The Winter Olympic opening ceremony took place in Beijing today. The tension between China and some Western countries has led to some controversy, not least over human rights abuses. The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, made a speech in which he said “This is the mission of the Olympic Games. Bringing us together in peaceful competition, always building bridges, never erecting walls. I appeal to all political authorities across the world. Give Peace A Chance”. My feeling is that John Lennon would approve.
A couple of weeks ago, I watched the Brentford v Manchester United match on TV. Although Brentford lost, I was enthralled to hear “Hey Jude” play as the teams came onto the pitch. This is a tradition that was started at Brentford soon after the single was released in 1968. Brentford’s stadium announcer at the time was called Peter Gilham and his girlfriend at the time was Jude Kaufman. “Hey Jude” is also sung by Arsenal fans, a tradition that was started when Oliver Giroud was playing for the club with the fans substituting the song title with the surname of the striker. The song is played at numerous other sporting events, especially T20 cricket matches, normally between overs 15 and 16.
The most remarkable example of a sporting crowd singing Beatles songs was at Liverpool home games in the Sixties.
The Beatles’ place in the cultural history of the human race is well established. Every day, it’s possible to find someone making a reference to a Beatles related song or event.
The original concept behind “Let It Be” was that it would be an album of all new material, recorded live in January 1969. After much discussion about where a live performance could take place, on 30th January, they set up their equipment on the rooftop of the Apple building in Savile Row. They played for 35 minutes and “Get Back – Rooftop Performance” contains the entire gig. They played 10 songs – “Get Back” three times, “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I’ve Got A Feeling” twice each, along with “Dig A Pony” and “One After 909”. The tenth “song” is a 30 second jam of “God Save The Queen”.
There have been several releases of “Let It Be”. In May 1970, “Let It Be”, the album, was released with seven of the tracks recorded live (three on the rooftop of the Apple building and four in the studio). The remaining five tracks included editing and overdubs. A documentary film, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg was released in the same month. In November 2003, an album called “Let It Be…Naked” was released. Paul McCartney was the driving force behind the release of this album which removes a lot of the overdubs and is, therefore, closer in spirit to the original concept. However, there is still a lot of splicing together of different takes. In October 2021, a remixed version of the album was released with two extra CDs of rehearsals and alternative versions. However, the rooftop concert was not included in this expanded box set. In November 2021, Peter Jackson released an eight hour re-edit of the “Let It Be” film on Disney Plus, called “The Beatles: Get Back”. He had enhanced the quality of the film so that it now looks as if it were filmed yesterday – the dark, grainy feel of the original film has been eliminated. The entire rooftop concert was shown as the climax of the film. On January 28th, 2022, the audio of the rooftop concert was made available via streaming services. This was called “Get Back – Rooftop Performances”. At present, there is no intention to release a physical CD of this concert. In addition, Michael Lindsay-Hogg filmed 50 hours of material in 1969 and Peter Jackson has restored it all. He has suggested that if the public want to see the rest of the footage, Disney should be inundated with demands from fans.
The rooftop performances of “I’ve Got A Feeling”, “One After 909” and “Dig A Pony” were included on the 1970 version of “Let It Be”. The two rooftop performances of both “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I’ve Got A Feeling” were spliced together to produce the versions of the songs that were released on “Let It Be…Naked” in 2003.
For many people (possibly including me), the importance of The Beatles cannot be overstated. Listening to some recent podcasts about the release of the “Let It Be” box set and “Get Back – Rooftop Performance”, there is an attitude of entitlement, as if Beatles’ recordings are part of the cultural treasury of the nation, which should be opened up and made available to all. For most musical artists, releasing albums is an economic decision. Will the music sell in sufficient numbers to merit a release? Are The Beatles’ recordings in a different category? Does the cultural significance of The World’s Best Band decree that it is “wrong” to deny the public full access? Were The Beatles of such historical importance that to lock their art in the vaults of an American company such as Disney could be regarded as artistic vandalism? For most people, that’s probably a ridiculous idea. For serious fans, there is a demand that everything should be available.
The music from this performance is excellent. I would say that, wouldn’t I? For most of my life, I’ve regarded “One After 909” as a throwaway song, of limited interest. It had originally been written by John Lennon when he was 17. The number 9 was always important to him. He lived at 9 Newcastle Road when he was first born, his birthday was 9th October, he titled the most widely circulated artefact of abstract art, “Revolution 9”. The lyrics of “One After 909” are not completely logical – he runs to a station to see his girlfriend but he’s got either the number or the location wrong. It’s immaterial because it’s an explosive band performance with dynamic keyboard playing from Billy Preston. John Lennon and Paul McCartney harmonise well, George Harrison’s guitar adds to the excitement and, as always, the vocals are enhanced by Ringo Starr’s empathetic drumming. It’s a wonderful live performance showing that The Beatles were not only creative, experimental and forward looking but also a great live band.
Billy Preston’s electric piano playing gives an added dimension to their sound. The original concept of the four of them playing live was admirable but, listening to these songs, it’s easy to think that without the keyboards, the sound would have been a bit monochromatic instead of the vibrant technicolour available here. The second version of “Get Back” is a case in point. It’s an exciting version with, as always, impassioned vocals from Paul McCartney. Billy Preston plays a soulful solo that simply brings a smile to my face. The joy and exuberance that the five musicians get from playing together is uplifting.
The history of this collection of songs has been riddled with confusion, misinterpretation and uncertainty. Making this joyful, exuberant and exhilarating performance available has enhanced the reputation of the activities of The Beatles in January 1969.