The Beatles’ rooftop concert, a momentous occasion which marked the final public performance of the band prior to their split, is still regarded as one of the most memorable events in alternative music history.
Dated January 30th 1969, the Liverpool band were joined by keyboardist Billy Preston when they surprised central London as they performed a 42-minute set from the roof of the band’s record label Apple Corps.
The Beatles were able to perform nine takes of their five chosen songs before the Metropolitan Police stormed the building and asked them to reduce the volume. While reputable footage from the performance was hard to come by, clips did later emerge in the 1970 documentary film Let It Be.
According to Preston, who was invited to perform with the band by George Harrison, The Beatles had been trying to arrange one last live performance but claimed that the decision to play on the Apple Corps roof was a spontaneous one. “There was a plan to play live somewhere,” Preston later explained. “We were wondering where we could go – ‘Oh, the Palladium or the Sahara’. But we would have had to take all the stuff, so we decided, “Let’s get up on the roof’.”
The gig consisted of nine takes of five Beatles famous songs which resulted in three takes of ‘Get Back’, two takes each of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’; and one take each of ‘One After 909’ and ‘Dig a Pony’.
While the band did return to Abbey Road to record one more album after their performance on the roof, the gig is considered by many fans of The Beatles as the end of an era; no longer would the hysteria of their live shows be seen live by anybody ever again.
The police eventually made it up onto the roof and, as they urged the band to put a stop to the music, the Beatles realised that the concert would eventually be shut down. However, according researchers of the event, the band continued to play for several more minutes before calling it a day.
Laughing at the scenario, Paul McCartney changed the lyrics of ‘Get Back’ to suit the event: “You’ve been playing on the roofs again, and you know your Momma doesn’t like it, she’s gonna have you arrested!” he sang.
Lennon added: “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”