Glyn Johns’ Get Back albums

Once the recording and filming was complete, The Beatles realised they had little aptitude to sift through the hours of recordings for suitable songs.

That task was given to Glyn Johns, who prepared four different versions of an album, both titled Get Back, each of which were rejected by The Beatles.

We let Glyn John remix it and we didn’t want to know, we just left it to him and said, ‘Here, do it.’ It’s the first time since the first album we didn’t have anything to… we just said, ‘Do it.’ Glyn Johns did it, none of us could be bothered going in and Paul… nobody called each other about it. The tapes were left there, and we got an acetate each, and we’d call each other and say, ‘Well, what do you think? Oh, let it out.’ We were going to let it out with a really shitty condition, disgusted. And I wanted… I didn’t care, I thought it was good to go out to show people what had happened to us. Like this is where we’re at now, we couldn’t get – we can’t get it together and don’t play together anymore. Leave us alone. Glyn Johns did a terrible job on it, ’cause he’s got no idea, etc. Never mind. But he hasn’t, really. And so the bootleg version is what it was like. Paul was probably thinking, ‘Well, I’m not going to fucking work on it.’ It was twenty-nine hours of tape, it was like a movie. I mean just so much tape. Ten, twenty takes of everything, because we’re rehearsing and taking everything. Nobody could face looking at it.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

Johns had been approached by Paul McCartney in December 1968 to work on the Get Back recordings. He was present throughout the sessions, and afterwards began the mammoth task of compiling an album from the tapes.

I originally put together an album of rehearsals, with chat and jokes and bits of general conversation in between the tracks, which was the way I wanted Let It Be to be – breakdowns, false starts. Really the idea was that at the time, they were viewed as being the be-all-and-end-all, sort of up on a pedestal, beyond touch, just Gods, completely Gods, and what I witnessed going on at these rehearsals was that, in fact, they were hysterically funny, but very ordinary people in many ways, and they were capable of playing as a band, which everybody was beginning to wonder about at that point, because they hadn’t done so for some time – everything had been prepared in advance, everything had been overdubbed and everything, and they proved in that rehearsal that they could still sing and play at the same time, and they could make records without all those weird and wonderful sounds on them.

That became an obsession with me, and I got the bit between my teeth about it, and one night, I mixed a bunch of stuff that they didn’t even know I’d recorded half the time – I just whacked the recorder on for a lot of stuff that they did, and gave them an acetate the following morning of what I’d done, as a rough idea of what an album could be like, released as it was…

They came back and said they didn’t like it, or each individual bloke came in and said he didn’t like it, and that was the end of that.

Glyn Johns
The Record Producers

Johns’ first Get Back LP, intended more of a proof-of-concept than a release-ready album, was compiled in early 1969. Side one had ‘Get Back’, ‘Teddy Boy’, ‘Two Of Us’, ‘Dig A Pony’, and ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, while side one featured ‘The Long And Winding Road’, ‘Let It Be’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, ‘For You Blue’, ‘Get Back’, and ‘The Walk’.

A period of time went by and I went to America to work with Steve Miller, and when I came back, I got a call from John and Paul asking me to meet them at EMI, which I duly did. They pointed to a big pile of tapes in the corner, and said, ‘Remember that idea you had about putting together an album?’ and I said, ‘Yes’. They said, ‘Well, there are the tapes – go and do it’. So I was absolutely petrified – you can imagine. I was actually being asked to put together a Beatle album on my own. So I did – I went off and locked myself away for a week or so and pieced an album together out of these rehearsed tapes, which they then all liked, really liked. This was some months after the thing had actually been recorded, and we’d actually started work on Abbey Road about the same time.
Glyn Johns
The Record Producers

Johns returned to the session tapes on 10 March 1969 at Olympic Sound Studios in London. The Beatles themselves had little involvement, having begun work on Abbey Road. Johns mixed the session tapes at Olympic from 10-13 March 1969.

At that stage, side one of the Get Back album was to have contained ‘One After 909’, ‘Rocker’, ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, ‘Dig A Pony’, ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, and ‘Get Back’. Side two featured ‘For You Blue’, ‘Teddy Boy’, ‘Two Of Us’, ‘Maggie Mae’, ‘Dig It’, ‘Let It Be’, ‘The Long And Winding Road’, and ‘Get Back’ (Reprise).

The Beatles were unhappy with Johns’ second Get Back album, so he created a third iteration with the same running order as before. Several of the songs were remixed, and Johns’ earlier version of ‘Get Back’ was replaced with the single mix, accompanied by introductory studio dialogue. Other studio chatter was changed, and more than a minute of ‘Dig It’ was excised.

Mixing and mastering sessions took place on 7, 9, and 28 May 1969.

The Beatles – Get Back album artwork

For the Get Back project, it was The Beatles’ intention to recreate the cover of Please Please Me, showing how they had changed visually since 1963. In May 1969 the group returned to EMI’s headquarters in London’s Manchester Square, and the same photographer, Angus McBean, photographed them as they resumed their poses.

The artwork was prepared for Glyn Johns’ Get Back album, which was to bear the strapline “with Don’t Let Me Down and 12 other songs”. However, the session photographs remained unused until the 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (the so-called Red and Blue albums) were released in 1973.

The Beatles rejected Johns’ first Get Back album, and new recording sessions for two Let It Be songs took place on 3 and 4 January 1970 – a year after the initial recordings were made.

The first of these was for George Harrison’s ‘I Me Mine’, which had briefly being performed before the cameras during the 1969 sessions. In the film, Harrison first plays the song to Ringo Starr, followed by a version performed by Harrison, Paul McCartney and Starr, during which John Lennon dances with Yoko Ono.

‘I Me Mine’, it’s called. I don’t care if you don’t want it… It’s a heavy waltz.
George Harrison
Let It Be

No proper studio recording of ‘I Me Mine’ existed until 3 January 1970. It featured just Harrison, McCartney and Starr, as Lennon was on holiday in Denmark. The following day, 4 January, overdubs were recorded for the song Let It Be, in the band’s final proper recording session together.

While Johns was still working on the tapes, it was decided that the album should include just songs featured in the forthcoming Let It Be film. One of these, ‘Across The Universe’, had been recorded in February 1968, prior to The Beatles’ trip to India.

On 5 January 1970, Glyn Johns began assembling a fourth and final Get Back album, with the instruction that it should tie in with the songs which appeared in the film. The tracklisting had ‘One After 909’, ‘Rocker’, ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, ‘Dig A Pony’, ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’, ‘Get Back’, and ‘Let It Be’ on side one, and ‘For You Blue’, ‘Two Of Us’, ‘Maggie Mae’, ‘Dig It’, ‘The Long And Winding Road’, ‘I Me Mine’, ‘Across The Universe’, and ‘Get Back’ (Reprise) on side two.

Like Johns’ first three attempts at compiling a Get Back LP from the tapes, this final version was rejected by The Beatles.

Despite their general antipathy towards Johns’ albums, The Beatles did commission their former press officer Tony Barrow, who had contributed liner notes to the band’s early albums, to write new words for Get Back. Barrow’s words remained unseen until the 2021 super deluxe reissue of Let It Be:

So far as Britain’s record collecting public is concerned, The Beatles broke into ear shot in October, 1962. Eighteen months before their first visit to the EMI studios in London, The Beatles had been voted Merseyside’s favourite outfit and it was inevitable that their first Parlophone record, LOVE ME DO, would go straight into the top of Liverpool’s local hit parade. The group’s chances of national chart entry seemed more remote. Shortly afterwards The Beatles proved their pop power when they by-passed the lower segments of the hit parade to scuttle straight into the nation’s Top Ten with their second single, PLEASE PLEASE ME. Just over four months after the release of their very first record The Beatles had become triumphant chart-toppers!

During that early part of 1963 the group made its first U.K. concert tour with The Helen Shapiro Show, did Thank Your Lucky Stars, toured again with Tommy Roe and Chris Montez.

Meanwhile I accepted Brian Epstein’s invitation to open NEMS’ first London headquarters, initially a two-room suite above a dirty book shop in a back street between Soho and Covent Garden, an office found for Brian by Dick James and taken over from Joe ‘Mr. Piano’ Henderson whose large custom-built desk I inherited, taught myself to drive and still find use for in one of my offices today. I promotional copy of the Please Please Me album. On the sleeve back, after the headline JOHN LENNON (rhythm guitar), appears in John’s scrawled handwriting: (married). But those who saw his addition thought it was just John’s joke because up-and-coming pop stars didn’t have wives according to prevailing tradition.

They write their own lyrics, design and eventually build their own instrumental backdrops and work out their own vocal arrangements. Their music is wild, pungent, hard-hitting, uninhibited… and personal. The do-it-yourself angle ensures complete originality at all stages of the process.

Producer George Martin has never had any headaches over choice of songs for The Beatles. Their own built-in tunesmith team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney has already tucked away enough self-penned numbers to maintain a steady output of all-original singles from now until 1975!

Here we are 19 singles, 16 tours, 11 albums, 7 years, a few beards and some children later and, at last, you’re invited into a Beatles recording session. Here we are near the end of the decade with a set of Get Back tracks that give you The Beatles with their socks off.

The boys aren’t called The Boys any more. The Four Moptops and The Fab Four were finished when they sucked their last jelly babies. But here are the lads, the fellows, The Boys, getting back to some previously unexplored point that lies between Please Please Me and Sgt. Pepper. If you like you may think of the Get Back collection as your own One Night Stand. It features neither the Lonely Hearts Club Band nor the quartet which came out of The Cavern but it’s basic Beatles all through – Beatles marking time and looking back before deciding which way to head before the calendars show 1970. This isn’t a new album yet it’s not a Golden Oldies again either.

All previously issued albums from The Beatles have had clearly defined production aims. This one doesn’t pretend to have. Before, whether you heard the first or seventeenth take when a recording reached release stage, you missed the humour, the hard work, the instrumental limbering up, the off-mike dialogue of pre-take periods at The Beatles’ sessions.

Basically, the studio format hasn’t changed. It stayed through and beyond Beatlemania, through A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, through Manila and Memphis, through Magical Mystery Tour and Rishikesh into Apple.

This Get Back collection takes you into their recording sessions with and without the red lights glowing. You even hear camera clicking and clapperboards connecting for this album is the audio section of a Beatles be-in which has a film to go with it.

Between takes the tape reels and film spools kept turning while John, Paul, George and Ringo decided which number they’d tackle next. Thus both film soundtrack and LP record preserve moments of typical studio back-chat as well as minutes of solidly rehearsed music-making.

Although so many people suggest (without closer definition) that The Beatles have a trans-Atlantic style, their only real influence has been from the unique brand of Rhythm and Blues folk music which abounds on Merseyside and which The Beatles themselves have helped to pioneer since their formation in 1960.

ONE AFTER 909, written by John and Paul in 1959, is a rockin’ raver all the way, Paul grazing his throat with Long Tall Sally enthusiasm and Billy Preston becoming a Fifth Beatle for the first of several piano/organ contributions. Then comes the fragmentary link-track of Cavern-style jamming before John takes vocal lead on DON’T LET ME DOWN and DIG A PONY. Paul joins him for I’VE GOT A FEELING and stays in the vocal spotlight for the side-closer GET BACK. John’s Fender takes a South Sea vacation somewhere behind George during the romantic lilter FOR YOU BLUE. Then comes Paul singing a simple story about TEDDY BOY. Paul and John are the TWO OF US on our way home before the album’s vividly nostalgic second link-track, MAGGIE MAE! Two contrasting numbers follow, wildly DIG IT with John doing the rhythmic digging and LET IT BE with Paul in a smoothly sympathetic mood. Paul stays on piano with THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD and continues with his balladeer’s role. And finally an ultimate GET BACK fade-out.

TONY PARROW
Tony Barrow International Ltd.
London W.1.

P.S.– Apart from the final paragraph, those in italic print are from the liner notes I wrote six years ago for Please Please Me. With amended song titles, the last paragraph might have appeared there too. T.B.

The Beatles – Get Back album rear cover