“I’d to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition” – John Lennon, at the conclusion of the iconic Rooftop Concert
I think anybody whose been reading B&V for a while knows what a big fan we are of the Beatles’ Let It Be album. We were particularly enthusiastic about the recently released Deluxe Edition of the album from last year. I’m probably alone in the world but I’ve always preferred Let It Be to Abbey Road (the LP released before Let It Be but recorded after it). Last year was a big year for us Let It Be fans (or just Beatles fans in general) with the release of the aforementioned Deluxe Edition and the release of famed Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s 3-part documentary revisiting the original Let It Be film footage, entitled Get Back. I loved every minute of watching the Fab Four create music out of the thin air before our very eyes especially McCartney conjuring the song “Get Back.” Admittedly, the Rock Chick was not as enthused as I was but she’s always been a lukewarm Beatles fan.
It seems this Beatles treasure trove of vault material from the Let It Be sessions is turning out to be the proverbial gift that keeps on giving. Last week they released the audio of the entire Rooftop Concert to all the streaming services. I’m a little bummed it wasn’t included in the Deluxe Edition, I’d have liked to be able to buy this live album but who am I to quibble. The ultimate moment in the Get Back documentary is finally getting to see the video of the entire Rooftop Concert (Episode 3). The Beatles had planned to do a television show documenting their creative process of going in and rehearsing and then recording a new album live in concert – somewhere. George Harrison, who was feeling creatively stifled quit in the middle of the sessions (Episode 1). The rest of the Beatles met with him to convince him to come back and he had 2 conditions, 1) no live show, he was terrified by the idea and 2) he wanted to move the recording back to Apple Studios at 3 Savile Row in London instead of their current rehearsal spot at Twickenham Studios. That left the Beatles and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg in a bit of a fix on how to end the documentary. McCartney was particularly keen on playing live, he felt it would help them reconnect with their audience. Frankly I think it was really a way for the four of them to reconnect as musicians again.
Ringo and Linday-Hogg went up on the roof and got the idea of playing the concert up there, on top of 3 Savile Row. Even the day of the proposed concert, Janaury 30, 1969, no one was sure if they were actually going to play. They hadn’t played a live show since August of 1966 and both Ringo and George were very reluctant to play in front of people. Harrison was adamant that none of his new songs would be in the set. Finally, with everything set up and ready to go, Lennon muttered almost silently, “Fuck it, let’s go do it.” And with that the Beatles (with keyboardist Billy Preston in tow), like with most things they did, strolled up the stairs into rock n roll history. Can you think of a more iconic rock n roll moment than the Beatles’ Rooftop concert? U2 copied it for their video for “Where The Streets Have No Name” including the cops stopping the show. I remember reading in Rolling Stone magazine when I was in college, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played a brief set on a roof either in Gainesville or Hollywood, I forget which.
The Rooftop Concert was my favorite part of the Get Back documentary, like most people I suppose, and getting to sit down and crank the audio of the performance on my stereo is a real treat. I really needed something to boost me from the Winter Blues and here are the Beatles to the rescue. I turn this concert on and I can’t help it suddenly I’m on my feet dancing around the room… and I don’t dance. They looked so… joyful(!)… when they were playing on the roof and that joy translates into this music. I can hear the joy in my headphones. There’s that magic moment when John looks at Paul and they lock eyes and you can tell they’re into it! Now you can just hear it. The fact that they were able to overcome all the acrimony and squabbling – McCartney’s controlling nature; Lennon’s disinterest, budding heroin addiction, and well, devotion to Yoko; Harrison’s frustration over being creatively stifled and not taken seriously as a writer; and Ringo… come to think of it, Ringo was always cool – and come together as musicians, as a band again, was as thrilling to me as watching Elvis’ Comeback Special. I am just as passionate about this audio. I think everyone hoped this was the opening of a new chapter for the Beatles and would see them returning to live shows but alas those 42 minutes on the Rooftop were to be the Beatles’ final concert. Or should I say, final public performance. Experts consider the San Francisco date from August 29, 1966 to their last “official” concert, but we don’t split those kind of hairs here at B&V.
The concert has the Beatles performing only 9 songs and only 5 different songs. They played “Get Back” three times. They played (my favorite track) “Don’t Let Me Down” twice. “Don’t Let Me Down” wasn’t even included on the original Let It Be album. The two versions here were edited into one version and included on the Let It Be…Naked version of the album, which stripped away Phil Spector’s overdubs. They played “I’ve Got A Feeling” twice as well. They played one version each of “One After 909,” and “Dig A Pony.” Three of these cuts actually made the final Let It Be album, “I’ve Got A Feeling” (first version), “One After 909” (one of my favorite train songs) and “Dig A Pony.” At 42 minutes it makes a perfect, old school, one-disc live album, but it does make me wish the cops hadn’t decided to storm up on the roof and stop the proceedings. McCartney, during the final song, with the cops standing over him changed the lyrics of “Get Back” to “you’ve been playing on the roofs again and your momma don’t like it, she’s going to have you arrested.” McCartney also says, “Thanks, Mo” after the song and he was thanking Maureen Starkey, Ringo’s wife, as she was particularly into the music that day as the video shows us. Good on you Maureen!
In the end they got what they wanted, an iconic performance. In the documentary you can see how happy and enthused they were about the playback. McCartney had always wanted to play somewhere they didn’t have permission to play and hoped to be shut down by the authorities. I love that rebel spirit. This could have been the spark of a Beatles reunion, but alas the seeds of their split were too deeply planted. Lennon was all excited about hiring Allen Klein as manager and McCartney hated that idea. Harrison was tired of being stifled. Lennon was also more into Yoko than the Beatles. But what a glorious moment up amongst the chimneys they had on that cold January day.
I loved every minute of hearing this music. It’s truly a worthy listen as well as a worthy viewing experience. Again, my only issue is that it’s streaming only right now which is sadly dicey. I think everyone has heard about Neil Young and Spotify. As usual, I stand with Neil but after all these years of posting our playlists on Spotify its going to take a lot of work to re platform them. We’re pondering our options here at B&V but I digres. I certainly hope The Rooftop Concert comes out on vinyl and if it does I’m going to probably wear that thing out!!