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The Beatles’ ‘Get Back’ caps a Fab year for fans

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The Beatles’ ‘Get Back’ caps a Fab year for fans (image courtesy Disney+)

Now that director Peter Jackson’s epic myth-shattering three-part "Get Back" series is out on Disney+ (no spoilers here, only a few teases), Beatles fans can enjoy what is arguably the most significant release under the group’s name in more than 25 years.

Jackson spent more than four years trying to make sense of 80 hours of footage shot in January 1969 for what The Beatles and original director Michael Lindsay-Hogg thought might be a TV special. Halfway through the sessions, in which we see the group working up a batch of new songs, jamming, joking, smoking and arguing, the decision was made to turn it into a movie to fulfill their deal with United Artists.

That film – “Let It Be” - was released in May 1970, one month after the world found out the group had broken up, and as such, had been edited to reflect much of the conflict that went into its creation.

More than half a century later, it is a sweet surprise to discover how emotionally maturely they handled the more intense moments left out of the original film, not to mention the priceless enchanting scenes of joy on days when that good old Beatles wizardry found its way into the studio.

John Lennon later wrote off the project to journalist Ray Connolly as “the most miserable session on Earth,” adding “even the biggest Beatles fan couldn’t have sat through those six weeks of misery” but he was no stranger to exaggeration. Now we know that with “Let It Be,” the best material had been left on the cutting room floor, and Lennon certainly seemed to have a lot of fun that month for someone claiming to be so disheartened.

Jackson sums up the paradox well in the companion Get Back book released in October: "It would be fair to say that today ‘Let it Be’ symbolizes the breaking-up of The Beatles. That’s the mythology, the truth is somewhat different. The real story of ‘Let It Be’ has been locked in the vaults of Apple Corps for the last 50 years." 

You say you want a revelation? Jackson’s nearly eight-hour “Get Back” docuseries exposes a considerable number of unknown details that will forever alter what we know about how The Beatles functioned during their final year together.

The big payoff, of course, is the traffic-stopping concert performed on the roof of the Apple building seen at the end of episode three in a joyous rush of Beatles magic.

“Get Back” was the greatest gift to Beatles fans this year but it was by no means the only one.

In April, Lennon’s landmark 1970 solo album “Plastic Ono Band” was reissued as an eight-disc box set (six CDs and two Blu-ray discs) containing 159 new mixes, studio outtakes, demos, jams and isolated tracks, presented in 5.1 surround and Dolby Atmos. It seems like a lot for an album originally designed as a stripped-down soul-baring declaration but the all-encompassing scope of this set reveals how focused and determined Lennon was to step away from the shadow of The Beatles and be received as an artist in his own right. The direct intensity we hear in Lennon’s music and lyrics belies just how much fun he had had creating the record as a trio with Ringo Starr and bassist Klaus Voorman as heard in the outtakes. An accompanying 132-page book provides crucial context to one of rock’s all-time greatest singer-songwriter records.

In August, George Harrison’s sweeping 1970 triple solo album “All Things Must Pass” received a similarly all-inclusive 50th anniversary reissue as a six-disc (five CDs and a Blu-ray disc with 5.1 and Dolby Atmos surround mixes) box set that strips back much of producer Phil Spector’s thick wall of sound echo to allow a somewhat more intimate listen. Harrison’s songwriting blossomed in the mid to late 1960s, but finding space for his babies on a Beatles record full of Lennon and McCartney gold practically necessitated a planetary alignment. In “Get Back,” we see Harrison in conversation with an encouraging John Lennon as he proposes a solo record in order to finally have a home for his songs. Forty-two previously unissued outtakes, demos and studio jams illustrate the freedom he felt to have a virtually limitless outlet. An accompanying book was compiled by Harrison’s widow, Olivia.

In October, The Beatles’ “Let It Be” album was expanded into a six-disc box set (five CDs and one Blu-ray disc) newly mixed in stereo, DTS 5.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos.

One of the things that became obvious from watching Jackson’s “Get Back” is that The Beatles weren’t quite ready at the time to take on another project despite Paul McCartney’s best efforts to keep them working. The self-titled double LP we know as “The White Album” had taken nearly six months to complete and had only been in the shops for six weeks when cameras began rolling in early January 1969. Each Beatle arrived with scraps and ideas for songs, some that would be fleshed out into eternal classics, some that would be revisited another day.

The idea that nobody seemed to know exactly what they were supposed to be working toward combined with the imposing film cameras, early hours, long days, and looming uncertainty over their business affairs coalesced to drive a wedge into The Beatles’ old “toppermost of the poppermost” pledge of unity. In one of Get Back’s crucial scenes, we see the band verbalize their frustrations with each other while admitting nothing had been the same since the death of their manager Brian Epstein 16 months earlier.

What had been conceived as an audio verité Beatles record performed live in the studio with a minimum of studio wizardry was ultimately handed over to Phil Spector who doctored the tapes with strings, choirs and reverb.

Because we’re talking about The Beatles, “Let It Be” still turned out to be a pretty great record and Giles Martin and Sam Okell’s remix, while mostly faithful to the original, provides clarity and zest to the recordings while taming some of Spector’s embellishments. The bonus material includes engineer Glyn Johns’ proposed but rejected 1969 mixes, rehearsals, jams, and early versions of songs that would later appear on Abbey Road and on early Beatles solo albums. The box is accompanied by a 100-page hardcover book packed with information and photos by Ethan Russell and Linda McCartney.

In April, Paul McCartney maximized the chart-topping success of “McCartney III” (released in December 2020) with “McCartney III Imagined,” a remix record with numerous notable collaborators (among them, Beck, St. Vincent, Damon Albarn and Anderson.Paak) who add their own flair while giving the album a makeover.

As if that wasn’t enough – and by George, John and Paul, don’t you think it ought to be? – Ringo Starr gave fans new music this year in the form of “Zoom In,” an E.P. containing five new songs that include guest appearances from McCartney, Robbie Krieger (The Doors), Steve Lukather (Toto), Joe Walsh, Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers), Sheryl Crow, Dave Grohl, Lenny Kravitz and Chris Stapleton.

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 December 2021 07:29

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