Beatles On The Roof - The Legendary Final Performance

Feb 2, 2022

Beatles Get Back Rooftop Performance

It's comes a couple of years after the 50th anniversary but the need to stick to rigid, round number celebrations becomes somewhat irrelevant in situations like these where the discovery of something 'new' provides an opportunity to revisit a specific cultural moment freed of those traditional constraints.

The legendary Beatles' January 1969 'rooftop performance' was released to streaming services last weekend (as Get Back: The Rooftop Performance), 52 years after the band played their final public performance before retreating back to the studio and eventually breaking up (officially 1970, although John Lennon had left the group quietly in September '69). Its appearance now is a result of Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson's uncovering of 60 hours of film and 150 hours of audio captured during the making of what would eventually become the Beatles final album, Let It Be, from 2nd January '69 through to rooftop concert on the 30th.

Jackson's three-part documentary, The Beatles: Get Back, released on Disney+ in November 2021, is an astonishing, revelatory portrait of a band who are beginning to drift apart but remain capable of pure magic when the mood takes them. It largely debunks the myth that has surrounded the sessions, perpetuated by Michael Lindsay-Hogg's 1970 film Let It Be (which the hours of mostly unused footage Jackson's doc is drawn from), that it was a fairly fractious affair, with Jackson's extended timeframe (nearly 8 hours) showing that, whilst tensions were always lingering around the sidelines, there was also love, humour, fun and more than a few moments of unquestionable genius.

The idea had been for the band to get back to their roots by composing a set of new songs with the end goal being some sort of live performance, but it's fair to say that playing on a cold January lunchtime on the roof of the Apple Corps offices on Saville Row was never on the table until pretty much just before it happened, and even up until the last minute it was looking dicey that all four Beatles would get up up there to perform. It was Lennon who supposedly took charge at that the make-or-break point, simply saying "Fuck it. Let's do it".

Beatles Rooftop Starr McCartney Lennon Harrison

And do it they did, and the resulting 42-minute gig was extraordinary. The songs have been seen/heard separately before, and even in Jackson's documentary he intersperses the sequence with vox pops from the street below, along with the arrival of the police at the Saville Row building (Lindsay-Hogg made the smart decision of installing a secret camera in the Apple reception for just such an occurrence), but the whole performance has never been officially available in full until now (a one-day IMAX cinema 'event' coincided with the release of the digital album). Newly mixed by Giles (son of George) Martin and Sam Okell, it sounds astonishing: intimate, passionate and exhilarating, listening to the audio without visual accompaniment it's almost unbelievable that it was recorded in an environment that had Lennon muttering "Hands too cold to play the chords".

Whatever disagreements and disgruntlements happened before and after, the moment they start playing it's evident, musically speaking at least, that they could still all tune into the same wavelength with ease; when their combined talents intertwined they created something that has never been replicated, the very pinnacle of rock'n'roll or popular music or whatever you want to call it. Billy Preston's addition on electric piano (a supremely gifted old friend from their Hamburg days) just adds another layer of brilliance to the performance, and anyone who's seen Jackson's documentary knows how much Preston's presence reinvigorated the quartet.

They only play different five songs ('Get Back' gets three goes, 'Don't Let Me Down' and 'I've Got A Feeling' two a piece), plus a swift rendition of 'God Save The Queen' thrown in for good measure, but even Lennon fluffing some of his lines doesn't derail anything, and by the final run through of 'Get Back', with the police now present on the rooftop, Paul McCartney's is having so much fun he can't help but improvise a few lines about Sweet Loretta Martin being arrested.

Beatles Rooftop McCartney Lennon

Any doubts that they could still function as a unit outside the studio were instantly dispelled and the concert has gone down in history as one of most famous (and iconic) of all time. Listening to it now in its entirety doesn't lessen its impact (a dodgy recording 50 plus years later wouldn't have done it any favours!), in fact it only serves to increase that impact. The musicianship is impeccable, the synergy between the five performers is incredible, and although no one knew at the time this would be their last time playing in public, as final gigs go, this takes some beating. In fact, as gigs go, it takes some beating. From the band that changed the world, this is good as it gets, the passing decades haven't diminished its power one iota.

Track List
1. 'Get Back' (Take 1)
2. 'Get Back' (Take 2)
3. 'Don’t Let Me Down' (Take 1)
4. 'I’ve Got a Feeling' (Take 1)
5. 'One After 909'
6. 'Dig a Pony'
7. 'Jam/God Save The Queen'
8. 'I’ve Got a Feeling' (Take 2)
9. 'Don’t Let Me Down' (Take 2)
10. 'Get Back' (Take 3)


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