30 January 1969
Although the concert was unannounced, the Beatles had planned on performing live during their Get Back sessions earlier in January. It is uncertain who had the idea for a rooftop concert, but the suggestion was conceived just days before the actual event. George Harrison brought in keyboardist Billy Preston as an additional musician, in the hope that a talented outside observer would encourage the band to be tight and focused. Ringo Starr remembered:
“There was a plan to play live somewhere. We were wondering where we could go—’Oh, the Palladium or the Sahara’. But we would have had to take all the stuff, so we decided, ‘Let’s get up on the roof'”.
The audio was recorded onto two eight-track recorders in the basement of Apple by engineer Alan Parsons, and film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg brought in a camera crew to capture several angles of the performance—including reactions from people on the street.
When the Beatles first started playing, there was some confusion from spectators watching five storeys below, many of whom were on their lunch break. As the news of the event spread, crowds of onlookers began to congregate in the streets and on the roofs of local buildings. While most responded positively to the concert, the Metropolitan Police Service grew concerned about noise and traffic issues. Apple employees initially refused to let police inside, ultimately reconsidering when threatened with arrest.
As police ascended to the roof, the Beatles realised that the concert would eventually be shut down, but continued to play for several more minutes. Paul McCartney improvised the lyrics of his song “Get Back” to reflect the situation, “You’ve been playing on the roofs again, and you know your Momma doesn’t like it, she’s gonna have you arrested!” The concert came to an end with the conclusion of “Get Back”, with John Lennon saying, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition”.
The rooftop concert consisted of nine takes of five Beatles songs, including:
- “Get Back” (three takes)
- “Don’t Let Me Down” (two takes)
- “I’ve Got a Feeling” (two takes)
- “One After 909” (one take)
- “Dig a Pony” (one take)
The first performance of “I’ve Got a Feeling”, and the recordings of “One After 909”, and “Dig a Pony” were later used for the album Let It Be. In 1996, a “rooftop” version of “Get Back”, which was the last song of the Beatles’ final live performance, was included in Anthology 3. An edit of the two takes of “Don’t Let Me Down” was included on Let It Be… Naked.[better source needed] There was also a brief jam of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” while the cameramen changed film.
- John Lennon – vocals, guitar
- Paul McCartney – vocals, bass guitar
- George Harrison – vocals, guitar
- Ringo Starr – drums
- Billy Preston – electric piano