Thursday, July 16, 2009

Get Back

You guys, I saw Paul on Letterman last night-- I'd been remiss in reminding you about that, what with lots of other stuff on my mind, so apologies, but hopefully you found out from some of the other Beatles news sources out there, some of which can be found to your right-- and it just put me in a better mood than I've been in for days. Those viewers paying attention might have noticed that Paul Shaffer played out the monologue with "Slow Down," so I'm going to go ahead and assume that he's a reader of this blog and got the idea from my post a couple days ago. Hi, Paul Shaffer! But anyway, the Paul I was actually tuning in to see did not disappoint. He sat adorably through Letterman's kind of asinine questions, then strode up to the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theatre and played a set. The opening song was "Get Back," which kind of makes sense, cause, you know, he was almost on a roof. Kind of like that day he played on a roof in January of 1969.

"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.


  1. With you on the single version preference. I really wish I'd been around to discuss that question in greater depth when you did Let It Be.

    Had no idea he took inspiration from Sour Milk Sea, by the way. You always bring the good stuff.

    From an obnoxious guitarist's POV -- though not in any way a passable lead guitarist's POV -- I want to say that what you hear as a 'lazy' lead line, I hear as kind of uninspired and cliched (although I know it's hard to say anything Beatles is cliched, since they did so much 'first' from a pop standpoint) and, technically, not especially proficient -- until you get to the little lick he does at the very end of the second solo, which is just excellent, something no guitarist would be ashamed of.

    Um ... Paul tomorrow.

  2. I get too caught up in the video to think about comparing song versions, I mean this one is live and that's enough for me. I know the purpose of the "concert" is to record them live for the doc, but ever since day one of seeing this footage back in college it has struck me as inspired. I mean, they hadn't performed live anywhere in years, and then what? ––– their choice of playing live is a "free gig" on the roof top! We have Paul looking so cool with his beard, John in his fur coat, George in green pants, and Ringo wearing what? - a woman's red rain coat, what is that? Then we have all the cut-aways and reaction shots of people on the street looking up trying to figure out what's going on, the people in other blds figuring it out and getting on their balconies and roof tops to listen, that one dude smoking a pipe and walking around with his hands stuck deep into his trench coat. Meanwhile, the lads play on. It's the classic stuff of legends. It really is.

  3. Troy, that's fair about John's guitar part. And it doesn't sound as clean and technically sound as George generally does, true. I don't know, though-- somehow it fits the feel for me. (Or maybe my inherent John bias is serving me ill here.)

    And YAY for seeing Paul tomorrow! You've got to report back, either here or in your own blog. There are rumors that you'll be seeing Ringo too, you know.

    Frank, although they filmed the rooftop concert live for the movie, it was also just a gigantic compromise-- Paul really wanted them to do another live show, and there was all this talk about playing the Coliseum in Rome and, like, in the middle of the Sahara, and I don't even remember what other hairbrained ideas, all of which were shot down by George (who pointed out all the logistical barriers) and John (who preferred to do it in an asylum). In the end, I think the rooftop was less just for the movie and more to shut Paul up, though it certainly did turn out well. Have you watched the Rock Band trailer? Toward the end you can see they've put in "Get Back" and totally duplicated the whole look of the rooftop-- it rules.

  4. Did not know that history. Very interesting, Megan. You are certainly the "go to girl" for all things Beatles!

  5. I'm not saying the guitar part's bad, 'cuz it's not. I'm just saying that except for that one part, it's not technically outstanding, or even inspired. I think I'm referring mostly to the second line of it, and the way it pretty much just repeats the first line. Then again, I hate solos that just echo the vocal melody. And songs that have the same progression all the way through, for both the verse and chorus.

    If Ringo shows up, my kid is going to freak the hell out. He's asked if we're going to see Ringo, as in, is it Ringo's concert, and I can't tell if he's messing with me. When we saw the tribute show, he really wanted Yellow Submarine, which for reasons I will never understand they didn't play. Tomorrow night, if Paul plays Sgt. Pepper instead of the reprise, as he apparently did in Halifax, my kid's gonna lose it (in a good way, like a 13-year-old girl across the street 45 years ago).