On a day like today in 1969, the Beatles performed a surprise concert on the terrace of the main building of Apple Corps in London. This iconic show marked the end of the group after 10 years of experience. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, along with a group of assistants and technicians, decided to surprise the city of London and the entire world by going out without prior notice to play some songs on the terrace of their label. The gesture was carried out during the recording sessions for what would later become the album Let It Be. Despite its brevity, the cultural impact it had was immense because it symbolized the culmination of an era.
The recital was going to be a TV special. In 2021, Disney+ released a three-part documentary titled The Beatles: Get Back directed and curated by Peter Jackson that featured previously unreleased footage from the making of Let It Be and the rooftop performance from Apple Corps. This production revealed the behind-the-scenes of the album’s production and the band’s real plans to promote it. For example, McCartney had planned a two-night television special to accompany the release of the album, which was originally going to be called Get Back. The first submission would document the group composing the material, while the second would show them performing it live. However, the TV special did not have the expected result and the images taken by Lindsay-Hogg became the documentary also called Let It Be.
They chose the terrace for one reason only: practicality. Before considering playing on the Apple terrace there were other options. In fact, some of them were hilarious. The Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner, an amphitheater located in Sabratha (Libya) and the famous pyramids of Giza in Egypt were suggested. Even so, the management and organization to carry out a transmission from these places, in the period of time they had to do it, made these options impossible since it was not feasible. “So it was suggested that we go up to the terrace and do a concert there,” Paul recalled in Anthology.
Billy Preston: a key figure in making the show happen. The Let It Be sessions were characterized by tensions and nerves in the recording room. The four members of the band had already had some fights by that time and the slightest difference between them triggered a catastrophe. This truncated the band’s creativity, until a savior arrived: Billy Preston, a distinguished keyboardist and session player who already knew the band from their time in Hamburg in the early 60s and had established a friendship. As can be seen in images of the sessions, the Beatles invited Preston to play and from that point on, the energy changed for the better.
Why didn’t they perform songs by George Harrison? In their historic recital on the terrace, the Beatles performed five new songs in a total of nine takes. All songs were credited to Lennon and McCartney. However, Harrison had contributed a few songs to this album. According to the book Ten Years That Shook the World by Valery Boldin, the band decided not to play any of the songs George had written because they were unsure if he would still be in the band when they put together the list. The guitarist abandoned the recordings of the album on two occasions, announcing on one of them: “I think I’m leaving… I’m going to leave the band now.”
The audio was connected to the basement. Since recording the sound from the terrace was really complicated, the band’s technicians had to create wiring to record the recital from the studio that was located in the basement of Apple Corps. While the band played, the audio source was operated by a then-young sound engineer, Alan Parsons.
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