Watch Paul McCartney Compose The Beatles Classic “Get Back” Out of Thin Air (1969)

In its near­ly eight-hour run­time Peter Jack­son’s new doc­u­men­tary series The Bea­t­les: Get Back offers numer­ous minor rev­e­la­tions about the world’s favorite band. Among the film­mak­er’s avowed aims was to show that, even on the verge of acri­mo­nious dis­so­lu­tion, John, Paul, George, and Ringo enjoyed stretch­es of pro­duc­tive­ness and con­vivi­al­i­ty. Much else comes out besides, includ­ing that the cater­ing at Apple Corps head­quar­ters was mis­er­able (amount­ing most days to toast and diges­tive bis­cuits) and that, even amid the excess­es of the late 1960s, the Bea­t­les dressed more or less respectably (apart, that is, from George’s occa­sion­al­ly out­landish choic­es of out­er- and footwear). But it also lays bare exact­ly how they cre­at­ed a song.

The Bea­t­les went into these ses­sions with lit­tle mate­r­i­al pre­pared. All they knew for sure was that they had to come up with a set of songs to be record­ed live, with­out over­dubs, in order to “get back” to the sim­plic­i­ty that had char­ac­ter­ized their process before such aes­thet­i­cal­ly and tech­ni­cal­ly con­vo­lut­ed albums as Revolver and Sgt. Pep­per’s Lone­ly Hearts Club Band. These they would then per­form in a con­cert film. The whole project was under­tak­en with what Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield calls a “mag­nif­i­cent arro­gance. In a way, that’s what helped keep them togeth­er, through all their ups and downs. With­out that lev­el of arro­gance, there’s no way an adven­ture as admirably daft as Get Back could hap­pen in the first place.”

Some­how, to the very end, that arro­gance always proved jus­ti­fied. For much of Jack­son’s Get Back, the Bea­t­les appear to be just screw­ing around, crack­ing jokes, drink­ing tea and beer, and launch­ing into abortive per­for­mances in car­toon voic­es. And that’s when every­one shows up. “Lennon’s late again,” says Paul in the clip above. “I’m think­ing of get­ting rid of him.” But instead of nurs­ing resent­ment for his unpre­dictable musi­cal part­ner, he sits down and starts play­ing. His first chords will sound famil­iar to any Bea­t­les fan, though they belong to a song that does­n’t yet exist. Paul then adds to his strum­ming a bit of most­ly non-ver­bal vocal­iza­tion, which soon coheres into a melod­ic line: we (and a yawn­ing George) are wit­ness to the birth of “Get Back.”

Dur­ing the life­time of the Bea­t­les, Paul seems to have been the most pro­duc­tive mem­ber. Even since the band’s end half a cen­tu­ry ago, music has con­tin­ued to flow unim­ped­ed from his mind, shaped as if by pure instinct. In that time it has become ever more well-doc­u­ment­ed that he moti­vat­ed the group to work, espe­cial­ly after the death of their man­ag­er Bri­an Epstein in 1967. While Get Back attests to a cer­tain over­bear­ing qual­i­ty in his atti­tude toward the oth­er Bea­t­les, it also shows how McCart­ney’s hard­work­ing-yet-free­wheel­ing exam­ple encour­aged each of them to express his own par­tic­u­lar genius. When George gets stuck on the end of a lyric, for exam­ple, he, too, sim­ply sings what­ev­er comes to mind. Hence the tem­po­rary line “Some­thing in the way she moves / Attracts me like a pome­gran­ate” — and we all know how that tune even­tu­al­ly turned out.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Peter Jack­son Gives Us an Entic­ing Glimpse of His Upcom­ing Bea­t­les Doc­u­men­tary The Bea­t­les: Get Back

Paul McCart­ney Breaks Down His Most Famous Songs and Answers Most-Asked Fan Ques­tions in Two New Videos

Watch Pre­cious­ly Rare Footage of Paul McCart­ney Record­ing “Black­bird” at Abbey Road Stu­dios (1968)

Chaos & Cre­ation at Abbey Road: Paul McCart­ney Revis­its The Bea­t­les’ Fabled Record­ing Stu­dio

Watch The Bea­t­les Per­form Their Famous Rooftop Con­cert: It Hap­pened 50 Years Ago Today (Jan­u­ary 30, 1969)

The Bea­t­les’ 8 Pio­neer­ing Inno­va­tions: A Video Essay Explor­ing How the Fab Four Changed Pop Music

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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