‘Get Back’ charted at number one in the UK, and remained in the charts for 17 weeks. It also topped the US charts. Billed as “The Beatles with Billy Preston“, it was the only one of the group’s single to credit another musician.
Although the single and album versions both originate from the same recording, the single contains a coda which was omitted by Phil Spector on Let It Be. Instead, Spector added dialogue from the rooftop performance at Apple, to give the impression of a newer, live performance.
The single’s coda began after a false ending, and contained the lyrics: “Get back Loretta, your mummy’s waiting for you. Wearing her high-heel shoes and her low-neck sweater, get back home, Loretta.”
The rooftop performance of ‘Get Back’ was finally released on Anthology 3 in 1996. The single version is available on the Past Masters collection. A shorter, remixed version was also made for Let It Be… Naked in 2003.
A new montage of ‘Get Back’ was included on the 2006 remix album Love, which combined the track with the opening guitar chord from ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, the drum and guitar solos from ‘The End’, percussion from ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)’, and the orchestral climax from ‘A Day In The Life’.
In the studio
Although it was performed during the Twickenham Film Studios rehearsals in early January 1969, the first studio version of ‘Get Back’ was recorded on 21 January at Apple Studios, in the basement of 3 Savile Row, London.
‘Get Back’ was the first song released by The Beatles to feature Billy Preston, who was visiting Apple during the recording. He was swiftly recruited by George Harrison to augment the group’s sound and to help dissipate tensions.
He came in while we were down in the basement, running through ‘Get Back’, and I went up to reception and said, ‘Come in and play on this because they’re all acting strange’. He was all excited. I knew the others loved Billy anyway, and it was like a breath of fresh air.
It’s interesting to see how nicely people behave when you bring a guest in, because they don’t really want everybody to know that they’re so bitchy… He got on the electric piano, and straight away there was 100% improvement in the vibe in the room. Having this fifth person was just enough to cut the ice that we’d created among ourselves.
More recordings took place on 23, 24, 27 and 28 January. 27 January yielded the basic track used for the released versions; the single version included a coda taped on the 28th, while applause and comments from the rooftop performance were used for the album mix.
Although faded out early on disc, the coda from 28 January also featured forced laughter and ad-libbed lyrics. A 37-second snippet was included as the last track on the unreleased Get Back LP, and was also shown underneath the end credits of the Let It Be film.
The Beatles performed ‘Get Back’ three times during the Apple rooftop performance on 30 January. The first was essentially a rehearsal, and was immediately followed by another version. The Let It Be film contained an edit of the two.
The third and final rooftop version was interrupted by police officers, who demanded that Mal Evans turn off the group’s amplifiers. This he did, but Harrison immediately switched his back on; Evans immediately turned John Lennon’s on again.
The song almost broke down but lurched to a finish, with McCartney ad-libbing, “You’ve been playing on the roofs again, and that’s no good, and you know your Mummy doesn’t like that… she gets angry… she’s gonna have you arrested! Get back!” This version can be heard on Anthology 3.
The 28 January version was first mixed for single release on 26 March. However, following radio play from BBC presenters John Peel and Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, McCartney decided the mix wasn’t right. New mono and stereo versions were made on 7 April, and the single had its release just four days later. Due to its late completion, many stores didn’t receive copies for several days after this.
Yes, I played the solo on [‘Get Back’]. When Paul was feeling kindly, he would give me a solo! Maybe if he was feeling guilty that he had most of the a-side or something, he would give me a solo. And I played the solo on that.
Rolling Stone, 1970
Phil Spector made a new mix for the Let It Be album on 26 March 1970. He edited some studio chatter from 27 January 1969 (Lennon’s “Sweet Loretta Fart she thought she was a cleaner, but she was a frying pan”) onto the beginning of the song.
To give the impression that ‘Get Back’ was a newer, live performance, Spector also added the “Thanks Mo”/”I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we’ve passed the audition” quotes from the end of the rooftop performance.