It was quite a morning for Paul McCartney — and thus, by extension the Beatles — on Jan. 7, 1969.
After giving the first real performance of “The Long and Winding Road” before unveiling “Golden Slumbers” and linking it with “Carry That Weight,”about 20 minutes later Macca brings us the song the sessions would arguably be most identified with and, three months later, its first single and tangible fruit of The Beatles’ labor.
By now, Paul has shifted to acoustic guitar with George having arrived at Twickenham. Straight out of a light-hearted zip through “What’d I Say” and “Shout” for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s benefit with a little bit of “Carry That Weight” mixed in, Paul fiddles with “Get Back” for the very first time — the tapes run for a more than 15 minutes, but cuts and fades prove they went on longer.
Following the song’s initial introduction, and seemingly apropos of nothing (a tape cut shrouds the probable spark of the conversation), Paul and George are engaging in a discussion about Randy Newman. George had borrowed a copy of his debut album from Paul, and said he “wasn’t impressed.” He gave it a re-listen the night before because he met him “and because he’s a nice fellow, and all, but I still don’t like it.” Why’s that, George?
It’s nice on the first one, just the idea of his voice, he sounds pissed [drunk], just going [George slurs a few words]. But when he goes on and on every track, he sounds pissed. [Laughs] Musically, it’s good. But not my cup of mead.
More to George’s liking is “Get Back,” even in this nascent state, as he jams along with Paul, working on a lead guitar part. There’s not a whole lot to the song just yet, but we do have a strong framework, with the verse, chorus and melody line basically in place as George adds guitar lines while Ringo provides hand-claps and possibly some shakers.
By the time they finished a few run-throughs, Ringo eventually shifted to the drum kit to lift the song’s intensity, and both lyrically and musically the song took a defined form. Paul’s already playing with “Arizona” and “California grass” in the verse, plus lyrics like “she thought she was a woman, but she was another man,” “say she got it coming, but she gets it while she can” and “knew it couldn’t last” are there. “Get back to where you once belonged” is already the chorus. Neither Jo-Jo nor Loretta have arrived yet, but we have the makings of another enduring song.
And from this early moment, we hear how catchy it is. Just a few minutes after hearing it for, presumably, the first time, Ringo sings along to the verse and chorus.
With the benefit of hindsight, it would turn out to be one of the more interesting songs to emerge from the session, if only for its lyrical elasticity. Born from this jam, the lyrics would evolve into a political statement about immigrants, then back again to your everyday rocker about American transvestites. And we get to hear it all over the course of a month’s tapes.
Ian MacDonald in Revolution in the Head, is not alone in suggesting Canned Heat is the inspiration for the song (while admitting there’s nothing there musically).
Sure, The Beatles played a few lines of “Going up the Country” and “On the Road Again” in the days prior, and the former was high on the charts in the U.K. at the time. But pointing to Canned Heat as the inspiration obscures the soul-singing elephant in the room, and that’s Apple Records labelmate Jackie Lomax.
In June ’68, during the White Album sessions, Paul, Ringo and George played on the latter’s “Sour Milk Sea,” given to Lomax for his forthcoming debut album produced by George. The memory is obviously still fresh.
“Sounds like Jackie,” Paul says a few moments before deliberately warbling “get back” and “get back to where you once belonged” a number of times in Lomax’s trademark voice. It didn’t sound like Paul was asking if he sounded like Lomax, or had any concern that he did. It was a simple acknowledgment that his vocal line resembled this one particular influence, one of so many influences the group paid tribute to during the sessions — Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, The Band, Motown (and the list goes on).
And with that context, it’s obvious why Paul’s voice has an odd timbre (for him). It’s a rocker, but his delivery is nothing like it on “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Helter Skelter” or any of his other recent high-energy vocals.
The voice isn’t the only inspiration from Lomax or the experience on “Sour Milk Sea.” Give the song a listen in full, and it’s easy to hear how Lomax’s “Get out of Sour Milk Sea/You don’t belong there/Get back to where you should be” — as written by George — would give Paul a good jump-off point for his new song (especially evident in the repeated “get back” as the song jams to a finish).
The rehearsal ends somewhat abruptly with a tape change. It’s the same thing responsible for keeping us from learning just how long these sessions for “Get Back” really ran — the tape cuts out several times during the “Get Back” introduction.
We would, of course, get back to the song again and again over the subsequent three-plus weeks. And this month’s rehearsals would eventually be known for this song: The Get Back Sessions.