Even the most casual rock music fan knows how the Let it Be film ends, even if they’ve never seen it or even if they’re not really Beatles fans. The sight of John, Paul, George and Ringo trying to pass their audition on the roof at 3 Savile Row isn’t merely an iconic Beatles moment, it’s an iconic moment in popular music history and pop culture itself.
Watch the movie, and there’s never an inkling that wasn’t the plan all along. Less than three years removed from their last tour, the group rehearses some new songs, then when they’re ready simply climb the stairs and rock from the roof. It’s just like they planned it all along, right?
Of course not. And right here’s another reason why I’m loving listening to these tapes and find them so valuable — it’s not just to hear the songs in progress and rehearsed in context or to hear songs they threw away or just shelved until they could revisit as solo acts. It’s to hear a conversation like one we hear a few hours into Jan. 6, the kind of thing that never made compilations of the sessions.
I keep getting back to my need to operate within context throughout this blog. So we know the end of he story: the rooftop show. But how did they get there? We get an incredible glimpse here.
After exploring George’s “Hear Me Lord” and knocking out a few covers, conversation shifts to the planned live show, a topic promised earlier by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and just touched upon in the prior days on the tapes.
And there’s an awful lot going on here in what’s marked “Dialogue,” 14-plus music-free minutes, the 53rd track on the Jan. 6 collection of Purple Chick’s A/B Road.
Two figures that loomed so large in Beatles history — George Martin and Yoko Ono – make their first significant appearances on these tapes. Ono would remain key to the story of Get Back/Let it Be. Martin would not. Well, he would be, ultimately, quite conspicuous by his absence.
But it’s not necessarily the people involved but what they’d discuss that makes it a memorable sequence.
The endgame here, after all, is a live show, even if they have no set plans for one in place. Yoko begins the conversation – on the tapes, at least, where after a quick cover of Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You” (a song they used to play in Hamburg), we join the chat in medias res.
Yoko’s first suggestion is for the Beatles, who four years prior played before more than 55,000 in their iconic Shea Stadium show on Aug. 15, 1965, to have something of a more modest audience.
Yoko: “…[have a] stage, you know, and it’s like an open-air something, and you’re playing to the gods! You know, and to the stars.
While Paul’s agreeable to the suggestion — or at least something avant garde — Michael Lindsay-Hogg tries to push another angle for the live show involving all those seats being filled by actual people, even if they’re not necessarily fans of the Beatles.
MLH: “Or, even playing to people that have never seen you before. See, I think you’re right. Any stage performance of an ordinary sort, visually, will never be topped, because we all remember – and you better than I — the past.”
But Paul — quite the veteran of the stage even at this young age — sides with Yoko.
Paul: “What’s the use of an audience? The use of an audience is like… for you, it’s out of sheer charity to play to them because you love them. Or for you to collect ticket money, or to get a reaction between you, for the sake of your shows. But look the thing is then, that’s presuming that we’re not enough for a show. That presupposes there’s really not enough in the four of us, that you really have to pan off on to a postman.”
Enter George Martin, who joins Team MLH after some indistinguishable crosstalk.
Martin: “The whole point about the audience is to give you something when you’re performing.”
MLH: “Like an actor on stage”
George Harrison is there too, and at this point, I think he says that “It’ll be just our luck to get a lot of cunts in there [at the show].” Perfectly reasonable thought.
Lindsay-Hogg gets things back on point, reminding the band that once they’re on a stage, they’re performers.
MLH: “And you got to have something to do it to. Of some sort, either a camera or real people, I think.”
Yoko: “Empty chairs would be much more dramatic. I mean 20,000 empty chairs!”
MLH: “Looks like they haven’t bought any tickets!”
Paul: “Look, nobody’s going to think that way. Nobody’s going to think that haven’t bought any tickets.”
After agreeing with Paul, Yoko says people are wondering what makes up the audience in this post-Beatlemania world before continuing to pitch the actual lack of an audience.
Yoko: “It should be like the invisible, nameless everybody in the world, instead of some teenager or something, and they say, ‘Oh, so they still have that teenage audience.’ Or if you have costumed people they say, ‘Oh, that’s the audience now.’ It’s very dangerous.
“[With empty chairs], now you have audience in every heart in the world, you see? It’s very bad to limit it.”
The diplomatic Lindsay-Hogg says he does like the idea. But…
MLH: “That sounds to me more, though, like five minutes rather than 15 minutes. Because you’re right — what we do want to attack is all over the world. It oughtn’t be anymore the kids that queue up outside the gate, it ought to be the whole world. And that was one of the things we tried to get on Jude [the Hey Jude promo clip, directed by Lindsay-Hogg nearly to the day four months prior at these very same Twickenham Studios].”
Oh, that’s OK, says Paul, since “we’re doing two shows, aren’t we? We’re taping the shows on the Sunday and the Monday, aren’t we?”
Sunday and Monday shows. Of course.
And here we have the sessions in a nutshell: The band is doing a show with songs they can’t agree on and haven’t finished writing and at a location — possibly international — that hasn’t been determined. BUT. They do know they’re taping two shows, to the point where they know it’s a Sunday and a Monday. The devil’s in the details, not only in her heart, it appears.
Tune in next post, where we continue this Jan. 6, 1969, conversation about the forthcoming show.