Even when it comes to a band as frequently discussed and examined as The Beatles, there are still surprises to be found in their rich history. That’s just one of the reasons why The Beatles: Get Back, the three-part documentary series now streaming on Disney+, is such engrossing viewing. Working with over 55 hours of footage originally shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, director Peter Jackson has created an intimate look at John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison, captured both in the act of creation as well as conflict.
With a runtime of 468 minutes, it’s an understatement to say that Get Back reveals a lot about what happened in the course of making the album Let It Be. But below are a few of the more unexpected revelations to come from Jackson’s approach to the source material. While some of these events may not be a huge shock to any hardcore Beatles fan familiar with the history of the band, seeing it all unfold in almost a real-time way carries with it a fresh sort of impact.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Beatles: Get Out.]
01. George Quit the Band for a Few Days, and It Took Some Doing to Get Him Back
In the first week of their needling about in Twickenham, George peaces out quietly after quibbling with Paul about his micromanaging grip and command of the proceedings, writing in his diary, “Got up, went to Twickenham, rehearsed until lunch time – left The Beatles.”
It takes quite a few (off-screen) meetings to get him back, and when they do, it’s with a few specific conditions: Pack up from Twickenham for the more comfortable confines of Apple headquarters, and drop the concert angle they were going for to just focus on the album.
02. The Beatles Still Got Along Quite Well, Actually
Rather than depicting a squabbling band publicly feuding and tense with each other, long stretches of the doc shows them smiling, laughing, joking and playing together. It’s a portrait of a band remembering what brought them together in the first place, and it pokes a hole in the notion that it was specifically their experience making Let It Be that broke them up.
03. Yoko Innocent
Another pernicious rumor is that Yoko Ono’s sway over John Lennon broke up The Beatles, but Get Back doesn’t support that as much as you’d think. Sure, she’s kind of omnipresent, and Paul at one point opines that, if John were to choose between Yoko and The Beatles, he’d choose Yoko. But the other lads treat her with deference and Paul even openly says that “It’s got nothing to do with her.” Simply put, it’s less that the others don’t like her, and more an honest appraisal of where John might be in his life at the time.
04. Billy Preston Filled In as “the Fifth Beatle”
After George agrees to rejoin with the band and finish the album, he brings in jazz keyboardist and friend Billy Preston (who’s in England for a few TV appearances) to see what’s going on. It’s presented here as an innocent drop by to see the band, which turns into him helping out and playing keyboards on the album, but one wonders how much it was actively a condition of George’s return (since George gushes about how great he is when they’re rehearsing at Twickenham).
The others discuss making sure he’s paid as a studio musician, at least, and John jokingly calls him “the fifth Beatle.” He’s also decidedly a calming presence for the group, an outsider they all respect who elevates their sound and gives them someone else to focus on besides each other.
05. The Rooftop Concert Wasn’t Their First Choice
As previously mentioned, the Get Back Sessions were supposed to be a TV special combined with a live concert from which they’d take the live, unadulterated tracks and build an album. Several ambitious venues were floated at these discussions, including the Palladium or the Sabratha Amphitheater in Libya, but they get shot down pretty quickly.
Eventually, the concert gets shut down at George’s insistence, but Paul still wants to do something, which eventually leads them to performing tracks on the rooftop of Apple, under the guise of recording tracks outside the confines of the studio. George admits at one point, “I don’t want to go on the roof,” but Ringo says he definitely does.
These are only a few of the revelations that come from watching the full series, so be sure to check it out. The Beatles: Get Back is streaming now on Disney+.