alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Get Back"


Notes on ... Series #161 (GB2)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: A Major (Mixolydian)
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Refrain  | Break (guitar solo) |
                          | Refrain' | Break (piano solo)  |
                  | Verse | Refrain  | Break (guitar solo) |
                          | Refrain' | Outro
        CD: "Let It Be", Track 12 (Parlophone 0777-7 46447-2); and
            with Billy Preston: "Past Masters", Volume 2, Track 9 
            (Parlophone CDP 90044-2)
  Recorded: 23rd, 27th, 28th, 30th January,
            5th February 1969, Apple Studios
UK-release: 11th April 1969 (A Single / "Don't Let Me Down")
US-release: 5th May 1969 (A Single / "Don't Let Me Down")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "Get Back" exemplifies a kind of stylized Blues that is one of the lasting Beatles trademarks.
  Next note Formalistically it is built out of a long sequence of short sections that sound very similar (twisty little passages, all different ...), but which can be sorted into three classes based on closer inspection.
  Next note "Get Back" is also one of a small set of Beatles songs that is available to us in many versions and mixes. The casual fan gets to hear both the single release and "Let It Be" album version. The film buff also gets to see parts of two out of three live-on-the-rooftop runthroughs patched together. The bootleg maven on the inner circle, though, gets to wallow in an assortment of other outtakes. The more of these versions you are familiar with, the less rigid a sense you retain of an ultimate "ur" version of the song.
  Next note In this note we'll focus on the two official releases, offering some limited references to the additional versions. A more thorough cataloging of those other versions would make for a lovely sidebar that is beyond our scope this Note (but which I'd be willing to tackle sooner rather than later if I get a few emails encouraging me to do so :-)).
  If you need a teaser on this topic, consider that in addition to the takes already mentioned you have two early takes from Twickenham (one of which features the infamous "No More Pakistanis" original lyrics) and a later take at Apple with the lyrics sung alternately in pseudo German and French.
  Next note Some dates to keep in mind for now:
  • "Get Back" album version, January 27 in the studio at Apple
  • "Get Back" single version, January 28 in the studio at Apple
  • The rooftop concert, January 30, (uh ...) on the roof at Apple

Melody and Harmony

  Next note "Stylized blues" means three chords; I, IV, and flat-VII surrogating for V. It also means eight-bar sections instead of the traditional twelve-bar frames.
  Next note The tune fills the outline of an A dominant seventh chord with much emphasis on the seventh on the top, and an unusual melodic center of gravity on 5. The melodic "floor," in fact, is on 5, a full tenth below the ceiling note.
  Next note I label the home key as a Mixolydian dialect of Major because the tune under-emphasizes the bluesy minor melodic third you'd expect by actually avoiding the third degree of the scale completely.


  Next note The ensemble of bass, rhythm and lead guitars, plus drums, and electric piano is deployed in about as straighforward a manner for live performance with no overdubs or post processing as you might find this side of their first couple albums. Ironically, though one indelibly associates the song with the rooftop concert, both official releases come from studio takes made a few days before.
  Next note Paul, of course, sings the single tracked lead. John joins him briefly in the second refrain.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The single version starts off clean with the downbeat of the intro. The album track first sets the live mood with twenty seconds of tuning instruments and candid sutdio chat which, according to Lewisohn, actually happened in real time; the latter, a relative rarity among the several sound bites of talk included on that album, most of which are flown in from a different context.
  Next note The intro is four measures long and efficiently establishes the home key. Note how similar yet different it is compared to the other three sections of the song:
      |A           |-           |-           |-     G  D  |
   A:  I                                         flat- IV
   [Figure 161.1]
  Next note Whenever the G and D chords appear in the fourth measure of a musical phrase in this song, they are almost always heavily accented by the ensemble. They also always, with only one exception noted below, appear with the note A as a pedal tone beneath them in the bassline.


  Next note The verse is eight measures long and features a neat, symmetrical ABAB poetic pattern. Its harmonic shape is closed, both starting and ending on I:
    ----------------------- 2X ------------------------
   |A           |-           |D           |A           |
    I                         IV           I
   [Figure 161.2]
  Next note The lead guitar provides a bluesy obbligato lick in measure 4, following the vocal part, every time this phrase is repeated.
  Next note In contrast to both the refrain and break sections, the verse section is notably, placidly, unaccented.


  Next note The refrain is a symmetrical eight measures in length and appears in two variants.
  Next note Refrains that follow a verse (#1 and #3) are as follows. Their harmonic shape is open, starting on I and ending with a cadence that motivates the return of I at the start of the section that follows it.
    ----------------------- 2X ------------------------
   |A           |-           |D           |A     G  D  |
    I                         IV           I  flat- IV
   [Figure 161.3]
  Next note A bluesy arpeggio (dominated in each case by either the guitar or piano depending on which of them is going to have the next break solo) places a syncopated accent in the first two measures of the above phrase on the eighth note that falls between beats 2 and 3. The accents are unemphasized in the first iteration of the four measures, but this is more than made up for in the second iteration by the effort of the entire ensemble.
  Next note Refrains that follow a Break (call them Refrain') are slightly different in that the second phrase is not a rote repeat of the first phrase. Harmonically this is the most open of the sections setting up its plagal cadence with three preceding measures of I, and halting briefly for rhetorical effect at the end of the last measure.
   |A           |-           |D           |A     G  D  |
    I                         IV           I  flat- IV
   |A           |-           |-           |D           |
    I                                      IV
   [Figure 161.4]


  Next note The break is also a symmetric eight measures long and looks almost identical to the first Refrain variant; the main difference being in whether or not you get those syncopated accents in the first two measures of each phrase.
    ----------------------- 2X ------------------------
   |A           |-           |D           |A     G  D  |
    I                         IV           I  flat- IV
   [Figure 161.5]
  Next note In all three breaks, the G and D chords in measure 4 receive very sharp accents the second iteration of the phrase but sound almost awkwardly under-emphasized in the first iteration. If this pattern were not as consistent as it appears, I'd suspect some unintentionally sloppy ensemble work in places.
  Next note The first phrase of the first guitar break is the only place in the song where G and D appear with their root notes in the bass. This is consistent between the single and album versions, but not necessarily so with the other outtakes of the song I've checked so far. Hmmm...


  Next note The album version of "Get Back" doesn't have much of an outro. But after the halt on IV at the end of the final refrain, we hear the two sound bites which in reality are taken from the very end of the rooftop concert; Paul's "Thanks, Mo!" and John's hope that the group has "passed the audition". At least the bites make logical sense in their new context even if they were recorded two days later.
  The supposedly "complete" final rooftop performance of "Get Back" released on Anthology 3 includes the Thanks sound bite, but inexplicably omits the Audition. Even stranger, the widely bootlegged "Get Back" album transfers the two bites to the end of the first track on the album, "One After 909". Go figure.
  Next note The single version of "Get Back" contains a fully developed outro section built out of the music for one complete break with Macca making funny talk instead of singing, followed by one last screamingly sung refrain, and then fades out at the end. The continuation of this January 28 take after where the fade-out appears was planned to appear as the final track on the "Get Back" album in what is often referred to as either the "Reprise" or the "Laughing Coda".

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note In hindsight you'll notice how the release of several Beatles singles seemed carefully timed as if to serve as a musical road sign, offering the observant follower a clue to the new direction ever so slightly ahead of the actual bend in the road. To the extent that you can trace this pattern you have to wonder how much of a conscious decision lay behind it.
  Next note "Get Back" (b/w "Don't Let Me Down") surely belongs to this group of singles. But whereas singles like "Paperback Writer" / "Rain" or "Penny Lane" / "Strawberry Fields Forever" each signal a compositional or stylistic leap in their wake, "Get Back" is musically rather simple stuff by comparison; its particularly enduring significance being more closely related to the chronicled history of the group per se.
  Next note As we all know, the combined album and film project named after this song was fated to end up as the painfully sad and the at times excruciatingly well documented commentary on the group's inevitable breakup. The final edit and mixdown of the "Get Back" materials was aborted and indefinitely postponed in midstream until, almost a year later, long after the recording of the valedictory "Abbey Road" album, it was eventually post-produced and re-edited in order to be released under the transmographied title (not to mention, aptly reworded overarching message) of "Let It Be".
  Next note While the chronological precedence of the "Get Back" period to the "Abbey Road" album is well known, what is less harped upon yet is worthy of at least as much attention is "Get Back"'s proximity to the "White Album".
  The UK release of the "White Album" was on 11/22/68. In spite of all the stories that leaked out about friction within the group during "The Beatles" sessions (up to and including Ringo's temporary walk out ), few of us knew what was going on in the studio that following January. Similarly who among us could have guessed what ultimate change was being forecast by the appearance of the "Get Back" single on 4/11/69.
  Alan (021699#161)
Copyright © 1999 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.