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Get Back

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from Get Back (song))
This article is about the song. For the album project of the same name and the "Get Back sessions", see Let It Be (album). For other uses, see Get Back (disambiguation)

"Get Back" is a song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (though largely the work of McCartney), and originally released as a single credited to "The Beatles with Billy Preston" in 1969. It would later become the closing track of The Beatles' last album to be released before they split, Let It Be (1970). The single reached number one-status in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, France, and West Germany, and was The Beatles' only single that credited another artist — Billy Preston. The single was The Beatles' first single release in true stereo in the U.S. - in the UK they remained monaural records until the following single release — "The Ballad of John and Yoko".

The writing

The life of "Get Back" began during the rehearsal sessions on the sound stage at Twickenham Studios on 7 January 1969. The song's melody grew out of some unstructured jamming[1] and began taking shape two days later when McCartney lifted "Get back to the place you should be" from fellow Beatle George Harrison's "Sour Milk Sea" (which had been released the previous August[2]) and turned it into "Get back to where you once belonged".[3] Later, on the press release to promote the "Get Back" single, McCartney would write, "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."[cite this quote]

Around the time he had the first inklings of "Get Back", McCartney was inspired to satirise the "Rivers of Blood Speech" by British Cabinet minister Enoch Powell, in which Powell used a reference in Virgil to the river Tiber foaming with blood to describe what he thought would happen if the tide of Commonwealth immigrants was not stemmed. McCartney jammed what has become known as the "Commonwealth song" - loosely based on Powell's speech. The lyrics included a line "You'd better get back to your Commonwealth homes".[4] However, as evident from bootlegs, the "Commonwealth Song" has no resemblance to the final version of "Get Back", but it is a good insight into the creative process that developed the song.

A few minutes later The Beatles jammed on another take of what was to become "Get Back"; this introduced what has become known in Beatles folklore as the "No Pakistanis" version.[5] The chorus includes the developing "get back" refrain, but "No Pakistanis" is more racially charged, satirising right wing attitudes - (we) "don't dig no Pakistanis taking all the people's jobs".[6] However, most of the song was random screaming and vocalizing with random lyrics.

The song was further developed into what McCartney described as a "protest song", and in subsequent rehearsal takes (some of which John Lennon sings) the immigration theme is developed into a full verse. By mid-January the song had developed into three verses: The first being the "Lorreta Martin" verse, the second being the "Jo-jo" verse and the third the "Pakistanis verse". Whilst heard by Beatles fans on bootleg for over a decade the lyrics to the third verse are not widely known:

"Meanwhile back at home there's nineteen Pakistanis,
Living in a council flat
Candid little neighbour tells them what the plan is,
Then he tells them where its at"

These lyrics show the true meaning of the 'Pakistani' references, which were a social commentary on the racist attitudes of the time. In an interview in 1980, in the Playboy magazine, Lennon described it as "...a better version of 'Lady Madonna'. You know, a potboiler rewrite."[7] "Lady Madonna" is widely considered to be a social commentary.

On 23 January the group (now in Apple Studios[8]) tried to record the song properly; bootleg recordings preserve a conversation between McCartney and Harrison in between early takes discussing the song, and McCartney explaining the original "protest song" concept. The recording captures the group deciding to drop the third verse largely because McCartney doesn't feel the verse is of high enough quality, although he likes the scanning of the word "Pakistani".

Recording in the studio and on the roof

In line with the concept behind the "Get Back project", the idea was to record all songs live to get back to the rock and roll sound of their early work. To achieve this the band recorded multiple takes in the studio trying to perfect the performance of each song.

Billy Preston joined The Beatles on the electric piano from January 22, having been recruited by Harrison partly with a view to deter bickering among The Beatles. Harrison's idea worked — when Preston was present The Beatles avoided fighting as they had during some earlier sessions. Augmented by the addition of a fifth musician, the group started to produce some tighter performances.

A second version of "Get Back" was released on the Let It Be album, which was heavily edited by Phil Spector. "Get Back" was spared the brunt of Spector's overdubbing, which largely focused on "The Long and Winding Road."
A second version of "Get Back" was released on the Let It Be album, which was heavily edited by Phil Spector. "Get Back" was spared the brunt of Spector's overdubbing, which largely focused on "The Long and Winding Road."

The Beatles recorded approximately ten takes on January 23 developing the song. On the January 27 they made a concerted effort to perfect "Get Back" recording approximately 14 takes. By this time the song had the addition of a false ending and reprise coda; as heard on the bootlegs of the session which are widely available. After numerous takes the band jammed some old numbers and then returned to "Get Back" one last time in an attempt to record the master take. This performance (Take 11) was considered to be the best yet, it was musically tight and punchy without mistakes. For some reason though the song finishes without the restart; on the session tape George Harrison comments "we missed that end", this is the version heard on the Let It Be... Naked album.

The next day (January 28[1]) the group attempted to recapture the previous days performance and recorded several new takes each including the coda. Whilst these takes were good, they didn't quite achieve the quality of the best take from the previous day.

The Beatles had EMI produce a mono remix of the track on 4 April[9](completed by Jeff Jarrett). When The Beatles heard it they were unhappy with the mix; therefore on 7 April McCartney and Glyn Johns booked time at Olympic Studios to produce new remixes for the single release. Taking the best take - take eleven - from January 27 and the 'best coda' ending from the January 28, an edit was made. The edit is so precise that it appears to be a continuous take, achieving the desired ending The Beatles had wanted all along. This was a divergence from the concept of straight live performance without studio trickery, but a relatively minor one, and avoids the somewhat abrupt ending of the version that is used as the final track on the Let It Be... Naked album.

The Beatles performed "Get Back" (along with other songs from the album) as part of the "Beatles Rooftop Performance" which took place on the roof of Apple Studios in Savile Row, London on January 30, 1969. "Get Back" was performed in full three times; on the third and final time, The Beatles' performance was interrupted by the police, who had received complaints from office workers nearby. After the police spoke to Mal Evans, he turned off two of the amplifiers, but was interrupted by Harrison, who insisted that they would finish the song. It was during this period that McCartney ad-libbed, "You've been playing on the roofs again, and you know your Momma doesn't like that...she gets angry...she's gonna have you arrested! Get back!" None of the rooftop versions appear on record in their entirety although in the Let It Be film an edited version of the rooftop performance was included, and is available on Anthology 3.

At the end of the last rooftop performance of "Get Back" McCartney says "Thanks Mo" in reply to Maureen Starkey's applause, and Lennon adds "I would like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we've passed the audition". Spector used some of the talk preceding the master take of January 27 and edited on these comments to make the album version sound different to the single. Because of the talk at the start and end of the take, the different mix and the absence of the coda it is widely believed that the album version was a different take. In fact all three versions use the same 'take 11' as the core performance.

The release

The single version

On April 11, 1969, Apple Records released "Get Back" as a single in the United Kingdom, paired with "Don't Let Me Down" on the B-Side. The single began its seventeen-week long stay in the charts on April 26 at the top spot in the charts, a position it would hold for six weeks. It was the only Beatles' single to enter the UK charts at number one.

In the United States "Get Back" came out as a single on May 5, backed with "Don't Let Me Down." Five days later "Get Back" began its first of twelve weeks on the chart. Two weeks after the song's chart debut, it hit number one, a position it held for five weeks. It was The Beatles' first single to be released in true stereo instead of mono as part of the "stereo only" movement gaining force in 1969.

In both the United Kingdom and the United States the single was released by Apple, although EMI retained the rights to the song as part of their contract. The single was the only Beatles single ever to feature another artist on the credit, crediting "Get Back" to "The Beatles with Billy Preston".

Apple launched a print ad campaign for the song concurrent with its release showing a photo of the band with the slogan The Beatles as Nature Intended, indicating that the sound of "Get Back" harked to the group's earlier days.

The single version of the song contains a coda after a false ending, with the lyrics "Get back Loretta / Your mommy's waiting for you / Wearing her high-heel shoes / And her low-neck sweater / Get back home, Loretta." This does not appear on the album version.

The Beatles' last performance in public included three performances of "Get Back" — the final one was interrupted by the police.
The Beatles' last performance in public included three performances of "Get Back" — the final one was interrupted by the police.

The album version

When Phil Spector came to remix "Get Back" he decided to make it seem different to the version released as the single. Both of the previous unreleased 'Get Back albums' included elements of studio chatter to add to the live feel of the recordings. In this spirit, Spector included part of the studio chatter record immediately before the master take (recorded on 27 January) in his version as well as editing on the close of the rooftop performance. This made the 'album version' appear to be a live version and created the myth which persists to this day that the 'single' and 'album' versions are different takes.

The 'naked' version

In 2003 "Get Back" was rereleased on the Let It Be... Naked album, remixed by independent producers with the sanction of remaining Beatles Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, the latter doing so before his death, and Yoko Ono. The "naked" version of "Get Back" is ostensibly a cleaned up version of the single version albeit much shorter as there is a fade immediately before the final "whoo" and coda.


  • Elton John covers it completely during extended live performance of "Burn Down The Mission" on 11-17-70 (Uni 19305, 1971), a live broadcast over WABC-FM, New York City on that date.
  • Rod Stewart covered the song for the 1976 ephemeral music documentary All This and World War II. (Various Artists, 1976)
  • Elvis Presley (who inexplicably renders the lyric as "Take it back...")
  • Billy Preston, released on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Various Artists, 1978)
  • Shirley, Squirrely and Melvin, released on Shirley, Squirrely and Melvin (Excelsior 88009, 1981)
  • Billy Preston performed this song in the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.


  • The Rutles' "Get Up and Go", written by Neil Innes, features a set of lyrics parodying "Get Back". The lyrics are about a jockey by the name of Joe who leaves his "one-horse town" set to an almost identical tune. This apparently caused a copyright dispute which resulted in the song being left off of the Rutles soundtrack album, although it was reinstated for the later CD reissue.
  • At the end of The Simpsons episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", all the members of The Be Sharps sing their first hit on Moe's rooftop while George Harrison, driving by, says "It's been done." Also, at the end of their song, Homer says the ending comments "...I hope we pass the audition", followed by everyone laughing and Barney saying "I don't get it."
  • U2's 1987 video for "Where the Streets Have No Name" features a Get Back-style rooftop concert on the roof of a building in Downtown L.A.
  • Sgt. Pepper's Only Dart Board Band performed the song on the roof of the Merlin Theatre in Frome, Somerset, to publicise their forthcoming Beatles tribute concert at the venue. In keeping with tradition, the police were called.

Lyrics and melody

The song is composed of two verses, with the intro, outro, and several refrains making up the rest of the song.

The first verse tells the story of a man named Jojo, who leaves his home in Tucson, Arizona, for some "California grass". This is reputedly a reference to marijuana, but could as easily be a reference to lush greenery, that is so absent in the desert. The song urges Jojo to return home to Tucson. Linda McCartney's former residence in Tucson was likely the inspiration for these lyrics. Jojo's Bar (renamed Grumpy's in 2002) was a popular hangout in Tucson when Linda was a student at the University of Arizona.

The second verse is about "Loretta Martin". Some people believe that this is about a transsexual because lyrics include, "...thought she was woman / But she was another man".[citation needed] Others believe that it was a comment about "women's liberation", and those men who tell women to "get back" into their traditional role. ("Loretta Modern").

The single version includes the coda urging her to "get back" where she belongs, as well.

It should be borne in mind that interpretation of any Beatles' lyrics is highly tentative and often an exercise is baseless pedantry. The Beatles would play around with their lyrics during recording sessions, as is evidenced by John's erstwhile introduction "Sweet Loretta Fart she thought she was a cleaner","but she was a frying pan".[10]

In the quiet break, after "once belong", and just before Paul’s "oooh", someone speaks (2:31 - Single version & 2:51 - Let It Be album version). It sounds like maybe George saying "Let’s give him some Night Nurse" – Night Nurse being a cough/cold remedy. Also reported as "It’s giving him some nightmuures" (Liverpool pronunciation of nightmares), and "Let’s give it some might, guys". After careful listening to bootlegs of the session it's apparent that George is saying "Let’s give it some might, guys" in reference to the "coda" section that is due immediately after the false ending.


  • John Lennon: Lead guitar
  • Paul McCartney: Bass guitar, guitar, lead vocals
  • George Harrison: Rhythm guitar, vocals
  • Ringo Starr: Drums
  • Billy Preston: Fender Rhodes electric piano


  • Forty second sample of the "No Pakistanis" take (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.
  • Thirty second sample of "Get Back" (file info) — play in browser (beta)
    • Problems listening to the file? See media help.


  1. ^ a b Sulpy, Doug & Schweighhardt, Ray (2003). Get Back: The Beatles Let It Be Disaster. Helter Skelter Publishing. ISBN 1-900-92483-8. pg. 84.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Sulpy & Schweighardt (2003), pg. 152.
  4. ^ - Commonwealth Song
  5. ^ Sulpy & Schweighardt (2003), pg. 153.
  6. ^ - No Pakistanis
  7. ^ Golson, G. Barry (Editor) & Sheff, David (1981). The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Playboy Press, New York. ISBN 0872237052
  8. ^ Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. Hamlyn Publishing Group. ISBN 0-600-55784-7.
  9. ^ Lewisohn, Mark (1996). The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Chancellor Press. ISBN 0-7607-0327-2.
  10. ^



  • Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. Hamlyn Publishing Group. ISBN 0-600-55784-7.
  • Lewisohn, Mark (1996). The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Chancellor Press. ISBN 0-7607-0327-2.
  • Miles, Barry (1998). The Beatles: A Diary. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-71-196315-0.
  • Sulpy, Doug & Schweighhardt, Ray (2003). Get Back: The Beatles Let It Be Disaster. Helter Skelter Publishing. ISBN 1-900-92483-8.


  • The Beatles Official Website. Retrieved Oct. 9, 2004.
  • The Beatles Ultimate Experience. Retrieved Sept. 11, 2004.
  • Fricke, David (Feb. 20, 2003). Buried Treasure. Rolling Stone.
  • Glass Onion. Retrieved Sept. 11, 2004.
  • Marck, John T. Oh Look Out Part 13, Let It Be — Music History. I Am The Beatles. Retrieved 23 Jan. 2004
  • (Jan. 10, 2003). Police 'Get Back' Beatles Tapes.
  • Retrieved Sept. 11, 2004.
  • What goes on retrieved 28th June 2006

External links

  • Alan W. Pollack's analysis of "Get Back"
  • YouTube: Beatles' performance of "Get Back" from the rooftop concert, 30 January 1969
  • YouTube: Another Beatles' performance of "Get Back" from the rooftop concert. This was the last song played at the concert, due to the arrival of the police. George Harrison can be seen turning the amplifiers back on after Mal Evans turns them off.
  • YouTube: The 27 January master take.
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