years; the Beatles did it in 8. Hell, some bands don’t release 3 albums in 8 years!
I’m not done. Adding amazement to amazement, the Beatles even released an album of original material after they had broken up. And it wasn’t “unreleased studio material” or “archival studio footage,” leftovers and snippets never meant to see the light of day assembled piecemeal by some studio hotshot in an effort to squeeze the last tiny drop of milk from that dried-up, crusty teat. What became Let It Be was the pieces of an almost-album that didn’t quite make it to release. All it took was impresario producer Phil Spector to swoop in and finish what the Fab Four had started; it turned out to be one of their best, most enduring releases. Even the wasted ashes of the former Beatles are beautiful; they just need the right lighting.