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Book Review

The Beatles: Get Back

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The Beatles: Get Back
The Beatles
240 pages
ISBN: # 978-093511296
Callaway Arts & Entertainment
2021

Upon its original release, The Beatles' Let It Be (Apple, 1970) album was issued in a deluxe box set package in at least a dozen different countries—notably not the United States—that limited edition set including a 160-page book with text plus color photos by noted photographer Ethan A. Russell. Now, some half a century plus later, a more expansive and lavishly designed publication, also including images captured by the late Linda McCartney, has been issued coincidental with various audio collection from those same early 1969 recording sessions (both of which constitute companion pieces to the film of the same name by Peter Jackson who authored the foreword)

Preserving for posterity in still life these seminal moments in contemporary rock history, two-hundred forty pages of candid group and individual shots (many taken straight from celluloid film) capture the intensity radiated by musicians in the midst of their creative process. Within the hardcovers measuring roughly ten inches by twelve, a panoply of largely candid images come in all sizes, close-ups and in panorama. The joy, the struggle, the epiphanies and the frustrations all turn self-evident in what is arguably the most focused collection of photographs extant of this iconic band.

And 'the boys' are right in their element, too absorbed in the process of writing new songs and recording them. At this juncture of the Beatles' career, having given up concert tours over three years prior, their preferred working environment was the recording studio, though not necessarily the Twickenham sound stage where the earliest sessions took place for the sake of filming by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, he of British TV's 'Ready Steady Go!' fame. The stark atmosphere of those environs is palpable in the early shots, magnifying what otherwise might not otherwise seem so great a distance between the four men.

In contrast is the warmth of the cozy confines pervading the somewhat ramshackle surroundings of the impromptu studio set up in the basement of the Savile Row office building housing their Apple business offices. The progression of the photos from site to site not only reflects the respective difference(s) in working conditions, but also the prevailing atmosphere of the two locations. And that's not to mention the increasingly productive efficiency of a project originally (and more than a little self-consciously) named after its titlesong.

Along with its ostensible return to roots— an extension of the relatively simplified approach of The Beatles (Apple, 1968) a/k/a/ The White Album, at least compared to the mind-boggling innovations of the Sergeant. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Apple, 1967) era— there lay an underlying theme of preparation for new live public performance by the Liverpool natives. Any number of ambitious (outlandish?) concepts never came to fruition, but the seeds of that notion eventually did bear fruit in the form of that now legendary twenty-minutes or so where the Beatles rediscovered the spontaneous joy of playing music together on the rooftop of the London edifice where they were working. As far apart as the foursome seemed at the outset of the sessions, the four men never looked more closely bonded as they earnestly and joyfully played into a chilly wind that, in retrospect, seems symbolic of their dissolution a little over a year later.

More personal than universal in their stated perceptions, the 'Foreword' by filmmaker Jackson and the 'Introduction: All You Need' by novelist/screenwriter Hanif Kureishi hardly informs as much as the photography. But the text containing dialogue between the participants is surprisingly revelatory in its own way: as edited by the aforementioned Harris from original conversations, this content further reaffirms the evolving improvement of the working environment in general and the group interplay particular.

The cavernous soundstage accentuates the distance that grew between the quartet during recording sessions the year prior, while the newly-built studio facilities reaffirm how the candor of their session conversations, plus the formal meetings, broke down barriers to communication. The palpable progress thus made on the plethora of new material— much of which would go into Abbey Road (Apple, 1969)—enlivened the spirits as much as the collaborative presence of old friend Billy Preston on keyboards during the second stage of the work.

And while the open-air performance did not turn out to be the grand event once envisioned, it did offer a reasonable punctuation to all the prior effort. While the various personal and professional relationships in play between the Beatles is simply too nuanced to be fully captured solely via film, print or audio, Get Back not only approximates the shifting dynamic in accurate terms, but also presents the initiative as part of an ongoing process, followed almost immediately by the sessions for what was in fact the last Beatles long-player to be recorded.

The aforementioned Harris' 'Afterword: What Happened Next' neatly summarizes how the subsequent recordings produced by (Sir) George Martin effectively shelved this initiative (which then morphed into Let It Be under the aegis of Phil Spector). Such is that unique vantage point, it's well worth pondering in relation to the aforementioned audio compilations as well as the film; notwithstanding the inevitable flurries of 'what ifs' and/or present day charges of revisionism, the fact is it took the Beatles' themselves multiple opportunities— not to mention multi-media—to accurately depict the machinations behind their efforts during this period. It is then perfectly fitting to see the familiar Let It Be photos enshrouding this book on the partial slipcover over the newly-designed artwork: the design is a long-term metaphor for the project itself.

Freezing in time an elongated series of pivotal moments in the career of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, this collaborative effort thus represents craft elevated to the threshold of high art. The creativity involved in its publication might not fully compare to that of its iconic subjects, but its very proximity to that rarefied state of artistry is nonetheless proportionately impressive.

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