A Brief History
On January 30, 1969, the Fab Four, sometimes referred to as “The Beatles,” conducted their last public concert when they played for 42 minutes from the roof of Apple Corps headquarters on Savile Row, London, England (no connection to Apple the computer company, but perhaps better known as Apple Records). Along with Billy Preston, songwriter, keyboardist and vocalist rocker, the Beatles conducted an impromptu event with no prior notice to the public or authorities. In a lucky break for posterity, the event was filmed and later appeared in the 1970 documentary film Let It Be. Audio of the “concert” was recorded on 2 8-track recorders.
The Beatles had shied away from public, live concerts since 1966, and concentrated on making records, but had intended to go back to performing live in 1970. Problems with drugs, artistic differences and ennui plagued the foursome. Alas, live Beatles concerts were not to be, and the rooftop concert would be the last live performance of the Greatest Band in Rock and Roll History. (Says me.)
The Beatles played only 5 songs, but also played some of them twice. Below is an account of the songs played and their order:
“Get Back” (take one)
“Get Back” (take two)
“Don’t Let Me Down” (take one)
“I’ve Got a Feeling” (take one)
“One After 909”
“Dig a Pony”
“I’ve Got a Feeling” (take two)
“Don’t Let Me Down” (take two)
“Get Back” (take three)
The final rendition of “Get Back” featured a line from Paul McCartney, “You’ve been playing on the roofs again, and you know your Momma doesn’t like it; she’s going to have you arrested!” He probably saw the police gathering below and anticipated being shut down. Played during the lunch break, Londoners were surprised by the concert and a crowd gathered, snarling traffic and attracting the attention of the local gendarmes. Initially the crowd refused to move to allow the cops to enter the Apple building, as did the Apple employees, but then relented after being advised arrest was imminent. Once the police requested the band turn down the volume, the “concert” was over and John Lennon followed the last take of “Get Back” with the line, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” Yeah, they passed the audition!
Although the Beatles were to remain a group for only the next 8 months, they did assemble a final album, “Abbey Road.” The Beatles’ “rooftop concert” has become part of Rock and Roll History and the lore of the musical genre, part of the legend of the Beatles. What a wonderful, unexpected treat for Londoners on that winter day. Sadly, there would be no more live Beatles concerts, but nobody knew that at the time, or perhaps the police would have “Let it Be!” (Can you believe it has been 50 years?)
(Note: Billy Preston died in 2006 at the age of 59. George Harrison died in 2001 at the age of 58. John Lennon died in 1980 at the age of 40.)
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite Beatles tune? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Asher, Peter. The Beatles from A to Zed: An Alphabetical Mystery Tour. Henry Holt and Co., 2019.
Mansfield, Ken. The Roof: The Beatles’ Final Concert. Post Hill Press, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by United Press International (UPI Telephoto) of The Beatles as they arrive in New York City in 1964, is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c11094. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in the United States between 1925 and 1977 without a copyright notice. See Commons:Hirtle chart for further explanation.