"Get Back" is a song recorded by the British rock band the Beatles and Billy Preston, and written by Paul McCartney though credited to the Lennon–McCartney partnership. It was originally released as a single on 11 April 1969 and credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston". The album version of this song contains a different mix that features a studio chat between Paul McCartney and John Lennon at the beginning which lasts for 20 seconds before the song begins, also omitting the coda featured in the single version. This version became the closing track of Let It Be (1970), which was released just after the group split up. The single version was later issued on the compilation albums 1967–1970, 20 Greatest Hits, Past Masters, and 1.
|Single by the Beatles with Billy Preston|
|from the album Let It Be|
|B-side||"Don't Let Me Down"|
|Released||11 April 1969|
|Recorded||27–28 January 1969|
|Length||3:09 (album version)|
3:13 (single version)
|Producer(s)||Glyn Johns and George Martin (single version)|
Phil Spector (album version)
|The Beatles singles chronology|
|Billy Preston singles chronology|
The single reached number one in the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Australia, France, West Germany, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, and Belgium. It was the Beatles' only single that credited another artist at their request. "Get Back" was the Beatles' first single release in true stereo in the US. In the UK, the Beatles' singles remained monaural until the following release, "The Ballad of John and Yoko". It was also the only Beatles single to debut on the UK singles charts at number one.
"Get Back" is unusual in the Beatles' canon in that almost every moment of the song's evolution has been documented, from its beginning as an offhand riff to its final mixing in several versions. That is covered in bootleg recordings, books, the 1970 documentary Let It Be, and the 2021 Peter Jackson-directed documentary The Beatles: Get Back.
The song's melody grew out of some unstructured jamming on 7 January 1969, during rehearsal sessions on the sound stage at Twickenham Studios. After working out the rhythm and harmony of the primary riff on his Höfner bass, McCartney introduced some of the lyrics, reworking "Get back to the place you should be" from fellow Beatle George Harrison's "Sour Milk Sea" into "Get back to where you once belonged". McCartney had played bass on Jackie Lomax's recording of "Sour Milk Sea" a few months earlier. On 9 January, McCartney brought a more developed version of "Get Back" to the group, with the "Sweet Loretta" verse close to its finished version. For the press release to promote the "Get Back" single, McCartney wrote, "We were sitting in the studio and we made it up out of thin air ... we started to write words there and then ... when we finished it, we recorded it at Apple Studios and made it into a song to roller-coast by."
At the beginning of the Let It Be version of the song, Lennon can be heard jokingly saying "Sweet Loretta Fart (often misheard as "fat", due to Lennon's pronunciation), she thought she was a cleaner, but she was a frying pan." The album version of the song also ends with Lennon famously quipping "I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition". (He had said that at the end of their 30 January 1969 rooftop concert on the roof of Apple Studios, but Phil Spector edited it into the studio version of "Get Back" that was released on the Let It Be album.)
In an interview in Playboy magazine in 1980, Lennon described "Get Back" as "... a better version of 'Lady Madonna'. You know, a potboiler rewrite". Lennon also said that "there's some underlying thing about Yoko in there", saying that McCartney looked at Yoko Ono in the studio every time he sang "Get back to where you once belonged."
When McCartney introduced the song to the group during the Twickenham rehearsals, the lyrics were mostly incomplete except for the "Get Back" chorus. McCartney improvised various temporary lyrics leading to what has become known in Beatles' folklore as the "No Pakistanis" version. This version parodied the anti-immigrant views of Enoch Powell, a Member of Parliament (MP) whose racially charged speeches, particularly the Rivers of Blood speech, had recently gained much media attention. The lyrics addressed attitudes toward immigrants in the United States and the United Kingdom: "... don't need no Puerto Ricans living in the USA"; and "don't dig no Pakistanis taking all the people's jobs", though these lyrics were meant to be a parody and a criticism of those prejudiced against immigrants. Later during the same session, the subject of immigration came up again in an improvised jam that has become known as "Commonwealth". The lyrics included a line "You'd better get back to your Commonwealth homes".
On 23 January, the group (now in Apple Studios) tried to record the song properly; bootleg recordings preserve a conversation between McCartney and Harrison between takes discussing the song, and McCartney explaining the original "protest song" concept. The recording captures the group deciding to drop the third verse largely because McCartney does not feel the verse is of high enough quality, although he likes the scansion of the word "Pakistani". Here the song solidifies in its two-verse, three-solo format.
Billy Preston, an old friend of the Beatles, was in England for some television appearances. He joined the Beatles on keyboards from 22 January. The group, with Preston playing Fender Rhodes electric piano, recorded about ten takes on 23 January. They made a concerted effort to perfect "Get Back" on 27 January, recording about 14 takes. By this time the song had the addition of a false ending and reprise coda. After numerous takes, the band jammed some old numbers and then returned to "Get Back" one last time in an attempt to record the master take. This performance (Take 11) was considered to be the best yet: it was musically tight and punchy without mistakes, though the song finishes without the restart. On the session tape, George Harrison comments "we missed that end"; this is the version heard on the Let It Be... Naked album. On 28 January the group attempted to recapture the previous day's performance and recorded several new takes, each including the coda. Whilst these takes were good, they did not quite achieve the quality of the best take from the previous day. The line-up for the released versions of "Get Back" was Paul McCartney, lead vocal and bass; John Lennon, lead guitar and backing vocal; George Harrison, rhythm guitar; Ringo Starr, drums; and Billy Preston, electric piano. Harrison, the usual lead guitarist, had temporarily quit the group on 10 January, so Lennon worked out the lead guitar part himself and played it on the recordings.
The Beatles had EMI produce a mono remix of the track on 4 April, completed by Jeff Jarrett. The Beatles were unhappy with the mix and on 7 April McCartney and Glyn Johns worked at Olympic Studios to produce new remixes for the single release. They made an edited version using the best take of the main part of the song (Take 11) from 27 January and the 'best coda' ending from 28 January. The edit is so precise that it appears to be a continuous take, achieving the ending the Beatles had desired all along. This was a divergence from the concept of straight live performance without studio trickery, but a relatively minor one, and avoids the somewhat abrupt ending of the version that is used on the Let It Be... Naked album.
The Beatles performed "Get Back" (along with other songs from the album) as part of The Beatles' rooftop performance, which took place on the roof of Apple Studios in Savile Row, London on 30 January 1969, an edited version of which was included in the Let It Be film. "Get Back" was performed in full three times. During the third, which marked the end of the rooftop performance, the Beatles were interrupted by the police who had received complaints from office workers nearby. After the police spoke to Mal Evans, he turned off Lennon and Harrison's amplifiers only for Harrison to switch them back on, insisting that they finish the song. McCartney said, "You've been playing on the roofs again, and that's no good, and you know your Mummy doesn't like that ... she gets angry ... she's gonna have you arrested! Get back!" The third rooftop performance of "Get Back" is available on Anthology 3: the last song of the Beatles' final live performance.
At the end of the last rooftop performance of "Get Back", the audience applauds and McCartney says "Thanks, Mo" in reply to Maureen Starkey's cheering. Lennon adds: "I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we've passed the audition". Spector used some of the talk preceding the master take of 27 January and edited on these comments to make the album version sound different from the single.
The stereo single version, and that of the B-side, "Don't Let Me Down", were the first Beatles recordings to feature Starr's drum kit in true stereo, mixed across the left and right channels. This utilised the then-fairly new 8-track recording technology and was a result of the growing popularity of stereo over mono. The only other Beatles' track to employ this recording method was "The End" on Abbey Road.
On 11 April 1969, Apple Records released "Get Back" as a single in the UK, paired with "Don't Let Me Down" on the B-side. The single began its 17-week stay in the charts on 23 April at No. 1, a position it held for six weeks. It was the first Beatles single to enter the official UK singles chart at the top. In the US, "Get Back" began its first of 12 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart the week ending 10 May. Two weeks after the song's chart debut it hit No. 1, where it stayed for five weeks. "Get Back" became the band's 17th No. 1 song in Billboard, matching Elvis Presley's previous record of 17 number ones.
In both the UK and US, the single was released by Apple, although EMI retained the rights to the song as part of their contract. It was the only Beatles' single to include an accompanying artist's name, crediting "Get Back/Don't Let Me Down" to "The Beatles with Billy Preston". Neither Apple nor Capitol Records created a picture sleeve for the single—it was simply packaged in a sleeve stating "The Beatles on Apple". Apple launched a print ad campaign for the song concurrent with its release showing a photo of the band with the slogan The Beatles as Nature Intended, indicating that the sound of "Get Back" harked to the group's earlier days.
The single version of the song contains a chamber reverb effect throughout and a coda after a false ending, with the lyrics "Get back Loretta / Your mommy's waiting for you / Wearing her high-heel shoes / And her low-neck sweater / Get back home, Loretta." This does not appear on the album version; the single version's first LP appearance would come three years later on the 1967–1970 compilation. This version also appeared in the albums 20 Greatest Hits, Past Masters and 1. It was also included in the original line-up of the proposed Get Back album that was scheduled to be released during the fall of 1969.
In the UK and Europe "Get Back/Don't Let Me Down" was the Beatles' last single to be released in mono, but in the US the single was released in stereo. It was the Beatles' first single to be released in true stereo instead of mono as part of the "stereo only" movement gaining force in 1969. In both versions the lead guitar played by Lennon is in the left channel, and the rhythm guitar played by Harrison is in the right channel. The single was also released in the experimental PocketDisc format by Americom in conjunction with Apple and Capitol in the late 1960s.
When Phil Spector came to remix "Get Back" he wanted to make it seem different from the version released as the single, though both versions were essentially the same take. The unreleased Get Back albums included elements of studio chatter to add to the live feel of the recordings. In this spirit, Spector included part of the studio chatter recorded immediately before a take recorded on 27 January, slightly crossfaded it onto the beginning of the master take (also recorded on January 27), and omitted the coda recorded on January 28, instead adding McCartney and Lennon's remarks after the close of the rooftop performance. This created the impression that the single and album versions are different takes. The single's reverb effect was also omitted from this remix.
In 2003, "Get Back" was re-released on the Let It Be... Naked album, remixed by independent producers with the sanction of surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, with John Lennon's and George Harrison's widows. The "Naked" version of "Get Back" is a remix of the take recorded on 27 January 1969 used for both the single and album versions, without the coda recorded the following day or the framing dialogue from the studio and rooftop concert added to the album version. The single's reverb effect was also omitted from this remix, and the song fades immediately before the final "whoo". Apple also prepared a specially-created music video of the Let It Be ... Naked release of the song to promote that album in 2003. This video is edited together using stock footage of the band, along with Billy Preston, George Martin and others.
In 2006, a newly mixed version of "Get Back" produced by George Martin and his son Giles was included on the album Love. This version incorporates elements of "A Hard Day's Night" (the intro chord), "A Day in the Life" (the improvised orchestral crescendo), "The End" (Ringo Starr's drum solo, Paul McCartney's second guitar solo, and John Lennon's last guitar solo), and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" (Take 1's drum count-off intro). However, there are several edits in this piece, including an extended intro, and the second verse is removed completely.
Universal Music released take 8 from the recording sessions to promote the 50th anniversary edition of Let It Be and the 2021 Get Back documentary miniseries. This version has McCartney ad libbing a different spoken word section over the bridge, beginning with "It's five o'clock ... your mother's got your tea on." As the band performed the song three times during their impromptu rooftop concert on 30 January 1969, all three of those versions also appear in the final episode of the mini-series, as the concert is shown in its entirety. Take 3 of the rooftop concert was released on Anthology 3 in 1996 while the first two were released in January 2022.
McCartney performed "Get Back" on the Late Show with David Letterman on 15 July 2009. Letterman's show was taped in the Ed Sullivan Theater, the same theatre that hosted the Beatles' performances on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and 1965. McCartney's performance was not on the stage, however. Instead, he performed atop the theatre's marquee overlooking Broadway. In the interview preceding the performance, Letterman asked McCartney if he had ever played on a marquee before. "I've done a roof", McCartney replied, referring to the Beatles' 1969 performance atop the Apple Corps building in London.
McCartney also performed the song as a kind of encore on Saturday Night Live on 11 December 2010. The performance was unusual for the show because McCartney had played the two standard songs that musical guests play, then had played a third song ("A Day in the Life"/"Give Peace a Chance"). At the normal conclusion of the show, when host Paul Rudd thanked the cast, McCartney took the stage again for "Get Back", the broadcast of which was partially cut off due to time constraints.
McCartney performed this live during his 1989/1990 World Tour, and it was released on both the full-length and highlights versions of the subsequent live album Tripping the Live Fantastic (1990). In 2009, a performance was included on the Good Evening New York City album.
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||530,000|
|United States (RIAA)||2× Platinum||2,000,000^|
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
This disc was released in Britain on 15 April 1969 and was an immediate No 1, staying in that chart position for six weeks with 17 weeks in the bestsellers and selling over 530,000 // Get back was also No 1 in many countries including Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand, global sales totalling an estimated 4,500,000