50 years ago today, The Beatles played in public one last time

Temporarily self-exiled from Abbey Road and working out of the Apple Corps HQ on Savile Row in London, The Beatles spent a few days in January 1969 working out what would be one of their final singles.

The song had a difficult birth. For example, George Harrison temporarily quit the band on January 10, so all the guitar parts were worked out by John Lennon. Days were spent trying to get things down on tape, but nothing seemed to work even after more than 30 takes.

Maybe they needed to try something different. There was talk of playing the song live somewhere, but since the Beatles hadn’t given a proper concert since 1966, the logistical difficulty caused by the inevitable hysteria nixed any sort of appearance at a theatre or club. That’s when someone–no one is quite sure who, although producer Glyn Johns says it was his idea–suggested that they just set up on the roof. So they did.

So on a damp winter day, January 30, 1969–fifty years ago today–The Beatles, keyboardist Billy Preston, and their crew set up on the roof and started playing unannounced while their neighbours went about their lunchtime activities.

Cables snaked down to the basement studio five storeys below here engineer Alan Parsons committed everything to two eight-track recorders.

This impromptu concert featured nine takes of five songs performed over 42 minutes.

  1. Get Back (take one)
  2. Get Back (take two)
  3. Don’t Let Me Down (take one)
  4. I’ve Got a Feeling (take one; it ended up on Let It Be)
  5. One After 909 (Heard on Let It Be)
  6. Dig a Pony (Heard on Let It Be)
  7. I’ve Got a Feeling (take two)
  8. Don’t Let Me Down (take two)
  9. Get Back (take three; included on Anthology 3.)

The gig might have gone on longer had the police not showed up and shut everything down.


So what do we actually hear on record? NOT The Beatles playing on the roof.

The final mix of the song is a hybrid between a final studio version recorded on January 28 and some bits from the rooftop performance. Producer Phil Spector took that the studio version and grafted on the audience applause and John’s quote of “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” That came at the very end of the third take of “Get Back” from the roof. That’s what we hear on Let It Be. The single version doesn’t have the talking.

Fun fact: This single marked the first time that Ringo’s drums were mixed in true stereo. The only other time this was employed was during “The End” on Abbey Road.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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