Last week we commemorated a very special event that took place exactly 50 years ago.
On Thursday the 30th of January 1969, John, Paul, George and Ringo took the stairway to the rooftop of their Savile Row office HQ in London, for an impromptu live performance, which turned out to be their very last.
The Beatles’ infamous rooftop concert lasted only 42 minutes, before London Metropolitan Police asked them to reduce the volume, and eventually pulled the plug.
In attendance were a few Apple Corp staff members, their US manager, the band’s roadie, camera and sound guys filming and recording the event, Yoko Ono, and Ringo’s wife at the time.
Five floors down, in the street below, frustrated fans gathered … who could hear the rooftop serenade clearly, but for whom any sight of the Fab Four’s performance was out of the question. Others quickly assembled on neighbouring rooftops, peered out of windows and gathered on balconies to get a glimpse of the rather ramshackle production, unaware that they were witnessing the Beatles’ final live performance.
The band performed five songs, some of which were repeated multiple times. ‘Get Back’, which would end up as the final song in the bio-documentary film ‘Let it Be’, which they were busy filming at the time, was performed three times. Footage from the film shows two policemen, standing sheepishly in the background; as John queued the band to play a second take of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’…
It was an especially chilly and blustery day in London, which added layers of interesting but unconventional facts to the offbeat nature of the Beatles’ impromptu gig.
John was wearing Yoko Ono’s fur coat and Ringo borrowed his wife Maureen’s red raincoat for the performance.
Recording engineer, Alan Parsons, was sent to the shop to buy women’s panty hose to wrap around the delicate microphones recording the drums and guitars.
And despite having written many of the songs, John Lennon had trouble remembering the lyrics, and asked an Apple office assistant to kneel beside him, holding up the words on cue cards.
The rooftop concert came to an end with a third take of the song ‘Get Back’, after which John signed off with the words… “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”
Since the Fab Four’s – now infamous – final live performance on the rooftop of the Apple Records building in January 1969, there have been many more bands and artists who’ve ‘borrowed’ the idea, for either its publicity value or to pay homage to the legends of Liverpool. The best example of that being U2’s Grammy Award winning music video for their 1987 hit ‘Where the streets have no name’, that was filmed on a rooftop in Los Angeles.
But for die-hard fans of The Beatles the world over, there can always only be one rooftop concert. A very special ‘audition’ that took place 50 years ago.
To everyone else we say: Let It Be…