How do you separate fact from fiction about a group that has arguably become the world’s biggest band, The Beatles? I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating as one of the most underrated moments in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Since the band’s inception well almost 60 years ago, there have been thousands of accounts from the international tabloids, overwhelmed venue owners, miniskirted blondes, flabbergasted hotel maids (what they were called at the time), intense production people and countless other “firsthand” resources. Even though the band was really only together just a few years (formed in 1960, first hit in 1962, “Love Me Do,” exploded in America in 1964 and they broke up in 1969-70), the number of behind-the-scenes stories outnumber the amount of days the band was in existence altogether.
Rarely do you get a firsthand account of anything major when it comes to an iconic group such as the Beatles. And not only was Alan Parsons (from the studio session band, The Alan Parsons Project) one of the very few people to witness the Beatles’ very last public concert, he once told me all about it before his show at The Arcada Theatre.
“I really didn’t realize to what degree this recording was going to be a part of music history,” Parsons said. “I was only 20 years old and I had been working with the Beatles for a bit already as their recording engineer. It all happened pretty fast and before we knew it, we were on the roof!”
It all occurred on Jan. 30, 1969, at the Apple Studios on Savile Row in London. The guys, along with their manager/producer Sir George Martin, were in the lower level of the Apple building when the group decided to make the project a live recording.
The Apple Corp. (named that by Paul as a play on words since it was pronounced “the apple core”) was formed by the band’s accountants when they started to accumulate too much cash. The plan was to do quite a bit of investing, from real estate to record stores filled with a ton of Beatles merchandising. The business bought the building and started Apple Records there, with the recording studios located in the basement.
It wasn’t the best of conditions, lacking top-of-the-line equipment and with inadequate soundproofing. “Sometimes we had to turn off the air conditioning because it was appearing on sound recordings,” Parsons said.
“It was a tense time,” Parsons recalled. “They were all doing their own solo projects and pretty much knew this was going to be one of the last recordings of the band as we knew it.”
The band was filming their recordings with much of it to become the documentary “Let It Be.” As the project was coming to a close, the director was looking for an “epic” ending, and thought a live performance would do it.
“So a couple of days before our scheduled session, as the group was to go somewhere to record with a live audience. The band decided rather than to move everything, they would just do an outdoor concert on the roof, so we hit the stairs with a ton of cables from the basement and made it happen,” he said.
So for 42 minutes, the Beatles played what was to be the last time they would perform together as a band. They played nine takes of five songs (“Get Back” being the last song) before the local police were forced to shut it down because of the disruption to traffic below.
I asked Parsons about the now-legendary tension that existed between the bandmates. George Harrison was so concerned about the possible personality battles that might occur, so he invited his good friend, keyboardist Billy Preston, to be up there as a sort of a “fifth Beatle” to avert some of the potential drama.
“Actually, during that time, the guys seemed pretty cool,” Parsons said. “There was definitely quite a bit of discomfort when the guys were around on many occasions, but this time they were pretty easy going, pretty much to themselves, except for Ringo, who was always up for a good time.”
“Would you have done anything differently,” I asked.
“The only regret I have is that I intentionally set up behind all the cameras on the roof, so there is not one picture of me up there!” he replied.
The band went on to record “Abby Road” before its official breakup, but that rooftop concert remains the last public “concert” the Beatles would ever perform.
I really believe that divine intervention brought the Beatles closer to the heavens for that last public performance. This unintentionally represented the mere fact that the Beatles’ contributions to music and pop culture would wind up being above all others, a final concert too big for the grandest arena.
They walked up the stairs as a band, but 42 minutes later walked down the stairs as a pop culture legacy that could never be matched again.