"Get Back" began life during some of the studio jamming that January, during what are now called the Get Back sessions. Paul just started noodling around with the tune and the lyric (which is lifted slightly from a line of a song George had written, "Sour Milk Sea"), and in a few days had his song. Weirdly, the original lyrics are very political, a response to Conservative M.P. Enoch Powell's so-called "Rivers of Blood" speech, an anti-immigration screed that was apparently galvanizing Britain at the time. Since the band was recording really everything going on in the studio, there are bootlegs out there with Paul singing verses like "Meanwhile back at home there's nineteen Pakistanis living in a council flat," which just sounds bizarre if, like me, you'd been listening to "Get Back" as a happy little riff-driven thing your whole life. Another bootleg recording features Paul singing "don't dig no Pakistanis taking all the people's jobs," which is even weirder-- this is called the "No Pakistanis Song" in Beatles bootleg circles. Paul, by the way, swears that this stuff would have evolved into a satire of anti-immigration sentiment, not an endorsement thereof, but since all we've got are these unfinished tracks without much context, Paul hasn't always come off well among circles of good liberals such as myself. Wisely, he backed off this whole approach completely before too long--choosing to focus on the comparatively less controversial subject of transgendered people-- but those bootlegs are some of the oddest around.
The lyrics we've got left, with their incompletely sketched characters, are fairly surreal and fun, which is just fine with me. They suit the breeziness of the song in all other ways-- "Get Back" is structurally quite simple, a three- or four-chord bluesy jam of a song. I mean, even the melody is basically one line repeated a lot, with a small variation on the chorus lines-- hardly a complete melody at all, you could argue. Out of a so little, though, something pretty special emerges, for "Get Back" is really a study in getting the feel of a song, as Troy might put it, exactly right. A lot of the interest for me derives from the killer accents in the chorus, all of which is perhaps most vehemently accented by Billy Preston on his electric piano. The on-the-beat accents at the ends of the chorus phrases ("Get back to where you once belonged"-- BOM, BOM-- you know the bits), for instance, are really key to this song, providing the most elemental structural framework.
The other really fantastic element is the slick, almost liquid sound of those guitar licks playing with Preston's piano. This is John on lead guitar, by the way, which is notable, because it's an AWESOME guitar part. John tends to not get props as a particularly great guitarist-- and he was the first to admit that George could play much better than he could, which is why George took most of the solos-- but "Get Back" proves that he could hang when he wanted to. It's gotta be one of this most stellar guitar moments as a Beatle. He takes the first and third solos, while Preston takes the keyboard solo in the middle of the song, echoing the smooth slickness that John established with his own inimitable playing. As tremendous as all of this is, I like that nothing sounds particularly grueling about it-- everyone is settling into the beat really easily, and the guitar solos in particular sound almost lazy. Paul hangs out on some bass drones like he's got all the time in the world, singing in his cheekiest way possible. And even Ringo, who is drumming like mad, seems to be doing so almost by accident. He could drum this well in his sleep. It all just sounds really fun to play, which is nice to hear during the fraught January of 1969.
Speaking of Ringo, some of my favorite bits of his drumming are actually on the coda to the single version. Which reminds me that I should say that the version in the video above is, of course, from the Let It Be movie during the rooftop concert scene, but the single version and what went on to become the Let It Be album version were both recorded a couple days prior. I think the video above might actually be the one that's on Anthology 3, but you'll have to forgive me because I'm absolutely out of time to go check. Suffice it to say that the convoluted history of all the Get Back tracks tends to exhaust me, and I for one prefer the single version in this case anyway (even though the coda is tacked on from a different session). Feel free to disagree! But "Get Back" seems to not want to be thought about too hard, to my mind. It's too easygoing, too freewheeling, too groovy. Just dig it, kids.
"Get Back," released in the U.K. as a single c/w "Don't Let Me Down," April 11, 1969; in the U.S. May 5, 1969.