10 Facts About The Beatles's 1969 Rooftop Concert

Evening Standard, Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Evening Standard, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On January 30, 1969, at lunch time, The Beatles appeared on the rooftop of their record label’s headquarters, unannounced, and started performing. Londoners looked on with excitement and bafflement as the world’s biggest band, which hadn’t played live in two and a half years, tried out new material for 42 minutes. It would end up being their final live show.

Here are 10 things you might not have known about this strange moment in pop culture, on its 50th anniversary.

1. It took place during the Beatles’s “winter of discontent.”

When The Beatles reconvened in January of 1969, the band was frayed and dysfunctional, according to The Beatles: Ten Years That Shook the World, Mojo magazine’s book-length chronicle of the group. Paul McCartney assumed leadership of the band and envisioned the follow-up to the White Album, tentatively titled "Get Back," as a return to basics. The band would write songs and bang them out as a four-piece ensemble, forsaking all the overdubs and lavish production of their past few albums.

George Harrison came to resent McCartney's control, and recordings were often interrupted as the two bickered over Harrison’s guitar work. Ringo Starr was anxious for the project to end so as to not conflict with the filming of The Magic Christian, a comedy in which he was slated to star alongside Peter Sellers. John Lennon was prone to long silences, allowing the ever-present Yoko Ono to speak for him. Harrison and Lennon reportedly came to blows over the Yoko issue, a report the former denied to the press. Harrison called the time “the winter of discontent” and Lennon dubbed the Get Back effort “the most miserable sessions on Earth.” The recordings were scrapped in favor of Abbey Road and then retooled as Let It Be, The Beatles’s final album.

2. It was staged for a TV project.

McCartney planned a two-night TV special to accompany the release of Get Back. The first installment would document the group writing the material and the second would show them performing it live, marking their first concert since their 1966 U.S. tour. The band’s press agent, Derek Taylor, even told the media The Beatles were scouting locations for a January 18, 1969, concert, according to Ten Years That Shook the World. The band hired director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had created a handful of their promotional videos (including those for “Paperback Writer” and “Hey Jude”). Like the album, the TV special did not pan out as envisioned. In 1970, Lindsay-Hogg’s footage became a documentary film, also titled Let It Be.

3. They picked the roof for one main reason: convenience.

In The Beatles Anthology coffee table book, Neil Aspinall, the band’s former road manager and head of their label Apple Corps, said he suggested a boat, a Greek amphitheater, and London venue the Roundhouse as locations for the live show. But scheduling didn’t allow for any of those. “[I]t was a case of, ‘How are we going to finish this in two weeks’ time?’” McCartney recalled in Anthology. “So it was suggested that we go up on the roof and do a concert there. Then we could all go home. I’m not sure who suggested it. I could say it seems like one of my half-baked ideas but I’m not sure.”

4. Billy Preston was hired to lighten the mood.

Keyboardist Billy Preston, a distinguished American session musician, is the only non-Beatle in the rooftop performance. The band met him in their early 1960s Hamburg days and thought he could lighten the mood in 1969. “He got on the electric piano and straightaway there was a 100-percent improvement in the vibe in the room,” Harrison said in Ten Years That Shook the World.

5. There’s a reason no Harrison songs were played.

Photo of George Harrison of The Beatles
Keystone/Getty Images

Five new songs were played in a total of nine takes. All of the songs—“Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down," “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909,” and “Dig a Pony”—were credited to Lennon and McCartney. Harrison contributed a few songs to the Get Back sessions, including an early version of “My Sweet Lord.” According to Ten Years That Shook the World, the band skipped them because they didn’t know if he would still be a Beatle when the project was done. The guitarist walked out of the Get Back recordings twice, at one point telling the band they should advertise for his replacement in the British music magazine NME.

6. The audio was piped to the basement.

As the band played, the audio feed went to producer Alan Parsons in the basement of the building.

7. There were cameras hidden at street level.

Lindsay-Hogg’s camera crew set up cameras in the windows of the Apple Corps building that morning, anticipating a crowd gathering.

8. Onlookers were underwhelmed.

As the band played, traffic came to a halt, pedestrians gathered around the Apple Corps building, and workers in neighboring buildings came to their windows and their own roofs. “I remember it was cold and windy and damp,” Starr said in Anthology, “but all the people looking out from the offices were really enjoying it.”

Contemporary assessments, gathered in Ten Years That Shook the World, were more critical. “It’s The Beatles? Christ, it doesn’t sound like that,” said one man. “You call that a public performance? I can’t see them,” complained a woman. “This kind of music is alright in its place, but I think it’s a bit of an imposition to disrupt the business in this area,” said an annoyed Londoner.

9. Some Apple Corps employees kept working.

British rock group the Beatles performing their last live public concert on the rooftop of the Apple Organization building for director Michael Lindsey-Hogg's film documentary, 'Let It Be,' on Savile Row, London, UK, 30th January 1969
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“I knew there was going to be something on the roof but it was not my business,” press agent Derek Taylor said in Anthology. “I had other things going on and saw people outside in the street.” The band’s longtime producer, George Martin, was also in the building. “I was downstairs when they played on the roof,” he said, “worrying like mad if I was going to end up in Saville Row police station for disturbing the peace.”

10. Police pulled the plug—literally.

Eventually, a bank manager (no doubt London’s biggest square) called police to complain about the noise. Officers from the Greater Westminster Council marched over to Apple Corps and made their way up to the roof. In Anthology, McCartney claims he heard an officer yell, “You have to stop!” (he said he still remembered his badge number: 503), but the singer egged the band on to continue until the officer yanked a cord from the equipment setup, ending the performance. No one, Beatle or otherwise, was charged for the incident.

This article originally ran in 2017.

Bob Dylan's Lyrics, Poetry, and Prose Showcased at Chicago's American Writers Museum

A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
A collection of Bob Dylan poems that was auctioned off by Christie's in 2005.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Like a Rolling Stone, Tangled Up in Blue, Blowin’ in the Wind, and The Times They Are a-Changin’ are among Bob Dylan’s best songs, but the 77-year-old singer’s writing isn’t limited to lyrics. Dylan has also penned poems, prose, an autobiography, and a nearly four-hour movie (that got terrible reviews).

An ongoing showcase at Chicago’s American Writers Museum is paying homage to Dylan the writer. The "Bob Dylan: Electric" exhibit, which will remain on view though April 30, 2019, highlights dozens of items from Dylan’s expansive career.

“The world knows Bob Dylan as a prolific songwriter,” museum president Carey Cranston said in a statement. “'Bob Dylan: Electric’ gives the public a chance to see how his writing shaped more than just American music, but American literature as a whole.”

The period covers Dylan’s “electric” career, beginning with the time he made his electric guitar debut at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The exact instrument he played at the festival—a 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster—is naturally one of the items on display.

Visitors can also check out Dylan’s personal copy of The Catcher in the Rye, which he read in the summer of 1961. He jotted down notes and drew doodles in the back of the book, including a bottle of rye and the words “good book.” (Interestingly enough, a talent agent approached Dylan the following year and asked if he’d play Holden Caulfield in a movie adaptation of the book. For better or worse, that never came to fruition.)

Dylan’s writing was recognized with a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. At the time, the committee's decision to award a songwriter rather than a novelist was a controversial one. The New York Times dubbed it a “disappointing choice,” while Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh (author of Trainspotting) was a little more blunt, calling it “an ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”

Nonetheless, Dylan accepted the award, eventually releasing a video detailing his literary influences. Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey are just a few of the singer-songwriter’s many inspirations.

7 Songs That Aren't Quite as Romantic as They Sound

iStock
iStock

by John Moore

There are thousands of classic love songs in the world. And then there are those songs that seem romantic—like, say, Dolly Parton's most famous breakup song, "I Will Always Love You," which skyrocketed as a top wedding choice after Whitney Houston's heartbreaking version was released in 1992—but when you really listen to the lyrics, they don't convey exactly the message you might have thought. Here are seven of them.

1. "More Than Words" // Extreme

Don't be fooled by the spare acoustics and subtle, soulful harmonies—the bros from Extreme didn't pen a love ballad, they penned a longing ballad. In 1991, just after the song had topped the Billboard charts, guitarist and singer-songwriter Nuno Bettencourt talked about how people too often think that saying "I love you" can work as a Band-Aid in relationships. "People use it so easily and so lightly that they think you can say that and fix everything, or you can say that and everything’s OK," he said. Basically, it’s about how actions speak louder than words.

2. "God Only Knows" // The Beach Boys

As lushly orchestrated as this song is, the lyrics are short on words but long on mixed messages. Brian Wilson’s proclamations that life wouldn’t be worth living without the song’s intended listener sound like the stuff of planning futures together and walking down the aisle, but only if you can get past the first line: "I may not always love you."

3. "Leaving on a Jet Plane" // John Denver

What sounds like a sweet, heartfelt farewell before a fairly long trip turns bittersweet when the singer admits that "so many times I’ve let you down / So many times I’ve played around," perhaps on one of these long trips. But then he promises to bring home a wedding ring? It seems hard to look forward to an engagement when you don’t know if your beloved will be faithful while he’s out of town.

4. "There She Goes" // The LA's

From the time The La’s released "There She Goes" in 1988, rumors of it being an ode to heroin abounded. Lead guitarist John Byrne, who co-wrote the song, denied it, saying "It’s just a love song about a girl that you like but never talk to," which, beyond the lyrics "There she blows … Pulsing through my vein," could be believed. The song later made a huge comeback in 1999 when Sixpence None the Richer covered it, introducing a whole new generation to the blurred lines between states of infatuation and intoxication.

5. "Here Comes Your Man" // The Pixies

You’d expect a band as discordant as the Pixies to have some pretty screwed up opinions on romance, but what’s admirable is that one of their most accessible songs is really a pretty twisted little tale. "Here Comes Your Man," replete with twanging riffage and cutesy backing purrs, is actually "about winos and hobos traveling on the trains, who die in the California Earthquake," as frontman Black Francis told NME in 1989. The repetitive chorus of "here comes your man" might sound sweet and moderately chivalrous, but then verses like "Big shake on the boxcar moving / Big shake to the land that's falling down / Is a wind makes a palm stop blowing / A big, big stone fall and break my crown" don’t exactly hold up as romantic mood-setters.

6. "Got to Get You Into My Life" // The Beatles

"It’s actually an ode to pot," Paul McCartney said of this 1966 song, though it could easily fool any square parents who might have heard it playing from the basement. And with lyrics like "Ooh, then I suddenly see you / Ooh, did I tell you I need you / Every single day of my life" coming from the "cute" Beatle, who could blame them for the confusion?

7. "Always" // Bon Jovi

This power ballad’s chorus screams everlasting love—"And I know when I die you’ll be on my mind / And I’ll love you, always"—but the rest of the lyrics tell the full story of a Romeo whose heart is bleeding after his lover left and moved on to someone else. Just another reminder to actively listen to the full meaning of a song before committing to a first dance.

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