Review: The Beatles: Get Back – Part 1

I’m a huge Beatles fan. Why wouldn’t I be? I may go a while without talking about The Beatles or even listening to them, but they are always in my heart, always have been and always will be. They were the first rock band I really got into and they were my happy place as a teenager going through a difficult time in school. When I felt bad, I’d always listen to The Beatles. They got me through everything. They’re indirectly the reason I started this blog and my whole journey of understanding and knowing classic rock inside and out. 

It’s trendy (not in my opinion obviously, but something I’ve observed online) now to hate on The Beatles and act like they’re basic and nothing special and just a bunch of mediocre white men, but that’s just not true. I have always thought that they had the most consistent output and discography of any band and for the short time they recorded they had more impact than any of their contemporaries or anyone who came after. They owned 1964 and 1965, screw it, pretty much the entire 60s. They mean a lot to me and I can’t tell you how excited I get when I hear a Beatles song in public or find out about a new Beatles thing. As a big fan, I have to see it. And that’s what I’m doing now, reviewing the much hyped new three part documentary on Disney+, Get Back, directed by Peter Jackson. And each day I’m going to review and share what I’ve learnt and enjoyed from each part of the documentary. What a nice way to spend Thanksgiving weekend! So sit back, relax, and enjoy my takes on the documentary, one part at a time. This approach to the review is different to others I’ve written. I tried to make it a stream of consciousness, my observations and first impressions as I’m watching it review, written as I watch the documentary, with a bit of editing for good measure and to ensure I have the facts right.

Let It Be was never an album I was super into and I never really appreciated it much compared to their previous work from Please Please Me to Abbey Road. The Beatles are truly one of the most documented rock bands and there’s so much footage, much of it never been seen by the public and you know that Beatles fans want to see it all, especially completionist fans. Even more incredible is that the whole rooftop concert has never been shown before, but you’ll get to see what these rehearsals all culminate in later in the documentary series.

The film takes nothing for granted so even if you’re an alien with no idea who The Beatles are, thinking it’s weird people are making a hoopla over bugs, you’ll know the story and have the background. A truly self made band with an incredible story, it started with some teenagers who were friends in the port city of  Liverpool in the North West of England starting a little band called The Quarrymen, with no idea they’d be international sensations. The beginning of the 1960s finds them in Germany, playing full time in Hamburg, before returning to Liverpool, playing The Cavern and eventually being signed and launching The British Invasion, a bunch of young musicians who would take the world by storm and ring in a new era of rock and roll. All that background information, complete with footage of famous performances, screaming fans, and interviews. A great montage to set the scene, hitting all the highlights, including all the controversies (‘Bigger than Jesus’) and The Beatles making an unconventional move to stop touring and focus on creating incredible art in the studio, that can’t be replicated live, always evolving and changing. By 1969, they all were ready to move into their next phase of their music careers, all good things come to an end and that includes The Beatles, solo careers. Since Brian Epstein’s death, everyone was drifting apart with their own projects and new ideas and Let It Be was one last hurrah for the band, to close the 60s, the end of an era. Plus I love how they have titles of the songs played and titles for each person that shows up so you know who is who.

Part 1 starts on 2 January 1969 just after the holidays, preparing at Twickenham Studios for live shows and to work on new material for Abbey Road and Let It Be. They have to rehearse 14 new songs. In this footage you see some practicing, but a lot of chatter and not just The Beatles in the studio, but also George Martin, Yoko, Linda, Maureen, George’s Hare Krishna friends, crew like Mal Evans and Glyn Johns and many more people. John is funny as always with his jokes like “I’ve got a hard on”. Ringo’s dancing is entertaining and even if people don’t think he’s much of a songwriter (cue the Family Guy cut scene joke where Brian says something is a bigger waste of time than Ringo’s songwriting), I loved his song, “Taking A Trip to Carolina”. Another funny moment was a version of “Obladi Oblada” with different, but funny lyrics. I especially loved hearing an early version of John’s “Gimme Some Truth” and George’s “All Things Must Pass”, later released as solo songs. I love the part when George and Ringo yawn and look bored out of their minds when Paul plays “Get Back”. Meanwhile, John is nowhere to be seen. Paul also has funny moments like him saying the band are like old age pensioners because they talk a lot about the old days when they ‘used to rock’ and George jokes that the band should have a divorce and he eventually walks out, tired of being dismissed and says he’s quitting the band.

Now, it’s not all drama, thank goodness, and that’s what Peter Jackson wants to show. There’s a lot of value in these clips seeing how they play together and seeing how their compositions evolve and what inspires them. One sign of an inspiration for a band is what songs they cover when they’re warming up. I love seeing them playing covers of songs like Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and “Rock and Roll Music” (cool montage with this one with clips of 1969 and their touring days juxtaposed), and of course a lot of Dylan like “The Mighty Quinn” (popularised a year earlier by Manfred Mann) and “I Shall Be Released”. I love seeing legends showing love and appreciation for other legends. Also going on around this time is Ringo filming The Magic Christian, the movie that Badfinger did some songs for. You’ll also see them talk about Billy Preston, called The Fifth Beatle, who played the organ on “Get Back”.

Of course, the documentary series being called Get Back, there’s some background on the song and footage of them rehearsing with the early, more political lyrics, which parody the xenophobic anti-immigrant sentiment growing in the country thanks to racist MP Enoch Powell (and if you remember, Eric Clapton is mentioned in this documentary and he of course infamously went on a racist rant in the 70s, but we can’t expect The Beatles to know that, they’re only human, not psychics). It’s not a racist song, even though some Tumblr SJWs who don’t know their Beatles history will tell those lies.

Overall it’s a very raw look at the sessions, not a highlight reel, and makes you appreciate that album and era more. Really cool to see these songs we know and love bloom into the final product you know from Let It Be and even Abbey Road, and see the early takes plus stuff that didn’t make the album. Gives you an appreciation of how much teamwork goes into an album and recording music and there’s way more than the music, all the behind the scenes, business and logistics stuff too. Overall though, at this point the writing is on the wall and it’s not the best environment, with the band crying at points and there being some arguments, with surprisingly not that much profanity, but a lot of good old British passive-aggressive politeness. No one ever said making an album is easy.

Everyone can come out of this documentary learning something, even if they’re die hard fans, like I had no idea that The Beatles looked at performing in this amphitheatre in Libya, but that wouldn’t happen because the band didn’t want to go abroad even though they keep being told they’re The Beatles and not just four jerks, and they should do something big. Very different time because I never hear about anyone travelling to Libya. Israel though? Would have been cool to see The Beatles play there. Imagine The Churchills opening for them. What a show! A long watch of a documentary so it can drag on at times and you might space out, but a must for die hard fans. Can only imagine it was hard to edit it down and I’m glad we get to see 8 hours of footage in total of the 60 hours of video and 140 hours of audio. And I’m impressed at how it’s been restored, incredible work there – looks like it’s new, well the fashion is clearly 1969 though, but that’s a good thing because today’s fashion sucks.

In a meme, this part of the documentary can be summed up as “The girls are fighting!” and “the tea is hot sis!” And in all seriousness, Ringo is a cinnamon roll and too pure, protect him!

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