Something I never completely got my head around is why the Get Back sessions had to happen when they did, in the beginning of the new year, 1969. And in such a disorganized state, to boot.
The timeline is stunning, really, when you look back on it, even in the context of the music industry not being what it is today, when you can go years and years between records.
Consider: On Jan. 2, 1969, the Twickenham sessions got under way. “Hey Jude” was recorded five months earlier (July 31, 1968), released four months earlier (Aug. 26, 1968) and had just finished runs at No. 1 around the world. The White Album was released SIX WEEKS earlier. Six weeks!
The members of the band couldn’t have been bored — John and Yoko were doing the concept art thing, George and Bob Dylan were writing together only weeks earlier in late November (he’d show off “Let it Down” on this day). Paul and Linda were a little less than two months from marrying. Ringo had just appeared in “Candy” and was soon to be in “Magic Christian.” They had stuff going on!
And again, I know, the industry is different today than it was then. But even considering that, there really wasn’t that much reason for the Beatles to rush into the studio in January 1969. It’s just what they did.
Famously, the goal here was to rehearse fresh material for a film or TV special, culminating in a concert before a live audience. New material. Six weeks after they put out a double album.
But there they were, at the Twickenham sound stage on Jan. 2. Six weeks after they released the White Album (did I mention that?). And despite the rush to be there, sessions beginning in the morning like it was an office job, they still didn’t really have the the session’s raison d’être lined up. There was no agreement on a venue to actually perform the concert.
A little more than halfway through the day’s recordings, Glyn Johns and Michael Lindsay-Hogg discuss with Paul — in addition to the state of his beard — the potential venues for the culmilation concert. Legend has local clubs, African amphitheaters and the like in the mix, but from discussions on the first day of the sessions, it’s clear that it’s most likely going to be a soundstage. Twickenham itself is an option, and seemingly Paul’s preferred one (“Just as well stay here”). Another option pitched is Intertel Studio in Wembley, where the Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus was recorded a mere three weeks earlier. The venue received raves — “It sounds like a good live studio.”
Amazingly, at that moment elsewhere at Twickenham– and sure, who knows if he was in the room at the time, out having a smoke, grabbing a bite or in the bathroom — was John Lennon. But he was never consulted (on tape, at least) about what he thought of Intertel. And he only performed “Yer Blues” there a mere three weeks earlier.
But even though it was a potential concert venue following the rehearsals there, everyone hated Twickenham. PAs hadn’t even been set up (they were arriving later that day). John was suggesting they move into a corner of the room — Ringo was too far away. “This place sounds terrible,” Paul said.
Said Lindsay-Hogg to laughter, “I think the thing to do is just be very flexible about every aspect of the enterprise.”
As a director, Lindsay-Hogg was naturally eyeing a dramatic scene. A Tunisian open-air amphitheater was famously pitched, the Beatles to play at dawn. “Snake charmers, holy men … torchlit, 2,000 Arabs and friends around,” Lindsay-Hogg visualized.
It was never going to happen, no matter what. Paul put it straight right there on Day 1. “I think you’ll find we’re not going abroad, because Ringo just said he doesn’t want to go abroad. And he put his foot down.”
Lindsay-Hogg hoped to change minds. “Let’s see what we all feel in a day or two… instead of making anything hard and fast.”
There would be no budging. “Ringo definitely doesn’t want to go abroad,” Paul said, “so that means we don’t go abroad. Maybe we go abroad next time… [but] it would be nice to find some way to do it out of doors.”
Like John wasn’t even considered when discussing a venue he played just weeks earlier, Ringo didn’t state his case in person, only via proxy. It did really sound like it was the first time the topic of concert venue was seriously discussed immediately between the director and the film’s principals, and it was after they had already began the sessions.
Thus, there they were on Jan. 2, starting 20 days of rehearsals culminating in a concert that had absolutely no parameters decided outside of the band scheduled to perform.