Sunday’s on the phone to Monday, but last Tuesday feels like years ago. Thanksgiving weekend was an epic journey for Beatles fans, thanks to Get Back. Peter Jackson’s docuseries finally arrived on Disney+, dropping surprise after surprise on our heads. So much to process. So much to argue about. Any random 10-minute stretch of this movie is crammed with too many quotable quotes and musical details to catch the first few times. Rest assured this isn’t just a one-time bombshell event. Get Back is an instant classic that fans will keep watching and re-watching for years to come.
When I wrote my Rolling Stone review last week, I made sure to avoid spoilers. That wasn’t easy, since these eight hours are packed with lore never even rumored on the geek circuit. (Some involving secret microphones in flowerpots.) But now that it’s all out there, let’s unpack this glass onion, with spoilers galore. Here are 24 reasons why Get Back is a Beatle experience on the level of Anthology or A Hard Day’s Night — one we’ll be living with forever.
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The highlight of the rooftop concert: the joy of seeing Maureen Starkey, Ringo’s wife, bop her head to “Get Back.” Nobody on the roof is a bigger fan than Mo. She was a screaming girl back at the Cavern Club — she’s the only person here who ever stood in line and paid money to hear this band. (The first time she met Ringo, she was asking for his autograph.) She’s waited years for this gig. At the end, Paul looks over and says, “Thanks, Mo” — a beautiful moment that sums up what the Beatles were all about, but also sums up what they are about, even now, which is why this story refuses to fade into the past.
Downstairs, right afterwards, they all sit in the mixing room. Everybody’s tired, relieved. George sighs, “There’ll be no more rooftops.” But you can see Mo’s sad it’s over, and so is Paul — they’re the only two. Then the playback starts to blast. George closes his eyes and goes to heaven. John grins. Hey, this is us. There’s that priceless shot of all their shoes, everyone tapping their feet. Now it’s a whole room full of Maureen Starkeys. We owe her everything.
When they’re working out some possible backup harmonies for “Don’t Let Me Down,” John is into it. Paul is into it. George drawls, “I think it’s awful, actually.” And that’s the end of it, thank god. Later, the director blathers about doing the show on a cruise ship. George says, “The idea of the boat is completely insane.” Respect to George, always there with the bitch leadership this crisis demanded.
The Boiled Testicle award for the most insufferable presence in this or any other movie: Michael Lindsay-Hogg, director of the lousy 1970 doc Let It Be. He has zero ability to notice when it’s his turn to shut up, even as the Fabs roll their eyes at his dippy ideas. (“What about an orphanage? How does that grab you guys?”) After seeing Get Back, it seems like the bitter taste of the original Let It Be was MLH looking for an angle. He was in a snit, so he made a bad movie. It already seems like a minor footnote in the Get Back story.
One morning Paul comes in with a riff in his head — he strums while George and Ringo yawn in his face. Then they notice it. George plays along. Ringo does his hand-claps. They’re whipping up “Get Back” on the spot. What the fuck? Whatever else the virtues of this song (never a fave for me), they love playing it together — for them, the riff is a clubhouse where they can hang out and converse. “A goer number,” as George Martin would say.(I promise I won’t keep bashing MLH, but the fact that he had this scene on film, yet suppressed it from Let It Be? Practically sabotage.)
When exactly did George get into the lace bow-tie thing? Never noticed before, but he’s really committed for a few days. The man’s taste in boots and wizard hats is flawless. But since he’s George in January 1969, he can wear anything and look hot.
Talk about a bombshell: After George quits, John and Paul sneak off to the cafeteria for a top-secret talk, just the two of them. They have no idea the flowerpot on the table is bugged. I screamed, alone in my apartment, like I just saw the waiter’s bowtie on The Sopranos. Ethically dubious, but wow. So here we are listening in on this private chat. John mourns that their disrespect for George created a “festering wound,” and “we didn’t give him any bandages.”A week ago, nobody knew this conversation existed, and nobody could have imagined how raw, honest, empathetic it is. This is how these two talked? Yes it is, it’s true. Yes it is, it’s true.It’s intense, especially when Paul speculates on a future they all deserved to see come true. “Probably when we’re all very old, we’ll all agree with each other. And we’ll all sing together.”
Hilarious how the Beatles will drag each other all day, yet instantly lash out at anyone who looks sideways at another Beatle. When Glyn Johns asks Ringo to put a damper on the drums, John yells, “The only damper around here is you, Glyn Johns!” After comments from the booth, Paul and John shout, “We’re bloody stars, you know” and “Look, fuck-face, don’t comment!” It reminds me of one of my favorite John quotes, from his 1970 Rolling Stone “Lennon Remembers” interview: “I can knock the Beatles, but don’t let Mick Jagger knock them.”
Billy Preston, man. The movie flips as soon as he shows up. He sits down at the electric piano and transforms “Don’t Let Me Down,” as John yells, “You’re giving us a lift, Bill!” One of the coolest scenes: John and Billy turn Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech into “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
One of my favorite moments is just a couple of seconds: Ringo gets teased by the others when he orders mashed potatoes for lunch, so he makes a sad face for the camera, then breaks into a good-morning-sunshine of a smile. I will think about this smile now and then for the rest of my life.
Paul is such a Beatle fan, he writes his own fan fiction. While playing “Two of Us,” he notes how these songs add up to a concept album. “It’s like, after ‘Get Back,’ we’re ‘on our way home.’ There’s a story! And there’s another one, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ — ‘Oh darling, I’ll never let you down.’”John: “Yeah, it’s like you and me are lovers.”Paul: “Yeah.”Aaaah, yeah. As they say this, John and Paul do a bit of flirty mirroring — they both nervously push their hair out of their face. George and Ringo do a terrible job of pretending not to notice this chat, but at least they try.I will think about this scene more than now and then for the rest of my life.
Mal Evans, the band’s road manager and aide-de-fab, steals the show. You see how trusted and needed he is. He fetches their guitars. He stalls the cops. Best Mal moment: the baffled look on his face when Paul says, “Mal, we should get a hammer. And an anvil.”(Also: Now we have film proof that all four Beatles really, really liked “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” at least the first day they played it.)
John sings a riff on the Cole Porter chestnut “Friendship,” made famous by Judy Garland. “If you’re ever in a jam, here I am/If you’re ever in the shit, grab my tit!”
When Peter Jackson releases his 18-hour edit, he simply has to include the full footage of George singing Dylan’s “Mama, You Been On My Mind” and “I Threw It All Away.” The bootleg audio has made the rounds, but seeing George do this is a new experience.
The band’s respect and deference for Yoko, Linda, and Maureen is striking, in comparison with any other male musicians circa 1969. You can’t exactly imagine Mick Jagger saying, “Linda’s a cameraman.” There’s a Yoko smile I can’t get out of my mind — Ringo slips her a stick of gum. She breaks it in half, hands a piece to John. Her smile with Ringo is just a moment in time that was lost until now — sitting in a vault for 52 years.When they reminisce about their trip to India — that footage could be the next Peter Jackson doc in itself — Paul has fond words for Cynthia Lennon, Jane Asher, and Pattie Harrison. There’s also respect for the Apple Scruffs, the young fans who wait outside, Eileen Kensley and Sue Ahearne. Note how Paul is the one Beatle who looks over and sees them. He doesn’t cheese it up, doesn’t wave or smile — but he needs to know they’re there. To him, they’re the whole point.
I kept wondering who was the extremely hot twink in the corner with the Mick Jagger-circa-December’s Children haircut. I was shocked when it turned to be engineer Alan Parsons — yes, the guy from the Alan Parsons Project. That messes with my head. Or as John would say, “It turns me off but blows me mind and floats me upstream.”
You can always read the Bitchy George level by his facial hair. He only shaves when he’s in a cheery mood, so he shows up fresh-faced, all smiles. But stubble means trouble. Even after he rejoins the band, he’s still wary, so he’s got a mangy beard. But then he walks in with a nice tidy mustache and you realize, yes, he feels like a Fab again. Here comes the sun.
Linda and Paul come out as fans of Help!, the band’s much-maligned 1965 comedy. If Peter Jackson ever does an eight-hour edit of Help!, he can count on my support as a customer.
Ringo plunks out “Octopus’ Garden” at the piano. Everybody chuckles. But George comes over with his guitar and helps Ringo turn it into a real song, asking for zero credit, even though he’s having enough trouble getting the band to consider his own tunes. The generosity here says so much about these two. On his 80th birthday TV special last year, Ringo explained how George helped him write: “I can write it all, but I can’t end it, so he’d end my songs for me!’”
Late in Episode 2, John, George, and Ringo play “I Lost My Little Girl” — the first song Paul ever wrote, at 14, about his mother dying. (“Fairly obvious,” he admitted later.) A heavy moment, but a discreet one — nobody else in the room could have any idea what this song was, or what it meant. As always, they communicate in “Beatle code,” as John called it — a private language only these four friends can share.
Linda’s toddler Heather, what a rocker. When she screams into the mic, John says, “Yoko!” Best moment: Everyone sits in the mixing room to debate production on “The Long and Winding Road.” (Man, now there was a wasted conversation.) Heather climbs up to stand on Paul’s lap and brush his hair.
George muses about a solo album, saying, “I’m just gonna do me for a bit.” He presents a sensible plan for how the band could “preserve the Beatle bit,” just doing their own music on the side. (John suggests they could all play on George’s record.) But it’s still bullshit that “All Things Must Pass,” “Dehra Dun,” and “Old Brown Shoe” didn’t make the album. Isn’t it a pity?
Up on the roof: the jubilation that sweeps over John’s face as he sings “Dig a Pony.” He’d totally forgotten his power to make music like this. All four Beatles separately tiptoe to the edge, to sneak a peek at the street below. It’s not exactly a cool crowd (the doc’s only boring moments are the street interviews), but it’s their first audience in years. John gets excited, yells, “Peace on earth!” George tries to act blasé, but he can’t resist taking a look despite himself. Ringo’s peek is the best — he smiles, and lingers there just a moment too long.
That scene where Paul wonders if the band can survive, if George, John, and Yoko want to bail. The dialogue has circulated on bootlegs for years, but until now, nobody knew it was on camera. “I’ll tell you what — that film is powerful,” Peter Jackson told me last year. “I was aware of the audio — it’s one thing to hear the dialogue, but seeing the emotion on their faces when they’re having that conversation, it’s very powerful.”That’s the mystery at the heart of Get Back: How is it that we keep hearing ourselves in this music? People all over the world, from all different generations and cultures, even though most of us weren’t born back then? Why does the world keep dreaming the Beatles?“They’re only the icons they are because the music was so majestically good,” Jackson told me. “There’s a joy in the songs that they sang. In decades and decades to come, it will never be dulled. It will never be suppressed. That joy, that infectious joy, is part of the human psyche now.” And that joy is all over Get Back.
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