There's Not Much Left To Reveal About The Beatles' End. Let's Use The 'Get Back' Doc As A Manual For Moving Forward.

The Beatles

Photo: Ethan A. Russell / © Apple Corps Ltd.


There's Not Much Left To Reveal About The Beatles' End. Let's Use The 'Get Back' Doc As A Manual For Moving Forward.

'The Beatles: Get Back' explodes the narrative about the end of the Fabs — their final year wasn't what the world thought it was. But the true value of the doc isn't in what four people did in 1969, but its lessons for creators working today.

GRAMMYs/Nov 30, 2021 - 02:23 am

Now that we've shaken off the cranberry-sauce hangover, let's re-ask ourselves: who really broke up the Beatles? Was it Paul? Was it Yoko? Was it Magic Alex? Turns out it's none of the above — that beaten-to-death question and several others are currently circling the drain.

That's because Peter Jackson's new three-part, eight-hour Disney+ documentary, The Beatles: Get Back, exploded the two-dimensional lore of their final year, showing that nothing about the Beatles' latter-day dynamics was easily compartmentalizable. From the wounded glaze in John Lennon's eyes at Twickenham Studios to Paul McCartney's giddy "Woo!" when the cops raid the rooftop show, even the most fleeting microexpressions tend to broadcast a dozen emotions at once.

What has this ocean of fly-on-the-wall footage amounted to? For one, a fount of jubilant social-media expressions from countless viewers hiding from deranged relatives at Thanksgiving. "I'm finding the simple process of watching several uninterrupted hours of human interaction without cell phones entirely arresting," musician and journalist Elizabeth Nelson tweeted, awestruck. "They just stare out into space and smoke."

Now we can see the full picture — the deluge of love and joy and dread and confusion that only bootleggers had previously been privy to. Where do we go from here, though? Is The Beatles: Get Back only useful if you want to know more accurately what four people did a half-century ago? Or can it be more instructive than that — a masterclass in artistic collaboration, in coaxing people on different wavelengths to make magic?

Even with these questions, let's make no mistake: The Get Back sessions, which eventually led to the Beatles’ final album, Let it Bewere magic.

John Lennon at Apple Studios, January 1969​. Photo: Ethan A. Russell / © Apple Corps Ltd.

While Phil Spector's rococo embellishments in post-production made Let it Be the black sheep of the discography, let's remember that this is the album that gave us  "Two of Us," "Across the Universe," "The Long and Winding Road," "Get Back" and the hymnal title track. The album sounds far better than ever on this year's Super Deluxe Edition, putting it within spitting distance of its far more focused and generally better-loved predecessor, Abbey Road.

Not only this: the rooftop concert, which is captured in fabulous, multi-camera detail in Get Back, showed how a band can bow out stylishly, poignantly and memorably — even if they didn't know for sure if it was the end of the line back then.

So, yes, the music that NME slammed as "a cheapskate epitaph, a cardboard tombstone, a sad and tatty end" in 1970 was a success — a thunderously significant one.

To figure out how these four childhood friends — who were rapidly growing apart and questioning the world-conquering entertainment module they'd constructed — achieved what they did, it's worth examining three components of their interaction in Get Back.

More importantly, they show how viewers today can apply the Beatles' strategies to whatever group they belong to, whether it’s a congregation or a corporation.

Paul McCartney at Apple Studios, January 1969​. Photo: Ethan A. Russell / © Apple Corps Ltd.

Accepting Leadership (Even When You Weren't Asked)

The overhanging black cloud at the top of the Get Back sessions is the lack of a clear leader. The group’s manager, Brian Epstein (whose responsibility for the band's success cannot be overstated), had died at only 32 of an accidental overdose. "Daddy's gone away now, you know," McCartney remarks at one point. "We're on our own at the holiday camp."

By then, Lennon, the group's natural leader from the jump, had basically abdicated his role — for some understandable reasons. His marriage had dissolved. His new partner, Yoko Ono, had suffered a miscarriage. His childhood trauma was seeping back in. He was wandering deeper into a heroin romance. (No, this isn't addressed, probably because this is Disney+.)

Nobody asked McCartney to become their musical director, and sometimes, the band-wide irritation that he elected himself to that position is palpable. But it says something about his pragmatism and selflessness that he would make the call for the greater good.

McCartney isn't simply a hectoring micromanager throughout Get Back — he's open to the primal vibrations of the universe, pulling songs from the ether. It’s mesmerizing to watch him find the skeleton of "Get Back" in real time, stripping away extraneous elements and identifying the groove and vocal melody.

At first, George Harrison and Ringo Starr look distressed, as if they'd gotten calls about separate family emergencies. But as the tune takes shape, they change their tune — and begin adding to McCartney's nascent creation.

Really, Get Back is the most revealing look yet at how McCartney understood the mechanics of songwriting in and out — watch him at the piano, laying some wisdom on young film clapper-loader Paul Bond. "The great thing about a piano is that — there it all is," he says. "There's all the music ever."

All in all, without somebody to show up on time, nag Lennon to write new material, and, overall, keep the trains running on time, this misshapen, classic album wouldn't exist at all. The four freezing lads on the roof would vanish from our collective memory, and we'd have to find some other Turkey Day diversion this year.

Batting Down Bad Ideas (And Trusting Your Gut)

Many Beatles fans directed their ire at baby-faced, cigar-chomping director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who captured this footage in 1970 for his own album doc. As author Steve Silberman tweeted, his "pervasive nagging and vapid scheming clearly had a corrosive effect on the Beatles."

While Lindsay-Hogg isn't on trial here (the man did give us The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, after all), Harrison swats down the filmmaker’s more out-there ideas, from sailing to Libya to performing at a hospital for children with broken legs. (Lennon, who delighted in skewering people with disabilities in his poetry and art, perks up at the latter suggestion.)

Even though Lindsay-Hogg called the shots to a degree as the director of the planned TV special, the ever-salty Harrison opted not to mince words. "I think the idea of a boat is completely insane," he remarks. "It's very expensive and insane." 

Soon after, Harrison walked out of the sessions and the band — in turn, leaving the ball in his court as to how to proceed with the sessions, which involved leaving the drafty and vibe-less Twickenham for Apple Studios, their cozy abode where they made their masterpieces. 

It's also worth noting that the Beatles' ability to quickly edit and hone each others' ideas was undimmed even when they weren't on the same page. This is apparent in an array of scenes, from avoiding the "corny" notes in "Don't Let Me Down" to Lennon tweaking one word in Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" ("wind" becomes "mind").

Is there a situation in your daily life that calls for quick, decisive action and trusting your first instincts? The Beatles made myriad mistakes in their decade, but boarding that ocean liner wasn't one of them. If Harrison hadn't spoken up, might the project have taken a harebrained and cash-hemorrhaging direction?

Ringo Starr at Apple Studios, January 1969​. Photo: Ethan A. Russell / © Apple Corps Ltd.

Knowing When To Put Pencils Down (And Bowing Out In Style)

What if the Beatles simply faded from existence without the culture-shifting concert on the roof — four slightly bedraggled men envisaging the end of the line, yet having an absolute ball?

While nobody knew if that would be their final performance or not, it's beyond argument that the brief concert was a pitch-perfect move that aligned with who they were musically, visually and emotionally. It wasn't that calculated of a move — up to the eleventh hour, they weren't sure if they'd go up there. But, again, decisiveness won out.

After a final session captured at the tail-end of Part 3, the Beatles set the project aside, opting to return later in the year for Abbey Road, an album that had the patina of their finest works, like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Perhaps that's the way to wind down any creative endeavor when it's running out of gas: doing it in style. By doing so, the Beatles fulfilled the old axiom of leaving the audience wanting more, for 51 years and counting. Just look at their Spotify numbers alone — when they burned out, their star became a culture-dominating supernova.

And even after eight hours of young, wealthy men who "stare into space and smoke," it's clear we'll never get enough of them.

We've Thrown Everything We Could At John Lennon's "Imagine." The Song Nonetheless Endures 50 Years Later.

John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018

John Lennon

Photo: Ron Howard/Redferns


John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018

With hits from Leonard Cohen, the Byrds, Nina Simone, and more, find the motivation for a brand-new you this New Year

GRAMMYs/Jan 4, 2018 - 11:12 pm

Each New Year offers the opportunity for a fresh new start, whether you're looking to wash away the sins of the previous year or reinvent a better future that follows your ultimate dreams. Starting over isn't an easy task, but we have one recommendation that will help motivate you: music.

Don't be a fuddy duddy. Kick-start 2018 with this playlist of seven songs all about starting over, including hits from John Lennon, the Byrds, Sting, and Alicia Keys, among others.

1. The Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

Starting with its lyrics, "To everything (turn, turn, turn)/There is a season," this GRAMMY Hall Of Fame classic is a great reminder that everything is always changing anyway, so now is as good a time as any to give something new a chance. The composition was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, but the lyrics come almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The song didn't hit it big until the Byrds got their turn at it in 1965. Reportedly, it took Roger McGuinn & Co. 78 takes to perfect their folk-rock arrangement.

2. Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

GRAMMY winner Leonard Cohen had a knack for poetry powerful enough to move mountains, and his "Anthem" is one such gem. This 1992 tune about embracing imperfection and marching forward in the face of adversity contains one of Cohen's most-quoted lines: "Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." And we'll leave you with one final line from the master that encapsulates starting over: "The birds they sing, at the break of day/Start again, I heard them say/Don't dwell on what has passed away/Or what is yet to be."

3. Gil Scott-Heron, "I'm New Here"

Taken from his 2010 album of the same name, "I'm New Here" came near the end of Gil Scott-Heron's storied life. The album saw Scott-Heron, according to Drowned In Sound's Robert Ferguson, "pick over the bones of his life, acknowledging the hard times and his own mistakes, but standing proud of all they have led him to become." Embodying this sentiment accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Scott-Heron's bluesy, semi-spoken "I'm New Here" brings out the poignancy of change. Its key lyric, "No matter how far wrong you've gone/You can always turn around," is something to keep in mind year-round, let alone January.

4. Alicia Keys, "Brand New Me"

Alicia Keys went full bore on the empowering messages of her 2012 album, Girl On Fire —  the Best R&B Album winner at the 56th GRAMMY Awards — including the track, "Brand New Me." Co-written with singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé, the soft pop/R&B ballad describes growing as a person and becoming a brand-new version of yourself. "Brand new me is about the journey it takes to get to a place where you are proud to be a new you," Keys wrote on her website at the time of the song's release.

5. John Lennon, "(Just Like) Starting Over"

A quintessential start-anew song, former Beatle John Lennon included "(Just Like) Starting Over" on his GRAMMY-winning 1980 album, Double Fantasy. "(Just Like) Starting Over" was the album's first single because Lennon felt it best represented his return following a five-year hiatus from music. It's also a love song, but the theme of starting over has a universal resonance "It's time to spread our wings and fly/Don't let another day go by my love/It'll be just like starting over." It became Lennon's second chart-topping single in the U.S., reaching No. 1 after his death on Dec. 8, 1980.

6. Nina Simone, "Feeling Good"

"It's a new dawn/It's a new day/It's a new life for me/I'm feelin' good." Could you ask for better lyrics for embarking on a new journey? Nina Simone recorded her version of "Feeling Good," which was originally written for the musical "The Roar Of The Greasepaint — The Smell Of The Crowd," on her 1965 album I Put A Spell On You. While artists such as Michael Bublé, John Coltrane, George Michael, and Muse subsequently covered it, no alternative is quite as powerful — or soulful — as Simone's.

7. Sting, "Brand New Day"

Sting's "Brand New Day" has a lesson for inspiring motivation to start the New Year with fresh eyes: "Turn the clock to zero, buddy/Don't wanna be no fuddy-duddy/We started up a brand new day." The bright, catchy pop tune and its namesake 1999 album resonated with fans, landing it at No. 9 on the Billboard 200. The track (and album) earned Sting GRAMMYs — Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Album — at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards.

What's Your New Year's Music Resolution?


We Will, We Will Shock You

A collection of shocking album covers that might make you look twice (or look away)

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

As the baby boomer-fueled market moved from singles to albums in the '60s and '70s, artists began using LP covers as a means to create bold visual statements, occasionally using nudity, sexual imagery or striking graphics. Sometimes the purpose was to create art for the ages, while other times it was to push boundaries. Either way, the most controversial covers were often banned or altered by record companies for fear of public or retail outrage. One of the most famous cases of censorship was one of the first — the Beatles' "butcher" cover for 1966's Yesterday And Today, which featured a grinning Fab Four covered in raw meat and plastic baby doll parts. (The cover was reportedly an anti-Vietnam war commentary by the group.) Capitol Records issued a new cover with a less-shocking photo after the original caused an uproar. In the '70s and '80s, German rock band the Scorpions made a series of albums with disturbing sexual imagery, including 1976's notorious (and quickly banned) Virgin Killer featuring a nude young girl. The cover was replaced by a conventional band portrait.

While shocking album covers do still exist, they have occurred with less frequency since the '90s as CDs, which de-emphasized cover art, replaced LPs and pop culture grew more permissive. Now, as album sales shift from physical to digital, the age of shock album covers is starting to seem like a bygone era. Here are a few other album covers that shocked us, and might shock you too.

Moby Grape
Moby Grape, 1967
Shocking fact: Drummer Don Stevenson's (center) middle finger was airbrushed out on later pressings.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Electric Ladyland, 1968
Shocking fact: The British release featured a bevy of naked women on the cover.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, 1968
Shocking fact: Distributors covered the explicit content — nude front and back portraits of Lennon and Ono — in brown paper. Even today, full frontal nudity remains objectionable for many.

The Rolling Stones
Beggars Banquet, 1968
Shocking fact: The band's U.S. and UK labels originally rejected the cover featuring a toilet and graffiti-covered bathroom wall. Today, the cover seems remarkably tame.

Blind Faith
Blind Faith, 1969
Shocking fact: The original cover featured a young nude girl holding a small plane. The replacement cover featured a shot of the band.

David Bowie
Diamond Dogs, 1974
Shocking fact: The cover illustration of Bowie as a (noticeably male) dog had the offending organs edited out.

Ohio Players
Honey, 1975
Shocking fact: The sexually suggestive cover features Playboy Playmate Ester Cordet swallowing honey from a spoon.

Jane's Addiction
Nothing's Shocking, 1988
Shocking fact: An ironic twist to the list. This artsy cover depicts a realistic sculpture, created by frontman Perry Farrell, featuring nude conjoined twins with hair afire.

Millie Jackson
Back To The S*!, 1989
Shocking fact: The take-no-prisoners soul singer poses on a toilet seat with one shoe off while grimacing. Often called the worst album cover ever.

The Black Crowes
Amorica, 1994
Shocking fact: Original cover featured an American flag-printed G-string showing pubic hair.


Paul McCartney At Frank Erwin Center
Paul McCartney performs at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas

Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images


Paul McCartney At Frank Erwin Center

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Lynne Margolis
Austin, Texas

Though Paul McCartney may be 70 in chronological years, we need a new unit of measurement to describe the McCartneys, Mick Jaggers, John Fogertys, and Bruce Springsteens of the world. We should call it rock and roll years, because rock is certainly what's keeping these GRAMMY winners (and women such as Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson) vital and exciting to watch well into their so-called "golden years."

On May 22 at Austin's Frank Erwin Center, McCartney reaffirmed this truth: Rock and roll keeps you young. In two hours and 45 minutes, he and his band delivered 36 hits and favorites from his Beatles, Wings and solo eras (38 if we count the Abbey Road medley of "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight" and "The End"; he also slipped in a bit of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady."

With his usual good humor, McCartney told stories, dropped a few clever punch lines and even gave the occasional hip shake and soft-shoe shuffle — though he wore Cuban-heeled Beatle boots below his black jeans and cropped pink jacket. When he removed the jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves, he joked, "That's the big wardrobe change of the evening."

But the sold-out audience of more than 12,000 didn't come to see fancy outfits and elaborate sets; they came to hear the biggest living icon in pop music history, and perhaps revisit fond moments of their own histories through the musical touchstones he created. The savvy McCartney, in his first-ever performance in Austin, didn't disappoint.

For the most part, he faithfully reproduced beloved versions of hits such as "Eight Days A Week," "Paperback Writer," "Lady Madonna," "Another Day," "Band On The Run," and "Live And Let Die," which brought one big special effects moment during the show — jets of fire and showers of sparks so intense the heat could be felt 15 rows back on the floor.

Nostalgic Beatles montages, artful geometrics and audience shots popped up on massive screens behind him as he switched between various guitars, his Hofner bass and two pianos. He performed several Beatles songs he'd never done live, including "All Together Now," "Lovely Rita," "Your Mother Should Know," and "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!"

Only "My Valentine" was performed from his 2012 GRAMMY-winning album Kisses On The Bottom. But with a catalog that includes some of the most beautiful songs ever written, he knew what mattered: gems such as "And I Love Her," "Blackbird," "All My Loving," and "Maybe I'm Amazed," the latter written for his late wife, Linda. Flubbing the opening, McCartney joked, "It proves we're live!" 

Perhaps the most touching moments were his homages to fellow Beatles — the ukulele-plucked "Something" (written by George Harrison) and a song he wrote for John Lennon, "Here Today." Noting he wished he had conveyed its sentiment to Lennon before it was too late, he added afterward, "The next time you want to say something to someone, just say it." He was answered by a shout of, "I love you, Paul!"

Even if he'd only performed the songs delivered in his second encore — a still-astonishingly beautiful "Yesterday," a rocking "Helter Skelter" and the timeless Abbey Road medley — he still would have earned that love.

To catch Paul McCartney in a city near you, click here for tour dates.

Set List:

"Eight Days A Week"
"Junior's Farm"
"All My Loving"
"Listen To What The Man Said"
"Let Me Roll It"/"Foxy Lady" (Jimi Hendrix cover)
"Paperback Writer"
"My Valentine"
"Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five"
"The Long And Winding Road"
"Maybe I'm Amazed"
"I've Just Seen A Face"
"We Can Work It Out"
"Another Day"
"And I Love Her"
"Here Today"
"Your Mother Should Know"
"Lady Madonna"
"All Together Now"
"Lovely Rita"
"Mrs. Vanderbilt"
"Eleanor Rigby"
"Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!"
"Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da"
"Band On The Run"
"Back In The U.S.S.R."
"Let It Be"
"Live And Let Die"
"Hey Jude"
"Day Tripper"
"Hi, Hi, Hi"
"Get Back"
"Helter Skelter"
"Golden Slumbers"/"Carry That Weight"/"The End" 

(Austin-based journalist Lynne Margolis currently contributes to American Songwriter, NPR-affiliate KUTX-FM's "Texas Music Matters," regional and local magazines, including Lone Star Music and Austin Monthly, and newspapers nationwide. She has previously contributed to the Christian Science Monitor (for which she was the "go-to" writer for Beatles stories), and Paste magazine. A contributing editor to the encyclopedia, The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen From A To E To Z, she also writes bios for new and established artists.) 


Jackson Tops Dead Earners List

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Jackson Tops Dead Earners List
GRAMMY winner and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Michael Jackson topped Forbes' annual list of top-earning dead celebrities with $275 million, earning more than the combined total of the other 12 celebrities on the list. Elvis Presley ranked second with $60 million, John Lennon placed fifth with $17 million and Jimi Hendrix tied for 11th place with $6 million. Forbes compiled the list based on gross earnings between October 2009 and October 2010. (10/26)

UK Arts Council Announces Budget Cut Plans
Following a previous report, Arts Council England has revealed plans to implement the 30 percent cut to the UK's arts funding budget. The cuts will include a 7 percent cash cut for UK arts organizations in 2011–2012, a 15 percent cut for the regular funding of arts organizations by 2014–2015 and a 50 percent reduction to the council's operating costs. (10/26)

GRAMMY Winners To Perform At World Series
GRAMMY winners Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellum and John Legend are scheduled to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" during Major League Baseball's 2010 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers. Legend and Lady Antebellum will perform at games one and two in San Francisco on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, respectively, and Clarkson will perform at game three on Oct. 30 in Arlington, Texas. (10/26)