For the penultimate time – shock! horror! – it’s the Fab Four. And this time they bring with them a riff that can only be described as chugging…
Get Back, by The Beatles (their 16th of seventeen #1s) with Billy Preston
6 weeks, from 23rd April – 4th June 1969
The Beatles, since they left the Merseybeat days behind them in 1965, have gone trippy, gone heavy, gone epic. This time they’ve gone country. The guitar licks that shimmer around the main rhythm are pure C & W, while the lyrics take us straight to the wild west. JoJo was a man who thought he was a loner, But he knew it couldn’t last, JoJo left his home in Tucson Arizona, For some California grass… (Drug references! We have drug references in #1 singles, people. What a time to have been alive!)
Alongside JoJo we find sweet Loretta Martin, who thought she was a woman, but she was another man… She, or he, or they, also needs to get back, back to where she once belonged… All the girls around her say she’s got it comin’, But she gets it while she can… Pretty risqué stuff, I’d say, even for 1969. Though perhaps I just have a dirty mind.
Having not listened to it properly in several years, ‘Get Back’ is a much weirder song than I remember. There’s those lyrics for a start, then there are the squeaking noises and Paul McCartney’s very nasal, Kermit the Frog style vocals. There are also lines where he sounds close to laughter. Theories abound as to what the hell it’s actually about, including it being a satire of anti-immigrant views. I like John Lennon’s theory, though, that the get back to where you once belonged refrain was a McCartney dig at Yoko Ono.
Although it’s their sixteenth chart-topper, this record is a Beatles ‘first’ for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, it’s their first and only single to officially feature another musician. Technically this is ‘The Beatles with Billy Preston’, as he contributes the funky keyboard solo – for my money the song’s best bit. It was also the first, and only, Beatles’ #1 to enter the charts in top spot, rather than climb there, which means they finally match Elvis and Cliff’s achievements from the start of the decade.
And, though we may be scraping the barrel here, it’s the only Beatles’ single to feature a spoken-word section. Before the final chorus, the riff tightens and Loretta is urged, once again, to get on home. Your mummy’s waiting for you, Wearin’ her high-heeled shoes and a low-necked sweater… And that’s that. Looking at The Beatles’ post-1965 #1 singles… you can’t claim they ever rested on their laurels. Every one is different, every one a work of art in its own way (even ‘Hello, Goodbye’.)
‘Get Back’ also, significantly, puts The Beatles out clear in the UK #1 singles leaders table. They now sit on sixteen while Elvis, for so long miles out in front, has fifteen. The Shadows are on twelve. Cliff is on nine. The Stones on seven. No other act so far has more than four.
Finally, this is the 4th Beatles chart-topper in a row to have had Paul as the lead writer. Was he carrying them by this point? Or was he just writing the stuff they knew would sell? John will have the final say, though, when he gets the credit for their final #1 single, coming up very, very shortly. And it was he who had the final word when they closed their final ever live performance, from the roof of the Apple studios in January ‘69. ‘Get Back’ was the very last song they played, before the police spoiled the fun, with Lennon thanking their impromptu audience and adding: “I hope we’ve passed the audition.”