Authors: Steve Matteo
Alan Parsons reflected on the end of the sessions at Apple: “On the basis that they had a film they probably also had a record. I’m not really sure that they thought they had anything else other than a soundtrack for the film. I think probably they came away thinking that they hadn’t made a record and it was just going to get put on the shelf.”
At the end of the day, Billy Preston was officially signed to Apple Records.
So concluded all the filming and nearly all the recording related to the “Get Back” project.
After all the weeks of filming, jamming, recording, arguing, joking, laughing, quitting, eating, smoking, posing, theorizing, analyzing, writing, hoping, freezing, dancing, smiling, frowning, clowning, and playing music at Twickenham and at Apple, the Beatles still had very little material in a finished state for an album. On the other hand, they did have a finale for the television show, or film, or whatever it was going to be, thanks to the 42 minutes on the roof of Apple. They also had some fairly complete studio takes of a number of new songs. Whether it all added up to a quality album, a finished film, or a television show was another story. At the same time, peeking through the dark cloud of uncertainty, doubt, and acrimony that had enveloped them for the whole month of January was a ray of
sunshine: they were still together.
Let It Be
has always been portrayed as the end of the Beatles, a notion bolstered by its being released as the group’s last album. And yet after it, the Beatles would continue as a group and eventually record
as well as release a handful of fine singles.
Let It Be
album would evolve slowly and with many detours along the way. On February 5, 1969, only a few days after the last day of recording, Glyn Johns and Alan Parsons went to Apple Studios and made stereo mixes of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Get Back,” “The One After 909,” and “Dig a Pony.” They also did a tape compilation of the rooftop performances.
Two days later, it transpired that George Harrison required surgery on his tonsils. He stayed in the hospital until the 15th. In another twist of fate, the director of the film, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, contracted hepatitis.
It would be over a month before any further work would be done on the album. Sometime in early March, John and Paul approached Glyn Johns and, pointing to a pile of tapes, said, “Remember that idea you had about putting together an album? There are the tapes, go and do it.” That is what Johns presumably did over four days at Olympic Sound Studios, between March 10 and 13. Some accounts state he may have begun the task as early as March 4. Johns made stereo mixes of various
tracks and sequenced the songs. It’s important to note that it would be the first time a Beatles album was being conceived in the mixing stage as first and foremost a stereo album. There have also been some accounts stating that some sort of recording related to the project was done at Abbey Road (perhaps on March 4), although of which songs and by which Beatles remains unknown. The mixes Johns did on March 10 and 13 were eventually used to cut acetates for the Beatles. Those acetates would become the basis of the first bootlegs ever heard of the Apple sessions and they resulted in parts of the aborted first and second
albums prepared for the Beatles by Johns.
George Harrison was interviewed on March 4 on BBC Radio 1. The interview would be used on two different programs, “Scene and Heard” and “The Beatles Today.” The “Beatles Today” show was broadcast on March 30 and included selections of what was to be the first
Paul McCartney married Linda Eastman at Marylebone Register Office in London on March 12. After their marriage was blessed at a church near Paul’s house in St. John’s Wood, a reception was held at the Ritz Hotel. None of the other Beatles attended any of the events of the day. On March 20, John Lennon married Yoko Ono on the island of Gibraltar.
On April 7, Glyn Johns, with Jerry Boys as second engineer, made another attempt at mixing “Get Back” at Olympic. They also mixed “Don’t Let Me Down.” Paul McCartney was in attendance at the session. Boys had worked at Abbey Road for years, but had moved on to Olympic. “They had already mixed it once for the single [release],” he remembered. “They were just having another go at seeing if they could better it. In the end they went with their original mix.” Boys had a portable turntable in his car that he had brought to Olympic. It belonged to someone else and was being repaired by one of the maintenance people at the studio. It was fortuitous that he brought it that day. “They wanted to check these two mixes,” he explained, “and they cut an acetate and played them both on this portable thing, and that was sort of when the final decision was made.”
The single of “Get Back,” with “Don’t Let Me Down” on the flip side, was released on April 11, 1969, in the U.K. and nearly a full month later, on May 5, in the U.S. It marked the first single released by the Beatles since August of 1968, as well as the first official release of material from the “Get Back” project. The label copy of the single also marked some firsts. There was no label credit for a producer and the names of the musicians read “The Beatles with Billy Preston.”
On April 25, mono mixing on “Two of Us,” at that stage entitled “On Our Way Home,” was done at Abbey Road. Peter Mew served as engineer and was assisted by Chris Blair. The mixing was done for the purpose of cutting acetates for a New York-based group called Mortimer, which had been signed to Apple by Peter Asher and which was scheduled to record the song. The song was unfortunately never issued. John Henry Smith, an engineer who has worked at both Abbey Road and Apple, said the track was fantastic and had a Simon and Garfunkel-type sound.
On April 30, for the first time in three months, new recording related to the “Get Back” project was to be done by only two members of the Beatles: John and Paul. In addition to mixing, further work was done on “Let It Be” (guitar overdub) and “You Know My Name (Look up the Number)” (additional vocals and overdubs). As had been the case throughout most of the project, George Martin was not involved. Chris Thomas was credited as producer of the session.
Back at Olympic on May 7, it seemed once more that the “Get Back” project might actually become an album, and this time George Martin was indeed there, along with Glyn Johns and assistant engineer Steve Vaughn. An unknown number of Beatles were at the session. The day was used to find suitable inserts, whether dialogue or music, to be part of a finished
album. The “inserts” were mixed in stereo and were obviously intended to illustrate the
nature of the project. The process continued on May 9, when playbacks occurred as well. Also on May 9, Allen Klein showed up at Olympic and an argument over the ongoing business machinations broke out. Apparently, as part of venting his anger over the argument, McCartney stayed behind in the evening and joined Johns, who was producing Steve Miller’s album
Brave New World.
McCartney added his distinctive bass sound and backing vocals, and unleashed his closet drummer-fantasy by also playing drums, on the recording of Miller’s “My Dark Hour.” His contribution was credited to Paul Ramon, a name he had used back in 1960 on a tour supporting Johnny Gentle.
May 13 was another date that seemed to indicate that a release of the “Get Back” material as an album was imminent. All four Beatles gathered in the stairwell at EMI House, at Manchester Square, for a photo shoot for the cover of an album that was still going to be called
The photo was taken by Angus McBean, who in February of 1963 had photographed the Beatles in the exact same pose and location for the cover of
Please Please Me,
which, of course, was only released in the U.K. As it turned out, the shot was not used for the released
Let It Be
album. Instead, it appeared on the cover of
The Beatles 1967-1970,
a double album released
in the U.S. in 1973. The concept for the photo shoot obviously represented the mindset of the group at the time: it had come full circle and this album would be its last.
Once again at Olympic, on May 28, work continued on moving the “Get Back” project closer to becoming a finished album. The same team of Martin, Johns, and Vaughn worked on stereo mixes of the songs, master tape banding, and the compilation of the tracks.
July 1 marked the official beginning of the recording of the
album. A detailed account of that album will not be given here. A couple of points, however, need to be mentioned.
For the time being, the “Get Back” project and the idea behind it were shelved. Changing course, the Beatles decided that what they wanted to make next was the kind of recording they had come to master: an album of polished studio-craft. The other key point is that the time spent at Twickenham and Apple would ultimately prove constructive in terms of the making of
Many of the songs—thirteen, in fact—that would appear on
were first introduced and/or worked on considerably during that period. In fact, the only
songs that did not surface during the “Get Back” sessions were “Come Together,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Because,” “You Never Give Me Your Money,” and “The End.”
It’s hard to figure out why the Beatles decided not to consider any of the aforementioned 13 songs for inclusion on the first, aborted
album. John Kurlander, a recording engineer who worked extensively on
was able to shed some light on why some songs made it onto a Beatles album and others didn’t. “It was really a continual process,” he began. “You would go in and record songs, and some got left behind and didn’t get put on that [particular] album; and then later on, on the next album, the ones that had gotten left behind were never really forgotten.”
Kurlander remembered hearing some of the music that had been worked on during the “Get Back” project in July of 1969, in preparation for the group to begin recording
He explained the process:
started off as a collection of playbacks of tapes. “Hey Jude” was one. “Come Together” was another. The thing would start off like, “Let’s listen to every single take we recorded of, for example ‘Come Together.’” There was a lot of playback and selection of stuff. Then, after one gathered all the tracks of pre-recorded stuff and selected what was usable, what would be up for a remake, and what would only need overdubbing, … Well, that’s kind of when
actually started to get pulled together.
Peter Brown was surprised but pleased that the Beatles decided to do the
album. He remarked,
“A new beginning was a good idea.
Let It Be
had become too bogged down in this mess—Twickenham, Apple, the disagreements. They said, ‘Let’s just put it aside.’ The idea that they could actually make
was quite amazing.”
On July 20, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. In was on that day, according to Michael Lindsay-Hogg, that all four Beatles were first shown a rough cut of the film, which was longer than the final cut would be by about 30 to 40 minutes. The next day, Lindsay-Hogg received a phone call from Peter Brown. Lindsay-Hogg indicated that Brown said, “I think we could lose about a half an hour of the picture, especially the bits with John and Yoko.” Lindsay-Hogg replied, “Gee, I think that’s really interesting stuff—John and Yoko and seeing how they got on.” To that Brown responded, “Let me put it this way: I’ve had three phone calls this morning. I think we should lose the stuff with John and Yoko.” Michael Lindsay-Hogg felt that the footage got dropped “partly because once John had seen the rough cut, he didn’t care about the movie.”
Lindsay-Hogg said that in September of 1969 there was another screening of the film. It was a finished cut and he didn’t remember if all the Beatles were there or not. Allen Klein held a dinner afterwards at the White Elephant on the River, a fashionable London club, and
shortly thereafter all four Beatles signed off on the finished cut.
August 15 marked the first day of Woodstock, the three-day music festival in upstate New York. As the concert got under way, the Beatles were at Abbey Road working on “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight,” “The End,” “Something,” and “Here Comes the Sun,” all of which would end up on
The session for “Something” would prove to be one of the most complicated and ambitious recording sessions the group would ever undertake. A 30-piece orchestra was enlisted, and George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald, and Alan Parsons were on hand. Recording was done simultaneously in Studio One and Studio Two by linking the two studios via a closed-circuit television hookup.
On August 20, John, Paul, George, and Ringo were all at Abbey Road Studios for the mixing and the sequencing of the
album. It was the last time they would all be together at the studios. Two days later at John Lennon’s home, all four Beatles were present for the final photo shoot of the group. Ethan Russell took the photos. The Beatles were dressed in black.
was released on September 26, 1969.
Sometime in December, the “Get Back” project contractually became a movie when Allen Klein sold the
film rights to United Artists. The sale fulfilled the contract the Beatles had with United Artists for the third film that they owed the company. Some have speculated that MGM was also considering buying the film rights to what became
Let It Be.
Each year since 1963, the Beatles had issued Christmas music on a flexi-disc for the members of their fan club. In 1969 there was no new message recorded. Instead, a compilation of all the messages was issued.
January 3, 1970, marked a return to work related to the “Get Back” project. At a recording session at Abbey Road, Paul, George, and Ringo officially recorded “I Me Mine” for the first time. George Martin served as producer. John Lennon, on vacation in Denmark, did not attend.