The general rule in The Beatles ran like this; if you wrote it, you sang it. The main songwriter usually took on the lead vocal so as to best capitalise on the sentiment of the song’s conception. However, that didn’t mean that the band didn’t all have a crack at some of their most favoured songs for one reason or another.
One such moment sees George Harrison providing a rarely heard take on ‘Get Back’ as the lead vocalist and his performance of the song, a take originally commissioned to act as a guide for Doris Troy, is nothing short of sensational.
‘Get Back’ is one of The Beatles finest moments on the Let It Be album. Recorded during a particularly tense time for the group, the Paul McCartney tune was charged with political unrest and racial tension. The song had multiple versions including one notorious version known as ‘No Pakistanis’.
Written as a piece of political satire, the song was loosely based on Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. After those bootlegs became available, McCartney was forced to defend the use of the inflammatory words, “When we were doing Let It Be, there were a couple of verses to ‘Get Back’ which were actually not racist at all – they were anti-racist.”
Adding: “There were a lot of stories in the newspapers then about Pakistanis crowding out flats – you know, living 16 to a room or whatever. So in one of the verses of ‘Get Back’, which we were making up on the set of Let It Be, one of the outtakes has something about ‘too many Pakistanis living in a council flat’ – that’s the line. Which to me was actually talking out against overcrowding for Pakistanis.”
McCartney clarified once more: “If there was any group that was not racist, it was the Beatles. I mean, all our favourite people were always black. We were kind of the first people to open international eyes, in a way, to Motown.”
There is much talk that ‘Get Back’ was based on George Harrison’s 1968 composition ‘Sour Milk Tea’ which used the line “Get back to where you should be”. However, John Lennon believes the song was a thinly veiled attack on Yoko Ono. “I think there’s some underlying thing about Yoko in there,” Lenon told David Sheff in 1980.
“You know, ‘Get back to where you once belonged.’ Every time he sang the line in the studio, he’d look at Yoko. Maybe he’ll say I’m paranoid. You know, he can say, ‘I’m a normal family man, those two are freaks.’ That’ll leave him a chance to say that one.”
The possible insinuation, something McCartney has always denied, didn’t stop Lennon from having his own go at the vocals, providing a rare cut himself during the Let It Be sessions. But perhaps the most unusual moment of the song comes from George Harrison’s rarely heard take.
Harrison’s version of the song is given a soulful kick and a more gentle reverb as the mercurial songwriter applies his soon-to-be iconic vocal to the rocking number. It may well be the definitive version of the song.