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Beatles' Get Back, The Paperback – 31 Dec 2016
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The 1969 Get Back sessions were to re-energise The Beatles with a return to rock 'n' roll roots. Instead, carping and sniping and trudging through sloppy versions of old hits, the Fabs fell apart. This is a candid day-by-day record of bickering and bitterness that led to the break-up of the greatest band of all time.
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Throughout January 1969, the Beatles attempted to go back to basics and record an album's worth of new songs without overdubs. Or maybe they were thinking of having a concert full of new material. The evidence of this book is that they never really decided what they wanted to do. What this book shows is that the Beatles' collective failure of will almost tore them apart. Sulpy & Schweighardt have gone to the available audio tapes of these sessions - which have been heavily bootlegged, and which anyone can find if they're willing to look hard enough, although I should point out that it's illegal to distribute them - and they have basically paraphrased the content, so that we don't have to listen to the many, many hours of bad performances and inconsequential chat ourselves.
Anyone who has heard outtakes from the 'Get Back' sessions (and indeed anyone who's listened to 'Let It Be', which preserves in most cases the finest takes of all the songs therefrom) is aware that at this point in their career, the Beatles were playing really badly. Lennon and Harrison were no longer interested in being Beatles, McCartney was increasingly angry with the others for putting him in the awkward and unwelcome position of bandleader to a bunch of listless and impatient rock stars who felt like they had little left to prove, and Starkey was just bored of having nothing to do. Sulpy and Schweighardt's book is an essential roadmap to the 'Get Back' sessions. They give a precis of each take and summarise the content of the spoken dialogue, Apple's lawyers having forbidden them from quoting anything directly. This is a very useful book for anyone who wants to take a close look at the Beatles' decline, although the hardcore scholars will still want to go back to the tapes.
In the meantime, this book provides a most valuable service in illuminating the drift, apathy and passive-aggression that, for the most part, were the dominant features of this part of the Beatles' career. It's to all their credit that they realised just how badly they had screwed up on the 'Get Back' project, and that they pulled it together so remarkably well to deliver 'Abbey Road'. What's even more impressive is that 'Get Back' yielded a scant handful of tracks that are among the Beatles' finest moments: the title song, Don't Let Me Down, Let It Be and McCartney's heartbreakingly sad The Long and Winding Road are undeniable high points in the Beatles' discography, and few fans would want to be without the quirky Dig A Pony, the soulful I've Got A Feeling, the fugitively lovely Across the Universe and and the touching Two of Us. (I personally can do without For You Blue, Maggie Mae, The One After 909, I Me Mine and Dig It.)
So it's an essential Beatles book for the serious Beatle scholar, and emphatically not a book I would recommend to any Beatles newbie who wants a guide to the music; for that purpose, Ian Macdonald's 'Revolution in the Head' and Tim Riley's 'Tell Me Why', for all their faults, are still the best books.
This edition is a 2007 reprint of the 1994 original, and doesn't contain the new material. I didn't realise before I purchased my copy, as the product description isn't particularly clear. I returned mine and bought a new edition directly from Doug's site.