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"Get Back" was The Beatles' first single release in true stereo in the U.S. - in the UK they remained monaural records until the following single release - "The Ballad of John and Yoko."
"Get Back" is unusual in The Beatles' canon in that almost every moment of the song's evolution has been extensively documented, from its beginning as an offhand riff to its final mixing. Much of this documentation is in the form of illegal (but widely available) bootleg recordings, and is summarized in the book Get Back: The Unauthorized Chronicle of The Beatles' Let It Be Disaster by Doug Sulpy and Ray Schweighardt.
The song's melody grew out of some unstructured jamming on 7 January 1969 during the rehearsal sessions on the sound stage at Twickenham Studios. Over the next 15 minutes or so, McCartney introduced the lyrics to the chorus - lifting "Get back to the place you should be" from fellow Beatle George Harrison's "Sour Milk Sea" and turning it into "Get back to where you once belonged" - and some of the elements of the verses. Later, on the press release to promote the "Get Back" single, McCartney would write, "We were sitting in the studio and we made it up out of thin air... we started to write words there and then...when we finished it, we recorded it at Apple Studios and made it into a song to roller-coast by."
Around the time he had the first inklings of "Get Back", McCartney was inspired to satirise the "Rivers of Blood Speech" by British Cabinet minister Enoch Powell, in which Powell used a reference in Virgil to the river Tiber foaming with blood to describe what he thought would happen if the tide of Commonwealth immigrants was not stemmed. McCartney jammed what has become known as the "Commonwealth song" - loosely based on Powell's speech. The lyrics included a line "You'd better get back to your Commonwealth homes". As evident from bootlegs, the "Commonwealth Song" has no resemblance to the final version of "Get Back", but it is a good insight into the creative process that developed the song.
On 9 January the group introduced what has become known in Beatles folklore as the "No Pakistanis" version. This version is more racially charged, satirising right wing attitudes - (we) "don't dig no Pakistanis taking all the people's jobs". However, most of the song was random screaming and vocalizing with random lyrics.
The song was further developed into what McCartney described as a "protest song", and in subsequent rehearsal takes (some of which John Lennon sings) the immigration theme is developed into a full verse. By mid-January the song had developed into three verses: The first being the "Lorreta Martin" verse, the second being the "Jo-jo" verse and the third the "Pakistanis verse". Whilst heard by Beatles fans on bootleg for over a decade the lyrics to the third verse are not widely known:
"Meanwhile back at home there's nineteen Pakistanis,
Living in a council flat
Candidate for Labour tells them what the plan is,
Then he tells them where its at"
Another version of the "Pakistanis verse", in what is claimed to be the entire song in John's handwriting, is on display in the Hard Rock Cafe in San Francisco. In this version, the Pakistani verse is:
"Meanwhile back at home too many Pakistanis,
Living in a council flat
Candidate Macmillan, tell us what your plan is,
Won't you tell us where you're at"
These lyrics show the true meaning of the 'Pakistani' references, which were a social commentary on the racist attitudes of the time. In an interview in Playboy magazine in 1980, Lennon described it as "...a better version of 'Lady Madonna'. You know, a potboiler rewrite." "Lady Madonna" is widely considered to be a social commentary.
On 23 January the group (now in Apple Studios) tried to record the song properly; bootleg recordings preserve a conversation between McCartney and Harrison in between early takes discussing the song, and McCartney explaining the original "protest song" concept. The recording captures the group deciding to drop the third verse largely because McCartney doesn't feel the verse is of high enough quality, although he likes the scanning of the word "Pakistani".
In line with the concept behind the "Get Back project", the idea was to record all songs live to get back to the rock and roll sound of their early work. To achieve this the band recorded multiple takes in the studio trying to perfect the performance of each song.
Billy Preston joined The Beatles on the Fender Rhodes electric piano from January 22, having been recruited by Harrison partly with a view to deter bickering among The Beatles. Harrison's idea worked: when Preston was present The Beatles avoided fighting as they had during some earlier sessions. Augmented by the addition of a fifth musician, the group started to produce some tighter performances.
The Beatles recorded approximately ten takes on January 23 developing the song. On the January 27 take they made a concerted effort to perfect "Get Back" by recording approximately 14 takes. By this time the song had the addition of a false ending and reprise coda, as heard on the bootlegs of the session which are widely available. After numerous takes the band jammed some old numbers and then returned to "Get Back" one last time in an attempt to record the master take. This performance (Take 11) was considered to be the best yet, it was musically tight and punchy without mistakes. For some reason though the song finishes without the restart; on the session tape George Harrison comments "we missed that end", this is the version heard on the Let It Be... Naked album.
The next day, 28 January, the group attempted to recapture the previous day's performance and recorded several new takes each including the coda. Whilst these takes were good, they didn't quite achieve the quality of the best take from the previous day.
The Beatles had EMI produce a mono remix of the track on 4 April (completed by Jeff Jarrett). When The Beatles heard it they were unhappy with the mix; therefore on 7 April McCartney and Glyn Johns booked time at Olympic Studios to produce new remixes for the single release. They made an edited version using the best take - take eleven - from January 27 and the 'best coda' ending from January 28. The edit is so precise that it appears to be a continuous take, achieving the desired ending the Beatles had wanted all along. This was a divergence from the concept of straight live performance without studio trickery, but a relatively minor one, and avoids the somewhat abrupt ending of the version that is used on the Let It Be... Naked album.
The Beatles performed "Get Back" (along with other songs from the album) as part of the "Beatles Rooftop Performance" which took place on the roof of Apple Studios in Savile Row, London on January 30, 1969. "Get Back" was performed in full three times; on the third and final time, The Beatles' performance was interrupted by the police, who had received complaints from office workers nearby. After the police spoke to Mal Evans, he turned off Lennon and Harrison's amplifiers only for Harrison to switch them back on, insisting that they finish the song. It was during this period that McCartney ad-libbed, "You've been playing on the roofs again, and that's no good, and you know your Mummy doesn't like that...she gets angry...she's gonna have you arrested! Get back!" None of the rooftop versions appear on record in their entirety although in the Let It Be film an edited version of the rooftop performance was included, and is available on Anthology 3.
At the end of the last rooftop performance of "Get Back", the audience applauds and McCartney says "Thanks, Mo" in reply to Maureen Starkey's applause, and Lennon adds: "I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we've passed the audition". Spector used some of the talk preceding the master take of 27 January and edited on these comments to make the album version sound different to the single. Because of the talk at the start and end of the take, the different mix and the absence of the coda it is widely believed that the album version was a different take. In fact all three versions use the same 'take 11' as the core performance. One can define this 'take 11' by listening for the high "hoo!" or "bup!" just after "Get back, Loretta!" in all versions.
On 11 April 1969, Apple Records released "Get Back" as a single in the United Kingdom, paired with "Don't Let Me Down" on the B-Side. The single began its seventeen-week long stay in the charts on April 26 at the top spot in the charts, a position it would hold for six weeks. It was the only Beatles single to enter the UK charts at number one.
In the United States "Get Back" came out as a single on 5 May, backed with "Don't Let Me Down." Five days later "Get Back" began its first of twelve weeks on the chart. Two weeks after the song's chart debut, it hit number one, a position it held for five weeks. It was The Beatles' first single to be released in true stereo instead of mono as part of the "stereo only" movement gaining force in 1969.
In both the United Kingdom and the United States the single was released by Apple, although EMI retained the rights to the song as part of their contract. The single was the only Beatles single ever to feature another artist on the credit, crediting "Get Back" to "The Beatles with Billy Preston".
Apple launched a print ad campaign for the song concurrent with its release showing a photo of the band with the slogan The Beatles as Nature Intended, indicating that the sound of "Get Back" harked to the group's earlier days.
The single version of the song contains a tape echo effect throughout and a coda after a false ending, with the lyrics "Get back Loretta / Your mommy's waiting for you / Wearing her high-heel shoes / And her low-neck sweater / Get back home, Loretta." This does not appear on the album version; the single version's first LP appearance would come three years later on the 1967–1970 compilation. This version also appeared in Past Masters, Volume Two.
Let It Be versionEdit
When Phil Spector came to remix "Get Back" he decided to make it seem different to the version released as the single. Both of the previous unreleased Get Back albums included elements of studio chatter to add to the live feel of the recordings. In this spirit, Spector included part of the studio chatter recorded immediately before the master take (recorded on 27 January) and added the close of the rooftop performance. This made the album version appear to be a live version, creating the impression that the single and album versions are different takes. The studio echo effect was also removed.
Let It Be... Naked versionEdit
In 2003 "Get Back" was re-released on the Let It Be... Naked album, remixed by independent producers with the sanction of surviving Beatles Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, with John Lennon's and George Harrison's widows. The "naked" version of "Get Back" is ostensibly a cleaned up version of the single version albeit much shorter as there is a fade immediately before the final "whoo" and coda.
In 2006 a newly mixed version of "Get Back" produced by George Martin and his son Giles was included on the album Love. This version incorporates elements of "A Hard Day's Night" (the intro chord), "A Day in the Life" (the improvised orchestral crescendo), "The End" (Ringo Starr's drum solo and two of the guitar solos), and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" (Take 1's drum count-off intro).
Lyrics and melodyEdit
The song is composed of two verses, with the intro, outro, and several refrains making up the rest of the song.
The first verse tells the story of a man named Jojo, who leaves his home in Tucson, Arizona, for some "California grass"; at the time that Linda McCartney lived in Tucson, one of the most popular bars was one named Jojo's. The second verse is about "Loretta Martin". The single version includes the coda urging her to "get back" where she belongs, as well.
The Beatles would play around with their lyrics during recording sessions, as evidenced by Lennon's introduction on the Let It Be album: "Sweet Loretta Fart, she thought she was a cleaner, but she was a frying pan".
The album version of the song famously ends with John Lennon quipping "I'd like to say "thank you" on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we've passed the audition".
- Paul McCartney - bass guitar (1963 Hofner 500/1), lead vocals
- John Lennon - lead guitar (1965 Epiphone 230TD Casino), harmony vocals
- George Harrison - rhythm guitar (1968 Fender Telecaster), harmony vocals
- Ringo Starr - drums
- Billy Preston - electric piano (1965 Fender Rhodes)
- Amen Corner released their version as a single in November 1969, at around the time they disbanded.
- Marty Gold included this as one of the tracks on his 1969 album Moog Plays the Beatles.
- Al Green covered the song on his debut LP for Willie Mitchell's Hi Records in 1969.
- Patrick Williams, the US arranger and composer, did a jazz-oriented instrumental cover of the song for his 1970 album Heavy Vibrations. That version became the longtime theme for the TV quiz Sports Challenge, hosted by Dick Enberg.
- Elvis Presley performs the song as part of a medley with "Little Sister" in the rockumentary film That's the Way It Is (1970).
- Elton John covers it completely during extended live performance of "Burn Down the Mission" on 11-17-70 (Uni 19305, 1971), a live broadcast over WABC-FM, New York City on that date (International format 1970-11-17).
- Ike & Tina Turner covered it on their album Nutbush City Limit (1973).
- Rod Stewart covered the song for the 1976 ephemeral music documentary All This and World War II. (Various Artists, 1976).
- Billy Preston, in the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and released on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Various Artists, 1978).
- The Chipmunks|, released on Shirley, Squirrely and Melvin (Excelsior 88009, 1981).
- Steve Wariner, in 1995
- Status Quo covered the song on their Don't Stop album in 1996.
- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band covered the song on their album Welcome to Woody Creek (2004).
- Little Texas, in 2007
- Chris Clark covered the song on her second and final album, "CC Rides Again", for the Motown distributed Weed Records.
- The "No Pakis" version was covered by Neo-Nazi punk rock band Battlecry.
Parodies and cultural referencesEdit
- The Rutles' "Get Up and Go", written by Neil Innes, features a set of lyrics parodying "Get Back". The lyrics are about a jockey by the name of Joe who leaves his "one-horse town" set to an almost identical tune. This apparently caused a copyright dispute which resulted in the song being left off of the Rutles soundtrack album, although it was reinstated for the later CD reissue.
- At the end of The Simpsons episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", all the members of The Be Sharps sing their first hit on Moe's rooftop while George Harrison, driving by, says "It's been done." Also, at the end of their song, Homer says the ending comments "...I hope we pass the audition", followed by everyone laughing and Barney saying "I don't get it."
- U2's 1987 video for "Where the Streets Have No Name" features a Get Back-style rooftop concert on the roof of a building in downtown Los Angeles, California.
- In the 2007 film, Across the Universe, directed by Julie Taymor, most characters are named after lyrics in Beatles songs. A principal character is named Jojo, played by Martin Luther McCoy.