January 30th marks the anniversary of the famed 1969 Beatles Rooftop Concert, a final live musical jaunt for the Fab Four, who was able to put aside and sweep under the carpet all the backbiting, bickering, and heavy vitriol that had existed at the time and ultimately forced them to splinter and finally break up the following year, in 1970.
By the look, sound, and overall energy and vibe of the Rooftop Concert, you would never know that there was any tension between the four musicians, the band’s front men John Lennon and Paul McCartney in particular. Legions of stories, most urban legends, some shrouded in truth, have told countless tales of why the band’s foundations were cracking by January 30, 1969 and what led to their eventual breakup. The concert acted as the centerpiece of the film that was to also be released in 1970, Let it Be, which showed the band sort of getting back to their roots, congregating in the chilly Twickenham Studios in London, creating in essence this record, and also the early versions of what were to become songs that would later surface on the band’s final release, Abbey Road. Although Let it Be was released after Abbey Road, the songs that made up Let it Be were recorded first.
Originally, there were big, slapdash ideas for how to present The Beatles live for the film, their first live performance since ending their touring to the public at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966. Some stories circulated that they were to play on a cruise ship or even in a Greek Theater style circle in the round setting. Finally, the four men were at their Apple Records Headquarters at Saville Row, grabbed their guitars and instruments, and in an impromptu setting, finally settled on using the roof for the performance during a chilly, overcast day, as The Beatles plugged in and turned on for the small crowd of friends, co-workers, and loved ones who made it up there and braved the inclement weather with them. Including keyboardist Billy Preston to accompany them musically, the band ran through five songs: “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “One After 909,” and “Dig A Pony.” All of the tracks, save for “Don’t Let Me Down,” wound up on the soundtrack recording of Let It Be. The film itself still has yet to see the light of day on DVD or Blu-ray, although the film’s director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, has speculated to various news sources that the film might have a release later this year finally for the home market, but confirmation of that remains to be seen.
As the Beatles performed the songs, with a nice sound and tight chemistry which still, regardless of the trepidations and the men going at loggerheads with each other, shone through and proved that one of the most underrated things about the band, which a lot of people still forget and don’t realize to this day, was that The Beatles were a great ensemble musically. Passersby below rubbernecked their gaze to the roof, wondering what all the musical noise was and where it was coming from. A slight melee gathered below, as policemen and then the press started to cover just what was going on up on the roof on Saville Row. Finally, a rather humble policeman made his way to the rooftop, and ended the brief set which turned out to be yet another fine musical performance by the Liverpudlians. The five songs had been performed a few times, and most notably, the take of “Get Back” that was released to the public, had the spontaneous witticism by John Lennon quipping at the end of it, to much hilarity, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.”
They passed the audition all right, and they also passed another chapter of their storied, influential, and memorable career into music history.
The rooftop concert can be seen below.