I found many things remarkable about Peter Jackson’s new film ‘The Beatles: Get Back,’ comprised of 7 hours of footage of the Beatles’ 1969 ‘Let It Be’ sessions. The band members’ continual drive to keep moving forward to new musical and artistic frontiers caught my attention. I could have easily imagined the iconic band preparing a show where they played the hits they had recorded over the prior decade. But they chose instead to come into that massive Twickenham movie soundstage with a blank canvas. They intended to create all new work and have it ready for a live performance at the end of 3 weeks. This would follow not having played live in 3 years!
John and Paul had their secret language of goofy voices and faces that seemed to reaffirm their tight friendship even through creative tensions. George, more earnest in his expression, came across sensitive to the pain of being pushed aside by the two bigger dogs, his own song idea pushed to the back burner one time too many, his ornate guitar playing style restricted so John could show off his 6-string skills a bit more. Ringo appeared patient and up for anything. He was about to take on a lead acting role in a major film in the very same studio where the band found themselves.
Flexibility, learned the hard way
I was struck by the band’s willingness to change their approach when what they were doing wasn’t working. When John & Paul’s behavior alienated George to the point where he chose to leave the band, they made two attempts to reconcile with him. The first, a band meeting that included Paul’s then-girlfriend Linda and John’s wife Yoko, went poorly. From the way Linda described it, Yoko spoke for a silent John at the meeting. George remained unconvinced things would get any better and remained committed to a post-Beatles existence.
A second band meeting with George went better when George’s band mates listened to his concerns and changed the scope of the project the group was planning. Now, there would no longer be a live TV special. It would be an album recording session in a smaller studio; filming would continue, but for a documentary film rather than a TV special, thus lowering the pressure on the group.
John and Paul had a frank discussion on a lunch break that, unbeknownst to them, was being recorded for the film. In it, they acknowledged how their behavior added to George’s pain. A decision on any kind of live performance was postponed in favor of the recording work.
Good chemistry with Billy
The addition of George’s friend Billy Preston, an absolute ninja on the keyboard, who had played with Little Richard, Same Cooke and the Rolling Stones, brought a spark of genuine joy to the Beatles’ sessions. John even mused over making Billy a permanent member of a group he could once again briefly see as staying together. The British lads seemed genuinely wowed by the American’s skill and musicality; Billy appeared equally delighted with the Beatles’ craftsmanship of their songs and the emotional power of their vocals.
A surprisingly loose agenda in studio
Paul remarked on this on a few occasions, that the band seemed to lack an agenda while in the larger studio. As a musician who has been in bands and has had to pay out-of-pocket for both rehearsal studio and recording studio time, I found this particularly surprising. Studio time is expensive and precious in my experience. I have always felt an obligation to walk into the studio prepared for the songs to be rehearsed and recorded. Even now that I’m recording at home, I’m doing this around family life and a full-time career. Those few hours I get to make music are valuable. I feel the need to take a workmanlike approach and come out of those sessions with something tangible.
I can appreciate that the world’s most influential band needs to take its time and experiment toward new sounds and new messages. They’ve had to live with tropes like “How do you top Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?” They also had the time and resources their record label was investing in them.
‘The Beatles: Get Back’ is streaming on Disney Plus.
- Strive for psychological flexibility. Know when what you’re doing isn’t working, and change it.
- When you get to collaborate with other artists, be mindful of the chemistry you have with each other, whether in the same room or across the globe. Take it in; it will show in the finished product and in your memory of working on the project.
- Whether you have an agenda for a music session or not, make sure your agenda or lack thereof is in alignment with what you’re trying to accomplish.
My Beatles Collab with Kris Pride – Aross the Universe
Here’s my cover of a Beatles song from these sessions – “Across the Universe.” It’s a collaboration with Kris Pride. We each did our layers separately, but when mixing the music and producing the video I took in the chemistry between Kris and me as artists, as well as our mutual love and admiration for the Beatles. When Kris’ camera was producing a blurry image on her first take for the video, she recognized it wasn’t working and switched to another camera, changing her approach. This required some psychological flexibility, letting go of the notion that you can’t top what you’ve already done.