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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Get Back b/w Don't Let Me Down

Cover photo shoot for the unreleased Get Back LP
You would think that after spending five months in the studio working on the "White Album" the Beatles would take a prolonged break, but only two and a half months later, on January 2nd, 1969, the group convened at Twickenham Film Studios to commence rehearsals for a new project.  The germ of the idea for these sessions had been planted while making the promotional film for Hey Jude in front of a live audience.  The band had been rejuvenated at that shoot, and the thought of performing live again no longer seemed out of the question.  The rough idea was to begin rehearsing a batch of new material that could be debuted in a high profile live concert.  Director Michael Lindsey-Hogg and a film crew would simultaneously shoot a documentary that would follow every step of the process leading up to the big show.

But the sessions for the double album had been fraught with tension, and while some fine ensemble playing had occurred, many of the overdubs and several of the songs had been solo work.  Now, in order to prepare for a live set, they were forcing themselves to be with each other every moment.  As a result, these rehearsals famously imploded.  By the end of January, after the historic rooftop concert (which, great as it was, was not the grand perfromance they had originally imagined), they pretty much abandoned the Get Back project, as it was then known.  Lindsey-Hogg did go off to begin putting together the documentary, however, and in March, John and Paul approached a fellow named Glyn Johns, who had served as producer much of the time in George Martin's absence, and told him to see if he could pull together an album from the thirty-plus hours of tape.

Since the sessions had technically been rehearsals, there were no proper takes, so it proved to be a monumental task for Johns to find decent runthroughs of any of the songs.  He did manage to find two strong performances from January 28th, and these were soon released as this single.

Get Back - McCartney wrote this jaunty, galloping little number as the title song for these sessions, the idea being that the Beatles were getting back to their rock and roll roots.  Except for a brief bit of harmony from John during one chorus, Paul handles the vocal chores.  John plays the subtle lead guitar on the track, providing some tasty licks.  Billy Preston is on electric piano, brought into the sessions mid-way by George both to enhance the live ensemble and to help put everyone on their best behavior, as Eric Clapton's presence had done on While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  Preston certainly brings a style of playing into the mix that none of the Beatles could have duplicated.  After a false ending, Ringo brings everyone back in for a reprise which fades out on record, but which went on a while longer with Paul getting a bit goofy and throwing in some "ho ho ho's."  Glyn Johns used a piece of this for the final track on the Get Back album.

Don't Let Me Down - Lennon's best offering from these sessions was his first love song for Yoko.  The refrain is a cry of desperation balanced by the quieter verses and bridge.  Glyn Johns used a different take of the song for the Get Back LP on which you can hear John tell Ringo to let loose on his crash cymbal at the top "to give me the courage to come screaming in."  Paul plays an attention-getting bass line and supports John vocally with strong harmonies throughout.  Preston's playing on the track is absolutely indispensable.

The single was released in April of 1969 and hyped as being "the Beatles as nature intended" to promote the live aspect of the recordings.  It was a huge hit worldwide.  The UK version was still in mono, but the US single was in stereo for the first time.  There was no producer credit for either George Martin or Glyn Johns, but both sides of the record listed the artist as The Beatles with Billy Preston, the only time any other musician was so honored.

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