16
Sep 06

THE BEATLES WITH BILLY PRESTON – “Get Back”

FT + Popular29 comments • 5,069 views

#270, 26th April 1969

 

“The Beatles as nature intended”, according to the single’s ad copy. It’s familiar enough now, this back-to-the-roots move: something of a cliche even, in the way bands like Oasis invariably trail their latest album by promising a reconnection with former (morning) glories.

For the Beatles it was possibly a survival move too – or a ‘fitting end’ move (one of several from this era – you have to look forward to Take That for the next time a British band managed and marketed their own public demise this blatantly). Listening to the Beatles in my early teens it seemed a depressing record – I’d been sold, by books like Paul Gambaccini’s Top 100 Albums Of All Time, the idea that the Beatles were continually progressing, always experimenting and pushing pop forward, so why this apparent* retreat?

Did any fans feel that at the time? Maybe not, since in truth “Get Back” doesn’t sound much like the early Beatles singles at all. It’s less aggressive, more laid back, less excited with itself, less compact and more loose – though like most Beatles songs it took a fearsome number of takes to nail, “Get Back” is trying hard to feel like a jam. It reminds me a little, in fact, of Status Quo and their no-nonsense heads-down boogie. It doesn’t sound depressing any more, but it doesn’t leave much trace as it rolls past, either.

*(the song itself acknowledges that really going back is close to impossible – get back to where you once belonged; though you don’t anymore. That wording might have come in handy if the band had stuck with McCartney’s original “Commonwealth Song” plan – a track satirising attitudes to immigration. They didn’t, and judging by the various writers’ later political tracks – woeful clunkers almost all – that wasn’t a bad decision.)

5

Comments

  1. 1
    Doctor Casino on 16 Sep 2006 #

    “Get Back” is a step back, and separated from the rooftop concert and the band’s (well, Paul’s) good intentions for it, it really doesn’t rock half as hard as it clearly wants to. There’s some feeling of “Hey, guys, we’ve got a good groove here,” which mostly works, but also brings the song too far into a fuzzy, jammy texture that keeps it from punching through the speaker. The loss of energy between even the forced merriment of “Magical Mystery Tour” and this is palpable.

    And yet, like “Don’t Let Me Down,” it has a certain oomph and urgency, a heat that builds as it chugs forwards. It’s catchy enough, and Paul’s outbursts, while painfully reminiscent of someone’s dad trying to be a country rock star (“Get on back, Jojo! Go home! You do that!”) bring some fun. If nothing else, it sounds like it was fun to play. To sum up: I like the song, but hearing it I’m very aware of how much better it could have been.

  2. 2
    rosie on 16 Sep 2006 #

    Even at the time the Beatles seemed to be floundering when this came out. It was pleasant enough, feeling like a step back to something simpler, but it was always going to be a last gasp. It was no real surprise when they called it a day not long after.

    Abbey Road was a good place to go out.

  3. 3
    Chris Brown on 16 Sep 2006 #

    I haven’t read the book that dissects the January 1969 sessions in minute-by-minute detail, but I rather presume that the song was written around the title. It’s a strange song, in those terms because although it’s obviously simpler than their recent material (fewer chords than any Beatles single since ‘Love Me Do’, apparently), they’re not really going *back* because they didn’t start out sounding particularly like this. You can sort of hear that George wants to be in some sort of Seventies boogie-rock outfit.

    There’s a brilliant photo from the Get Back sessions (which I have in Mark Lewisohn’s book, though it’s surely in many other places) where the four Beatles and Yoko are in a studio control room listening to a playback, all displaying different unhappy emotions; only Paul is trying to put a – ahem – brave face – on it. Even without that, you can get a taste of the disarray surrounding this though – the fact that this was presumably considered the only immediately releasable track from the project (apart from the B-side), the way the single was originally issued without a production credit because nobody knew who should get it and the fact that Paul decided to re-mix it at the very last minute, meaning that it missed the intended release date. Mind you, that last factor did make it the only Beatles single to enter at the top of the charts (well, the one we’re following here anyway) and thus also made Billy Preston the the first person since Al Martino to do so with his debut hit. And it was certainly a good move to bring him in to establish some sort of steadiness. This ends up being a record that you can’t fail to enjoy, but not their most deserved of hits.

  4. 4
    Doctor Mod on 16 Sep 2006 #

    Tom is right that this doesn’t sound like what we have come to think of as the way Beatles records sound. At this point, as far as I can recall, my peers and I wondered if there would ever be another Beatles record, as any news about them suggested the end was near–or possibly had already happened. I’d heard “Get Back” on the radio several times before I realized it was the Beatles.

    Looking back, it was one of those watershed moments in their long goodbye. Yes, they actually did a live performance of sorts. (And, by the way, if you watch the videotape of the performance, it’s clear that John is playing lead guitar instead of George.) And yes, they’d put out yet another record. Perhaps we could hope that it wasn’t really over. But for all intents and purposes, it was.

    And, once again, a Beatles single that should have been a double a-side but wasn’t. “Don’t Let Me Down” is the better side.

  5. 5
    Matos W.K. on 16 Sep 2006 #

    (psst–it’s 271, not 270)

  6. 6
    CB on 17 Sep 2006 #

    Close analysis is the fact that the Beatles were like kids as they started out, by 1966 they grew up. Paul came up with alot of the ideas after 1966, cos he thought being pushy would get the others back into the swing of things. George Harrison didn’t care as long as they’d never play live again, but his songs were never treated too seriously by Paul or John. Ringo didn’t care as long as the music kept sounding good and the atmosphere felt like a group type atmosphere. Paul always hinted to performing again, but then again he’s used to being a showman more than a studio man, even though he can handle both well. Jhn felt that the Beatles as a group was over when the touring stopped and everything was more as a gimmick, throughout the sessions of Get Back there were several times as ideas faded in and out he’d ask, ‘Where’s the Gimmick?’ After all Pepper was a gimmick as a concept, Mystery Tour was a gimmick for tv, the White Album was a double album gimmick as the first Beatles Apple release. The Get Back Sessions never had a solid schedule or final idea. The Beatles couldn’t get organized with new material in time for a mid January TV show or live show that they intended to do, so they went to Apple and filmed even more to document the finishing of making the album, and the rooftop was just closure for the film crew. They already said the outdoors acoustics would be no better than Twickenham’s acoustics for a whole album. They were stuck with trying not to admit they wasted a month of rehearsals, cos the final product still wasn’t ‘as nature intended’ like it was meant to be. The Get Back single songs were edited (Get Back) and overdubbed (Don’t Let Me Down) in Feb/March, Ethan Russel’s photos in the Get Back Book near the end that show the beatles looking different than they did dirring the Get Back Sessions, were actually taken during the Don’t Let Me Down overdub Sessions.George overdbbed guitar on the middle 8, john double tracked some vocals, and Ringo did minor druming to cover up any spots where minor editing was done.

    The whole bottom line, the only reason why the Beatles broke up is that they grew up. They weren’t the same struggling Liverpool group playing in Hamburg Germany. Minus the White Album and Let It Be, there was a sound of a full group effort. I fear if the Beatles stayed together – judging by their solo albums and how good songs were starting to get worked on halfassed by 1968, all they would have given us is more White Albums, and you can make your own anyway by meshing their solo albums anyway. To satisy the anti-yokoists and the anti-paulists, to simply put it they just realized at the right time that they had grown up.

  7. 7
    rosie on 17 Sep 2006 #

    Mind you, that last factor did make it the only Beatles single to enter at the top of the charts (well, the one we’re following here anyway)

    My recollection is, distinctly, that all the early Beatles singles entered the charts at ther top. My recollection is of the one taken as gospel in them days – the one introduced by Alan Freeman on a Sunday afternoon. Which chart are we following, in that case?

    Furthermore, I distinctly recall a four-way tie for the top position being called on Top of the Pops in the summer of 1968, which involved I’ve Got To Get A Message To You, Do It Again and a couple of others that I don’t recall at the moment. I’m recalling this in such detail that I can’t believe I’m imagining it. Am I going
    gaga?

  8. 8
    Tom on 17 Sep 2006 #

    The chart we’re using is the ‘official’ one as derived from the NME chart which started being published in 1952, and then from the Record Retailer chart from 1960 (which became Music Week). This official status is strictly retroactive though: during the 50s and 60s there were several others, some of which were taken more seriously than the now-official ones, and then tne BBC used their own aggregated from all the others.

    So there’s an unfortunate gap sometimes between people’s actual memories of the charts and the official version of chart history. The most notorious casualty of the Record Retailer chart’s “victory” is that “Please Please Me” was never a Number One, despite being one on every other chart compiled at the time. Poor old Acker Bilk suffers similarly.

    http://uproar.fortunecity.com/galaxy/399/extranoones.htm has the gory details.

    In terms of writing Popular this is a bit annoying – Robin Carmody had a blog dealing with these ‘other’ number ones but I think he gave it up.

    The only number one ‘tie’ I can remember in the Music Week chart era is between “The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band and “Groove Is In The Heart” in 1990. It was awarded to “The Joker” on the basis of weeks in chart – huge injustice ect ect.

  9. 9
    Chris Brown on 17 Sep 2006 #

    Actually, the official ruling on the Steve Miller/Dee-Lite thing was that Miller had increased his sales from the previous week by a greater percentage, IIRC. They claimed that a later audit had proved that Miller had sold 8 more copies!
    Tied positions do stil happen occasionally (though not at the very top) but they now have some fiendishly complex formula for splitting them. I think the old BBC chart was actually worked out by averageing the other ones, which would inevitably make ties more likely – but that ended in February 1969 so from now on we don’t have to worry about it.

  10. 10
    intothefireuk on 18 Sep 2006 #

    Arguably we would not then have had reviews for these :- 1963 dance on, wayward wind, devil in disguise 1964 diane, little red rooster, 1965 concrete & clay, king of the road 1968 legend of xanadu, lady madonna, congratulations, i pretend, fire, do it again, ive gotta get a message to you – all of which didn’t reach number 1 on one or more of the other charts (NME, Melody Maker, Disc, Record Mirror) but we could have had reviews for these – 1958 ma hes making eyes at me johnny otis, bird dog everly bros 1960 stuck on you elvis presley 1961 are you sure allinsons , take good care of my baby bobby vee 1962 stranger on the shore acker bilk, a picture of you joe brown 1963 Please Please Me Beatles, Do You Want to Know a Secret? Billy J. Kramer 1966 19th Nervous Breakdown Rolling Stones, Sha-La-La-La-Lee Small Faces, I’m A Boy The Who 1967 Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever Beatles, Alternate Title (Randy Scouse Git) Monkees 1968 Magical Mystery Tour (Double EP) Beatles, Delilah Tom Jones, This Guy’s In Love Herb Alpert, Eloise Barry Ryan – all of which did reach number 1 on one or more charts other then Record Retailer. Maybe Tom in deference to these differences you could, at some point, include an extra little section for these. On the other hand you may feel that you have had more than your fill of this period and leave it at that.

    This is all infinitely more interesting than this (or the next) Beatles single.

  11. 11
    Tom on 18 Sep 2006 #

    I am keen to get stuck into the 70s now so I think if they are revisited it will be as a ‘special’ at some point!

  12. 12
    Marcello Carlin on 18 Sep 2006 #

    I would very much like Robin to revive his Other Ones blog.

  13. 13
    Tom on 18 Sep 2006 #

    MC I’m sure you are aware of it but just in case – he’s been posting quite regularly to his LiveJournal recently following up your ILM pick of the pops posts – it’s at robincarmody.livejournal.com sensibly enough.

    I agree it would be good to see the Other Ones back though.

  14. 14
    Lena on 21 Sep 2006 #

    This is okay, I guess, but I like “Shine a Light” by Wolf Parade a whole lot more…starts the same but then goes further…

  15. 15
    The Symbiotics of Haircut 100 on 28 Sep 2006 #

    You never know; I might just bring it back!

    I stopped doing The Other Ones because I was riddled with self-hatred, even extending to a desire to remove pop music from my life altogether (some indication of my feelings at the time can be found in the piece on Elvis Presley’s “Stuck On You”). I still hold exactly the same political views, but I have finally learnt to live with myself on a personal level. Maybe the time has come.

    I’ll also keep on doing the From The Bottom To The Top postings, and hopefully sooner after the programme has gone out than recently!

  16. 16
    Green on 25 Apr 2007 #

    Hi Sam! Photos i send on e-mail.
    Green

  17. 17
    Marcello Carlin on 25 Apr 2007 #

    GREEN???????!!!!!????!!!!!??

  18. 18
    Mark G on 11 Jul 2008 #

    So, who was the first artist to spend their first week on the chart going straight in at number one? (not including the first number one Al Martino)…

    Billy Preston!

  19. 19
    DJ Punctum on 11 Jul 2008 #

    Discounting celebrity team-ups of varying stature, the second artist to spend their first week on the chart at number one is an extremely long time coming…

  20. 20
    Waldo on 26 Aug 2009 #

    I agree with Rosie that this track was clearly signalling the beginning of the end but I also happen to think that “Get Back” was a piece of undiluted quality rather than merely a throwaway line from a group who were falling apart at the seams. Preston’s contribution certainly deserved a credit but the piece was such a fine old crack, they would have passed the “audition” even if George Martin had been at the keyboards. A great, great record, Jo-Jo!

  21. 21
    Brooksie on 19 Feb 2010 #

    I agree with Waldo, the fact that we know now (and can sort of hear) the sound of the Beatles falling apart shouldn’t detract from the fact that they still maintained a quality control on everything that made them heavyweights. They were savvy enough not to go out without ‘Abby Road’ prefacing the belated release of ‘let It Be’. This song works, not just as a standalone, but in the context of ’69; it has a southern US feel and goes for the images of rock popular at that post ‘Easy Rider’ time – open roads, roots, back to basics, “California grass”. Like the Stones ‘Honky Tonk Women’ that year, it’s all about the US rock vibe. Just like with the Stones it works perfectly well, which is why both songs were equally big on both sides of the Atlantic. The Stones went for gin-soaked delta imitation, which fit their image; The Beatles went for laid-back good ol’ boy country rock, which also seemed to fit perfectly well (admittedly not as well as the Stones choice, but well enough).

  22. 22
    wichita lineman on 19 Feb 2010 #

    Canned Heat’s Al Wilson, with his Kermit back-of-the-throat voice, was the influence on Paul’s vocal, same as he was with Bob Dylan on Lay Lady Lay. One of pop’s weirder mini-crazes.

    There’s a great rattling funk-pop version of Get Back by the Deidre Wilson Tabac on RCA, and a truly horrific, stupidly pompous orchestrated one on one of those Classic Rock albums, another pop craze that thankfully passed. I recall a ‘soul’ one called Rhapsody In Black. Good lord.

    Yes, Don’t Let Me Down should’ve been the A-side but Macca was in full control freak mode (see movie).

  23. 23
    Lena on 21 Jan 2012 #

    Meanwhile, elsewhere on Apple: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/01/muse-sings-mary-hopkin-goodbye.html Merci for reading, everyone!

  24. 24
    Lena on 31 Jan 2012 #

    A northern Irish star is finally born: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/01/troubled-dolly-clodagh-rodgers-come.html Thanks for reading, everybody!

  25. 25
    Lena on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Sentimental…to a point: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/02/play-it-again-hermans-hermits-my.html Thanks so much for reading, everyone!

  26. 26
    Lena on 13 Feb 2012 #

    Down the rabbit hole: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/02/hes-got-whole-world-fleetwood-mac-man.html Merci for reading everyone!

  27. 27
    hectorthebat on 1 Jun 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 13
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 636
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Greatest Beatles Songs (2010) 41
    Stephen Spignesi and Michael Lewis (USA) – The 100 Best Beatles Songs (2004) 88
    Mojo (UK) – The 101 Greatest Tracks by The Beatles (2006) 77
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Uncut (UK) – The 50 Greatest Beatles Tracks (2001) 47
    Now & Then (Sweden) – The Beatles’ 50 Best Songs (1992) 25
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 27
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  28. 28
    lonepilgrim on 20 Feb 2017 #

    I’m never sure if I like ‘Get Back’ or not. Part of my problem is that it sounds like the Beatles abandoning the quirky blend of musical sources and studio experimentation that had shaped their previous work. Instead they sound like a Canned Heat tribute band with McCartney’s ad-libs the only distinguishing feature. Despite that it has an appealing, lazy groove that, in small measures and at infrequent intervals, can sound appealing.

  29. 29
    wichitalineman on 22 Feb 2017 #

    I agree LP, I can’t work out how much I like it. Same goes for Lady Madonna – both are basically a pastiche/tribute (to Canned Heat and Fats Domino), which seems rather inconsequential in the Beatles run of singles, but stands up fine in its own right.

    In both cases I prefer the b-side, which is far more original (The Inner Light for LM, Don’t Let Me Down for GB).

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page