On January 30, 1969, The Beatles stepped out, unannounced, onto the roof of their Apple Corps headquarters in central London – and played their last-ever live show. Conceived as a cool way to record live tracks for their final album, 1970’s ‘Let It Be’, the Fab Four wound up putting on the most famous free gig ever.
Now you too can experience the magic. The Beatles: Get Back – The Rooftop Concert is getting an extended release in UK cinemas from today (February 18). Comprising the legendary performance in full, it’s basically an abridged version of Peter Jackson’s recent Get Back docuseries which NME described as an “utterly unmissable epic” in a five-star review. To get you in the mood, here are some of the new film’s best moments…
John Lennon shows his funny side
After the group excitedly wrap up a brief run-through of ‘Get Back’ – which they go on to play a further three times – John starts larking about, dropping in references to the band’s early days rocking dingy basements in Hamburg, Germany. Playing up to the bevy of cameramen around him, he states off-mic that they’ve had song “requests from Martin and Luther”, before erupting into a fit of giggles as the others catch onto his joke. It’s a brief and playful, yet deeply intimate moment.
The first take of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’
Throughout the latter half of the Get Back docuseries, we see ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ – John’s longing ballad about Yoko Ono – cycle through a number of stylistic and lyrical changes during sessions at Twickenham Studios. Aside from his bandmates calling it “corny”, John also struggled to hit the high notes of the chorus. But he hoped that a live recording would complete the song. Not quite. Instead, what we get is a memorable flub of the final verse’s lyrics, necessitating a second go at it later. One for the blooper reel then.
A stomping, elongated ‘One After 909’
As the crowds on Savile Row below begin to swell, the band give an entertaining rendition of one of John and Paul‘s earliest school days collabs. It’s full of meaning and genuine sincerity, energised by tight group harmonies and Ringo‘s metronomic backbeat. They even wrap the track up with a few bars of Irish folk standard ‘Danny Boy’, for an extra punch of emotion. Unlike the rest of the gig, which sees them fine-tuning parts of their songs, it’s here where they really hit their stride.
‘Dig A Pony’ and the beautiful chaos it inspires
At this point during the performance, the police have the building surrounded, citing noise complaints from nearby businesses. The Fabs don’t seem to mind though, triumphantly carrying on with John-penned tune ‘Dig A Pony’. As a receptionist doggedly attempts to distract two police officers from heading upstairs and derailing the performance, the band’s rhythm section and call-and-responses are fun and tight, even if, at times, the song sounds as though it’s still in an early, improvisational stage. And despite the unravelling situation, there is silliness to be found: John needs the lyrics in front of him, so he has an assistant kneel in by the mic stand with the words tacked onto a clipboard. Obviously.
The final performance of ‘Get Back’
As the first note of ‘Get Back’ rings out, the band realise the show is about to be shut down by the authorities who’ve made their way to the roof. Time really is of the essence – which makes for a thrilling, impactful closer. Paul cheers as police officers approach him. George has his amp shut off by road manager and assistant Mal Evans, before defiantly switching it back on again. John, meanwhile, addresses the audience on the road below: “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”
See ‘The Beatles: Get Back – The Rooftop Concert’ in select UK cinemas now