If there’s anything to make the struggling songwriters of today feel better about their ventures then it is this: a new clip of Paul McCartney putting together the shakey first draft of what will become The Beatles’ 1970 Let It Be single ‘Get Back’.
Described by John Lennon as “a better version of ‘Lady Madonna’”, ‘Get Back’ was intended as a satirical swipe at the anti-immigration sentiment sweeping through Britain at the time. Just two years earlier, Conservative MP Enoch Powell had given his infamous ‘Rivers Of Blood’ speech in which he bemoaned the presence of immigrants from Commonwealth countries and implied that they posed a violent threat to British society, rounding off the speech with the image of Britain’s streets “foaming with much blood”.
McCartney wanted to write something in reaction to this simmering anti-immigration sentiment, and ‘Get Back’ was the end result. It is one of The Beatles most overtly political songs, and, as this footage makes clear, it made the other Beatles feel a little nervous. I can’t blame them either. While McCartney’s words are clearly meant to be from the point of view of the very people he is criticising, his early drafts were astoundingly direct. Take, for example, the later subtracted line: “Meanwhile back at home too many Pakistanis/Living in a council flat/Candidate Macmillan, tell us what your plan is/Won’t you tell us where you’re at?”. In this recording, however, McCartney clearly hasn’t settled upon the final lyrics and instead mumbles nonsense syllables, forming them slowly but surely until he arrives at the central refrain: “Get back to where you once belonged”.
In this footage, we get to see Paul McCartney gradually mould a loose chord progression and a couple of fragments of melody into a funk-infused freakout that features George Harrison wiggling up and down the fretboard and Ringo Starr holding down a strict 4/4 beat. But, really, the song isn’t the main attraction here. What is most fascinating about his footage is that it reveals how hard Paul McCartney tried to keep the mood light even though the relationship between himself and the other three members was clearly at crisis point.
“Lennon’s late again,” Paul says, plugging his guitar up to one of the valve amps floating around the live room. “I’m thinking of getting rid of him,” he comically adds. But to Ringo and Harrison, here’s really nothing to laugh about. As he begins to play, their faces sink and remain entirely devoid of any enthusiasm. Perhaps they recognised that, behind McCartney’s jokes, there lay no small kernel of truth.
Check out the full clip below.