Friday, June 29, 2012

Get Back

Robert Bunter: There’s something strange about this one. A galloping McCartney rocker with naughty lyrics and a title that referenced the new “back to basics” ethos the Beatles were trying to champion, “Get Back” nonetheless feels oddly flat and thin with a noodly guitar tone, roots-only bassline, dead-sounding drums and Billy Preston’s gently funking electric piano shuffling along in the background. Maybe it’s just something that got lost in the recording – if you were actually sitting there on the Apple rooftop watching them brace themselves against the London wind and shake their hair out of their eyes, it was electrifying. Reservations aside though, this is a great song. Along with “Dig A Pony” and “I’ve Got A Feeling” it exemplifies a certain mood or feeling that I like to call “The Let It Be Mood Or Feeling.” And Richard? I like it.  

Richard Furnstein: Paul populates this snaky roots rocker with the usual gang of misfits, transvestites, and cocaine-toothed miscreants. The same kind of slice of life sketches that defined his earlier non-love songs ("Eleanor Rigby," "Paperback Writer," "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da"), except "Get Back" features a distinctly American cast. Kids with opium eyes, perfect teeth, and shaggy coats covering their frail bodies. Ringo's gallop is the sound of manifest destiny; the iron horse making its way across the great rectangular states. It's a coast to coast love happening. Hitch a ride. Tucson may be out of your way, but you should stay awhile.  

Robert Bunter: Well that’s an attractive vision to be sure, but the Yankee freakshow lyrics were actually hasty revisions to the original version, which was a parody of the right wing anti-immigrant rants of British politician Enoch Powell. Paul was singing lyrics like, “Don’t dig no Pakistanis / taking all the people’s jobs.” It’s a good thing they changed it, although I personally would like to own some alternate-universe Beatle records where they used all the original lyric drafts. “Scrambled Eggs,” the original Tom Tancredo hate speech version of “Get Back,” “He Said He Said” … with the butcher sleeve as cover art and Pete Best on drums. I’m telling you, when it comes to thinking up nonexistent Beatles products I’d like to buy, I’ve got some solid ideas.  

Richard Furnstein: I was hoping to avoid the "Paki" angle, as it makes me uncomfortable (just imagine how George felt: he owned a sitar!). Paul and John had a habit of slipping into "native tongues" for comical effect ("C Moon," ""You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)," "Borrowed Time," "Rocky Raccoon," "Dark Room"). Perhaps this was part of their continued exploration outside of the Liverpool/American rock comfort zone--dip some "chips" into the global stew--but it sometimes feels at odds with the posthumous world peace packaging of The Beatles.

Honestly, I'd rather discuss the naked sound of this recording. It never quite "rocks," there is a hollow quality to the verse after the Billy Preston-fueled introduction. You can almost hear the rock escape into the London air of the rooftop performance. This recording sorely misses The Room (the real fifth Beatle), the best friend that Ringo's drums and Paul's melodic bass lines ever had. We're left with mid range confusion. I'm just going to say it: this is one of the few poorly produced Beatles recordings. No wonder the Ike and Tina and Shirley Scott and the Soul Saxes versions bury the original; you can't say that about many Beatles covers!  

Robert Bunter: You’re right. The low-gloss production style of “Let It Be” (I am resisting the temptation to call it “Get Back With Don’t Let Me Down and 14 Other Songs,” the title of the original, aborted release) adds a very nice feeling to tracks like “Two Of Us” and “Dig A Pony” but leaves “Get Back” feeling a little undernourished. OK, Richard, here it comes: which version do you consider definitive? The Glyn Johns single mix or the Phil Spector album cut?

I’ll tell you what I do buy, though – the warm, inviting funk of ace keyboard player Billy Preston.

Richard Furnstein: I'm going single mix if those are my only options. Paul's vocal has a light airy quality in the mono mix (check Mono Masters, Volume 2) that seems to settle nicely in the steady pulse of Ringo's westward locomotive. My true choice would be the Let It Be...Naked version, which seems to have a much improved mix (despite its unfortunate fade-out). Paul's vocal has a touch more urgency and there is a nice separation on the simple guitar tracks. It's still clearly a final sprint around the track for this aging horse, but it has a nice balance of live energy and late twenties restraint from our heroes.  

Robert Bunter: You are absolutely right. Pop quiz part two: what artist released the “Get Back” single on Apple Records on April 11, 1969? I’ll give you a hint – it wasn’t the Beatles.  

Richard Furnstein: Ha, I love it! The answer is clearly The Beatles With Billy Preston! That's a round one of Beatles trivia night question. A fun warm up! Do you buy John's allegation that Paul was directing some of the xenophobia of "Get Back" at Yoko? John says that Paul eyed up his wife every time he sang the "Get back to where you once belonged" line.  

Robert Bunter: I don’t know, man. John could be paranoid, but Paul could certainly be passive-aggressive. I’ll tell you what I do buy, though – the warm, inviting funk of ace keyboard player Billy Preston. I remember being transfixed by his interview segment in the wonderful documentary film “The Compleat Beatles” where he bashfully describes his role on this primal, crucial Beatles cut. He’s sitting there at the piano in a funky suit and he smiles winningly and says, “My solo on Get Back was … basically my creation! They just let me do whatever I wanted, and that made it nice.” I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of William Campbell Preston and his warm, inviting funk.

Original Beatles fan art by Jeffrey Alan Love (

1 comment:

  1. warm, inviting funk! late twenties restraint! I love getting Told....