The Beatles' rooftop concert
|Date||30 January 1969|
3 Savile Row, London, UK
On 30 January 1969, the Beatles performed an unannounced concert from the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquarters at 3 Savile Row, within central London's office and fashion district. Joined by keyboardist Billy Preston, the band played a 42-minute set before the Metropolitan Police asked them to reduce the volume. It ultimately became the final public performance of their career.
Although the concert was conceived just days before, the Beatles were planning a return to live performances throughout the early sessions for their album Let It Be (1970). They performed nine takes of five songs as crowds of onlookers, many of whom were on their lunch break, congregated in the streets and on the roofs of local buildings. The concert ended with the conclusion of "Get Back", with John Lennon joking, "I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we've passed the audition."
Footage from the performance was used in the 1970 documentary film Let It Be. The first performance of "I've Got a Feeling" and single takes of "One After 909" and "Dig a Pony" were also featured on the accompanying album.
Although the concert was unannounced, the Beatles had planned on performing live during their Get Back sessions earlier in January. According to author Mark Lewisohn, it is uncertain who had the idea for a rooftop concert, but the suggestion was conceived just days before the actual event. George Harrison brought in keyboardist Billy Preston as an additional musician, in the hope that a talented outside observer would encourage the band to be tight and focused. In Preston's recollection, John Lennon thought up the idea to perform on the Apple Corps rooftop. Ringo Starr remembered:
There was a plan to play live somewhere. We were wondering where we could go – "Oh, the Palladium or the Sahara". But we would have had to take all the stuff, so we decided, "Let's get up on the roof."
In his autobiography Sound Man, recording engineer Glyn Johns claims the idea for the concert was his. Former Apple Records Ken Mansfield believed it most likely that the idea came from director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.
The audio was recorded onto two eight-track recorders in the basement studio at Apple by engineer Alan Parsons. Film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, working on what would become Let It Be, brought in a camera crew to capture several angles of the performance, including reactions from people on the street.
When the Beatles first started playing, there was some confusion from spectators watching five storeys below, many of whom were on their lunch break. As the news of the event spread, crowds of onlookers began to congregate in the streets and on the roofs of local buildings. While most responded positively to the concert, the Metropolitan Police grew concerned about noise and traffic issues. Apple employees initially refused to let police inside, but reconsidered when threatened with arrest.
As police ascended to the roof, the Beatles realised that the concert would eventually be shut down, but continued to play for several more minutes. Paul McCartney improvised the lyrics of his song "Get Back" to reflect the situation: "You've been playing on the roofs again, and you know your Momma doesn't like it; she's going to have you arrested!" The concert came to an end with the conclusion of "Get Back", with Lennon saying, "I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we've passed the audition."
The rooftop concert consisted of nine takes of five Beatles songs: three takes of "Get Back"; two takes each of "Don't Let Me Down" and "I've Got a Feeling"; and one take each of "One After 909" and "Dig a Pony". The set was performed in the following order:
- "Get Back" (take one)
- "Get Back" (take two)
- "Don't Let Me Down" (take one)
- "I've Got a Feeling" (take one)
- "One After 909"
- "Dig a Pony"
- "I've Got a Feeling" (take two)
- "Don't Let Me Down" (take two)
- "Get Back" (take three)
The first performance of "I've Got a Feeling" and the recordings of "One After 909" and "Dig a Pony" were later used for the album Let It Be. In 1996, the third live performance of "Get Back", which was the last song of the Beatles' final live performance, was included in Anthology 3. An edit of the two takes of "Don't Let Me Down" was included on Let It Be... Naked. A composite of the two takes of "I've Got a Feeling" was included on Let It Be... Naked. There were also brief jams of "God Save the Queen" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" while sound engineer Parsons changed tapes.
The Beatles' rooftop concert marked the end of an era for many fans. The group did record one more album, Abbey Road — on which work started the following month — but by September 1969 the Beatles had unofficially disbanded. Several of the rooftop performances, particularly that of "Dig a Pony", were regarded as showing the Beatles once again in top form. Fans believed the rooftop concert might have been a try-out for a return to live performances and touring.
The Rutles' "Get Up and Go" sequence in the film All You Need Is Cash mimics the footage of the rooftop concert, and uses similar camera angles. In January 2009, tribute band the Bootleg Beatles attempted to stage a 40th anniversary concert in the same location, but were refused permission by Westminster City Council due to licensing problems.
In The Simpsons fifth season episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", the Be Sharps (Homer, Apu, Barney and Principal Skinner) perform a rendition of one of their previous hits on a rooftop. George Harrison, who guest-starred in the episode, is shown saying dismissively, "It's been done!" As the song ends and the credits begin, Homer repeats John Lennon's phrase about passing the audition and everyone laughs, including Barney until he says, "I don't get it."
In the 2007 film Across The Universe, a musical made up entirely of Beatles' music, Sadie's band performs a rooftop concert in New York City which mimics the original. It is interrupted and closed down by the New York Police Department.
Manchester indie band James performed a similar rooftop gig on the twenty-second anniversary of the Beatles' version (30 January 1991) on top of the Piccadilly hotel. The band performed five songs, before having to end the set reputedly because Larry Gott's fingers had become frozen to his fretboard.
McCartney played a surprise mini-concert in midtown Manhattan from the top of the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater on 15 July 2009, where he was recording a performance for Late Show with David Letterman. News of the event spread via Twitter and word of mouth, and nearby street corners were closed off to accommodate fans for the set.
- John Lennon – vocals, guitar
- Paul McCartney – vocals, bass guitar
- George Harrison – vocals, guitar
- Ringo Starr – drums
- Billy Preston – electric piano
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