Like most of The Beatles: Get Back - and the original 1970 documentary Let It Be - the creation of “Get Back” is presented as a fly-on-the-wall moment.
The cameras catch McCartney strumming away at his bass, seemingly searching for inspiration. Ringo Starr
and George Harrison
look on as their bandmate works to create a song.
McCartney sings along to his chords, but doesn’t appear to use real words.
Instead, it’s simply vowel sounds and rhythmic phrasing, basically gibberish designed as a placeholder where lyrics could potentially go.
The songwriting legend continues chugging along on his bass,
occasionally changing the chord and pace.
- After 30 seconds,
a fledgling idea starts to form.
- A minute in,
the clearer vision begins taking shape.
- By the 90-second mark,
bandmates begin to pick up on what he’s doing. Starr claps along with a percussive concept, while Harrison strums some guitar ideas.
- Two minutes in,
“Get Back” is truly a song, bearing a strong resemblance to the version that would eventually become a chart-topping hit in 1969.
Whether the song came together exactly this quickly is up for debate.
The documentary is edited, and even though director Peter Jackson added more than six hours of footage to what had been Let It Be
, there was still plenty of material left on the cutting-room floor. Regardless, it’s clear that McCartney shaped “Get Back” quickly, with the film’s footage capturing a significant portion of the song’s creation.
Musical development"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.
This is covered in bootleg recordings
, 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.
Over the next few minutes, 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."
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 scanning of the word "Pakistani".[clarification needed
] Here the song solidifies in its two-verse, three-solo format.
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 "Get Back" on the Let It Be
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."
Early protest lyricsWhen 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 racist speeches 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".