My teenagers don’t like the Beatles and don’t even understand their attraction. It’s hard for me to bend my mind around, because my experience of the Beatles has been their timeless and global presence. They show up gloriously in so many memories.
Twist and Shout’s “Shake it up, Baby!” brings me back to a college luau with my besties. I sang along to Hey Jude as it played on repeat during car rides on winding roads in Europe. Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds played the first time I’d seen the Apple label spinning on a record player. I instantly loved the song, and begged my cousin to play it over and over while I danced around in the platform heels I’d taken from her two older brothers, both sporting the long hair look the Beatles inspired.
Perhaps I should have played the Beatles more for my own children, because at this point neither shows any interest, let alone the reverence the music deserves. It was with this reverence that I anticipated watching Get Back this holiday season. I expected to hear many of my favorites in the course of its seven plus hours. What I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy watching their creative process.
While I’ve been a fan of their music, I’ve never explored the history of the Beatles as a band. At the beginning of the documentary, I couldn’t figure out how – or even if – they would pull off anything resembling success. Having allowed themselves around 14 days to write more than as many songs, and entering the scene with dour looks and a constantly present Yoko, I had my doubts. It was a bit of a nail biter.
By part three, though, as they worked out the final versions of some songs and were just beginning the writing of other recognizable classics, I got a lump in my throat as the messiness resolved. Lennon’s early reminder that he did his best work when their backs were against the wall was a testament to their comfort with the chaos, and the payoff it would yield. Creation has to include a level of tension, a willingness to explore without perfection, and an ability to disassemble and reassemble to bring out the best in anything. It was an unexpected treat to watch all of that transpire on the screen.
It was also a treat to watch producer George Martin’s interaction with the group. I had been impressed by his 1998 release of In My Life, featuring a cadre of celebrities covering Beatles classics in unexpected but undeniable style. Sean Connery’s voice on the title track was about the only way I could imagine that song getting better. Get Back hints at Martin’s ability to do that, though. His understanding and appreciation for the music, and his commitment was obvious. You could imagine him having enough of a handle on the essence of it to give it a second life.
It was personally fitting for me to watch Get Back during the holiday season. Some of my earliest Christmas memories include decorating the tree while listening to the Hard Days Night soundtrack. We usually listened to Christmas music, but when this album surfaced among the LPs, I liked it too much to take it off. I played it over and over again, dancing around to it.
Perhaps the best encapsulation of how much the Beatles have meant to the world and its people shows up in the movie “Yesterday”, which I caught on the big screen with a dear friend before the pandemic drove us from theaters. In it, a phenomenon leaves the world with no memory of the Beatles. Main character, Jack, however, recalls and begins to recreate their music to wild worldwide enthusiasm. When Jack learns that several others with memories know what he’s doing, he expects to be turned in as a fraud. But no – they wouldn’t do that. They’re grateful that someone is able to fill the world with the Beatles again.
It’s a construct that wouldn’t work for most other bands, but it completely makes sense when it comes to the music of the Fab Four. A world without their music is a world less grand. Having a bird’s-eye view of how it came to be is Get Back, and it’s worth the time to watch.
Note: Get Back is streaming on Disney Plus at the time of this writing.