Here’s a clip of the latter-day Fab Four, forty years ago today, playing their massively underrated track “I’ve Got A Feeling” from the rooftops of the Apple Corps offices, Saville Row London. It was a key scene in the Beatles’ Let it Be film, which was meant to be a document of their comeback as a live band, and became something completely opposite instead.
Some original ideas for this concert, their first since San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in August 1966, was to film it as a grand finale appearance at the Parthenon, or Pompeii, or on a luxury cruise ship. In the end, the Beatles settled for the lunchtime London bowler-hat-and-brolly set, an audience several storeys below them. It was the middle-class business man’s lunch rush, interspersed with their secretaries, messengers, and tea boys filling the streets on their breaks, or on errands. It would have been impossible for any of them to guess that the Beatles would never play in public again after this. They would never know in that moment how lucky they were to have been so surprised to hear the Beatles during their lunch breaks.
This lack of historical foresight is best evidenced first by the complaints in the street as captured by Let it Be director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and later by the borough council who sent a few bobbies up to the roof to shut the whole thing down. It was hoped that the police would drag the Beatles away in a dramatic fashion. But, being British, the police politely asked them to stop. And the Beatles and their friends, being British (except for keyboardist Billy Preston of course), complied. And that was it.
But, it was never about defying the police. That was just an idea for an ending of the film. It was about them, as a band, playing together, and making an album. Or, it was supposed to be. By this time of course, they all had their own interests. Ringo was acting in movies. George spent had time in upstate New York, visiting with the Band and envying what they had made of themselves as a supple musical unit without much fanfare or glamour. John Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono had him wondering why he needed to be in a group at all. And Paul was becoming increasingly autocratic by all accounts, trying to hold everything together. The whole thing was doomed, and each Beatle knew it. And as a result the movie becomes a study in artistic dissolution, rather than one of a band working as a unit to mount a comeback.
But, despite the state of the Beatles union, they still had their songs. This one, “I’ve Got A Feeling” is an amalgam of two songs. The main body is Paul’s, and the middle eight “Everybody had a hard year” was a fragment that John had been tinkering with. In effect, this is more a Lennon & McCartney effort than most, from a writing point of view anyway.
But more importantly, it showcases the Beatles as a solid rock ‘n’ roll band, with Paul’s growling rock voice, John’s jagged guitar, George’s effortless rhythm, and Ringo’s thudding rock stomp. Billy Preston’s laid back Fender Rhodes is an emollient to the brashness of Lennon’s guitar, which creates a really interesting contrast. But mostly, this represents the Beatles as a rock group. This tune has balls. And you can tell that when they’re playing, all of the other stuff doesn’t matter.
The group would come together again later in the year to make their final album, Abbey Road. And the soundtrack to the Let it Be film would be released the following year. But, by April 1970, the Beatles were over as a working partnership. But as many have said, whatever happened they could count on a legacy which remains unsullied. Everything else aside, they really were a great little rock ‘n’ roll group.