Get Back

Get Back single - United KingdomWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 21, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30 January 1969
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Glyn Johns

Released: 11 April 1969 (UK), 5 May 1969 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, bass
John Lennon: harmony vocals, lead guitar
George Harrison: rhythm guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
Billy Preston: electric piano

Available on:
Let It Be
1
Past Masters
Anthology 3
Let It Be… Naked
Love

The Beatles’ 19th British single, Get Back was the first release by the group from their 1969 ‘back-to-basics’ phase.

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Get Back is Paul. That’s a better version of Lady Madonna. You know, a potboiler rewrite.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The song began as a satirical and critical look at attitudes towards immigrants in Britain. McCartney intended to parody the negative attitudes that were prevalent among politicians and the press.

Race issues evidently played on McCartney’s mind during the Get Back sessions. He led The Beatles through Commonwealth, an unreleased improvised satire loosely based on British politician Enoch Powell’s notorious ‘Rivers of blood’ speech.

The most infamous of the unreleased Get Back versions is known as No Pakistanis, and contained the line “Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs”. While mostly unfinished, the song did include a mumbled rhyming couplet which paired the words ‘Puerto Rican’ with ‘mohican’.

Various demo versions of this early version were recorded, one of which contains the following lines:

Meanwhile back at home too many Pakistanis
Living in a council flat
Candidate Macmillan, tell us what your plan is
Won’t you tell us where you’re at?

Despite being satirical in nature, it didn’t prevent accusations of racism being levelled at McCartney for years to come, after the Get Back bootlegs became public.

When we were doing Let It Be, there were a couple of verses to Get Back which were actually not racist at all – they were anti-racist. There were a lot of stories in the newspapers then about Pakistanis crowding out flats – you know, living 16 to a room or whatever. So in one of the verses of Get Back, which we were making up on the set of Let It Be, one of the outtakes has something about ‘too many Pakistanis living in a council flat’ – that’s the line. Which to me was actually talking out against overcrowding for Pakistanis… If there was any group that was not racist, it was the Beatles. I mean, all our favourite people were always black. We were kind of the first people to open international eyes, in a way, to Motown.
Paul McCartney
Rolling Stone, 1986

The origins of Get Back’s chorus are unknown, although George Harrison’s song Sour Milk Sea, demoed by The Beatles in 1968 and later recorded by Jackie Lomax, contains the refrain, “Get back to where you should be”. John Lennon, however, later claimed that McCartney’s words were directed towards Yoko Ono.

I think there’s some underlying thing about Yoko in there. You know, ‘Get back to where you once belonged.’ Every time he sang the line in the studio, he’d look at Yoko. Maybe he’ll say I’m paranoid. You know, he can say, ‘I’m a normal family man, those two are freaks.’ That’ll leave him a chance to say that one.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The Beatles eventually realised that their intentions could be misconstrued, and the story of Jo Jo and Loretta Martin evolved.

Many people have since claimed to be the Jo Jo and they’re not, let me put that straight! I had no particular person in mind, again it was a fictional character, half man, half woman, all very ambiguous. I often left things ambiguous, I like doing that in my songs.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Whatever the true meaning, ‘Get back’ served as a neat summary of The Beatles’ back-to-basics musical intentions, and the song became the title track of what they intended to be their next album. Although two different versions of the LP were compiled by producer/engineer Glyn Johns, the songs were eventually remixed by Phil Spector and released as Let It Be.

Get Back was released as a UK single in April 1969 and the following month in the US, as the follow-up to Hey Jude. Paul McCartney wrote the following for the press advertisements:

Get Back is The Beatles’ new single. It’s the first Beatles record which is as live as live can be, in this electronic age. There’s no electronic whatchamacallit. Get Back is pure spring-time rock number. On the other side there’s an equally live number called Don’t Let Me Down.

Paul’s got this to say about Get Back: ‘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.

P.S. John adds, it’s John playing the fab live guitar solo. And now John on Don’t Let Me Down: John says don’t let me down about Don’t Let Me Down.

In Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, you’ll find The Beatles, as nature intended.

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21 Responses to “Get Back”

  1. DBueche

    Some of Lennon’s best technical guitar – bar none. Generally a loose, occasionally sloppy guitarist, he really took it up a notch for those solos.

    Reply
  2. RL Hope

    I agree w/DBueche on Lennon’s guitar work on Get Back.
    I saw a video clip in the studio(not on the roof)showing Lennon playing lead. Really good. I can’t find where I viewed the clip now. Anybody familiar with this?

    Reply
  3. Martyn

    I’m confused why Get Back & Don’t Let Me Down is included on the Mono Box. In the USA at least, it was never in mono, the original 45 rpm was stereo for this. Was it released in mono for the UK?

    Reply
    • Matt

      Yes, Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down was released in mono in the UK, which is why it is included on the 2009 Mono Masters CD since the proper UK versions have become the standards in the USA too.

      Reply
  4. Julio

    I love the video of this when they george during the solo and then realize he is not playing the cool solo.

    Reply
  5. mr. Sun king coming together

    It was the Jan. 27 take that was the basis for all released versions, not Jan. 28. That yielded the coda on the Past Masters version

    Reply
    • dcshark

      Actually Lewisohn states that the 27th version is used by Spector as the LP version. Check the 30 January 1969 entry. But the 28th was used as the single version. Check the 11 April 1969 entry. According to this the single and LP versions are different recordings.

      Unless you have a different source for this information. Any thoughts Joe

      Reply
      • Joe

        A take from 27 January was used for the album and single mix. The coda of the single was recorded on 28 January, and edited to the 27 Jan take, and crowd noise/comments from the rooftop show was used on Phil Spector’s album mix. I’ve amended page two of the article to make this clearer.

        Much as I respect him, Mark Lewisohn’s accounts of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions really weren’t as thorough as those of the EMI studio sessions.

        Reply
  6. Tweeze

    Has anyone noticed that the lead guitar work in this song is very much like the lead in Paul’s post-Beatles ‘Junior’s Farm’? I have wondered if this was not somehow a classic subtle McCartney jab at John’s playing. Personally, I think John did a fine job – economical as it were, but Paul is communicating, “Hey Lennon! Here’s what some impromptu flair is like.”

    Reply
  7. Dennis

    JoJo was Linda McCartney’s ex husband. The house in Tuscon was given to her in the divorce settlement. It’s the house she died in.

    Reply
  8. eddy

    I think that Billy Preston wrote this song (and Let it Be). No one ever got billing like that- THE BEATLES WITH BILLY PRESTON for an intrumental solo.
    (The Beatles with Tony Sheridan) but Tony was the singer

    Clapton didn’t get THE BEATLES WITH ERIC CLAPTON for his solo on ‘while my guitar gently weeps’ and he was a STAR.

    Reply
    • GeorgeTSimpson

      And why had they played it already before they met billy the first time (not counting their meeting in 1962 or so)?

      Reply
  9. Matt Blick

    I agree with you about the single and album using the same take after a couple of hours listening, so well done for spotting a mistake in the usually flawless Lewisoln books. It’s obviously the same take – but how do you know whether it was recorded on the 27th or 28th?

    BTW – your website is on of the few online resources I come back to again and again when I’m researching the background for my blog

    Excellent work!

    http://beatlessongwriting.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/get-back-to-drawing-board.html

    Reply
      • Matt Blick

        Ah – thought that would be the case. I would investigate further, but I can’t wait to STOP listening to Let It Be and get onto the White Album (I’m now blogging in reverse order – don’t ask)

        Reply
  10. Victor

    John’s guitar work on “get back” is just brilliant. The little riffs, and the solo.. very good. Makes it more difficult to pay attention on other great aspects of the song, such as Billy Preston’s piano.

    Reply
  11. Silver Spoon

    Does anybody know about the third vocal in the middle eight, which comes immediately after the first guitar solo?
    We all know Paul sang the regular tune and John the lower. But if you listen to the “Love” version of Get Back, you can clearly hear the higher backing vocal (maybe Paul).
    I am a big fan of Get Back and have heard more than several hundred times each version of the song. On the LP and single versions, it is not clear whether there is the third vocal, but the Naked version clearly lacks it.
    In the three rooftop versions I can’t hear the third vocal, as they were all live and in the video George seemed not adding his back vocals to the song. But if you listen to the rehearsal version of Get Back on the same day, which is believed to be recorded from down the street as they set up for the roof top gig, you will hear the higher backing vocal in the middle eight.
    I understand that “Love” was produced under the supervision of George Martin and his son. But I don’t believe they borrowed any third party stuff that is not of the Beatle origin, i.e., the higher backing vocal part used in the Love version of Get Back must have been taken from some take of Get Back. Does anybody have idea on this?

    Reply

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