The world has justifiably awaited the release of the 33-year-old singer Adele‘s latest album but — without hesitancy — I can say that the musical event of the year comes courtesy not of the girl from Tottenham, but four lads from Liverpool who, decades after they came together, remain the greatest musicians of the modern age.
They are, of course, The Beatles, the 20th century band who transformed music.
Their soundtrack is one which effortlessly bestrides every decade from the Swinging Sixties to the current day. And now, astonishing and intimate unseen footage allows us to glimpse them once more at their creative zenith.
Sixty hours of footage, filmed over the course of four weeks in January 1969, has been edited down into three two-hour long documentaries by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson.
Having had the chance to see a preview, I can tell you that this is appointment viewing, an epic but intimate portrait of a band at the height of their powers against the backdrop of a London that no longer exists.
A sneak peak at Peter Jackson’s documentary ‘Get Back’ shows a young John Lennon in 1969 while working on The Beatles’ 12th studio album in the basement of 3 Savile Row
The footage is focused on a single month when The Beatles were working up new songs for a televised concert which, in a fit of enthusiasm, John Lennon wanted to take place in Libya so they could play in an ancient amphitheatre.
George Harrison disagreed and, with the plans for a televised concert shelved, it was eventually decided that the group would be filmed for a documentary as they worked on their 12th studio album in the basement of 3 Savile Row, the Central London address that was the home of their company, Apple.
That would lead, at the end of January, to the unannounced, spirited performance on the building’s rooftop which would be the band’s last public performance.
A slice of those many hours of footage culminated in the 1970 cinema documentary Let It Be, a film widely considered to be an exercise in watching a band disintegrate ahead of its official break-up, which was announced in the spring of that year.
The footage culminates in an unannounced, spirited performance on the rooftop of Savile Row in January 1969 which would be the band’s last public performance
The remainder of the footage has been sitting in a locked basement ever since. It is a joyous antidote to that pessimism, instead being a touching testimony to their friendship and mutual respect.
It is a portrait of the young men who, as a music journalist, I was lucky enough to spend time with.
Now, in Get Back, they are brought to life as young men once more. We see them smoking and drinking endless cups of tea as friends and family drift in and out of the footage.
In one section, Linda Eastman, whom Paul would marry that March, arrives with her six-year-old daughter, Heather, who embarks on a spontaneous bout of frenzied dancing.
In another, we see Yoko Ono who, depicted in the Let It Be documentary as the ogress who broke up The Beatles, is shown here poring over the morning papers with the band the day after John has announced his love for her in the wake of her divorce.
George Harrison is pictured playing air guitar in the documentary Get Back, which captures the four young men at their creative zenith
The mood is collectively celebratory. The weeks of recording during which the footage was captured produced three U.S. No1s — Get Back, Let It Be and The Long And Winding Road. Contrary to widespread myth moreover, the band were still collaborating closely at this point, helping each other with lyrics and melody.
The point is illustrated when George Harrison says he has been working on a new love song but is stuck on the second line. That song is Something, with its famous lyric ‘Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover’.
Except back then, George had used ‘a pomegranate’ instead of ‘no other lover’.
‘Just say whatever comes into your head each time until you get the word,’ suggests John, offering up ‘cauliflower’, instead.
Paul McCartney with stepdaughter Heather, then aged six, who at one point in the footage embarks on a spontaneous bout of frenzied dancing
Today the viewing audience knows this lyrical confusion is beautifully resolved, lending a piquant quality to the boys’ comical discussion.
Other sections are laced with melancholy, among them scenes in which we see Mal Evans, The Beatles’ much-loved roadie, treated less like an assistant than an equal by the band.
The benefit of history means we know that, seven years later, Mal would be shot dead by LA police aged just 40 after they mistook his air rifle for a real weapon.
We know, too, that one of these four boyish singers would also be assassinated at the age of 40, and that another would die prematurely from too much cigarette smoke.
We know, but they don’t — and that makes the viewing experience so terribly poignant. I defy anyone to walk away from Jackson’s masterful effort feeling anything other than both moved and uplifted.
That certainly seems to be the case for the surviving Beatles and their loved ones, who were out in force at the 100- minute-long private view last week in London, among them Paul McCartney’s daughter, Mary, Ringo Starr’s son, Zak, and George’s son, Dhani.
Yoko Ono (left) is shown in the documentary poring over the morning papers with the band the day after John has announced his love for her in the wake of her divorce
Paul himself introduced the footage and spoke of how meaningful it was having this chance to revisit a time he could not experience in all its glory as he was too busy concentrating on performing.
Now, he told us, he had the chance to watch his mates play and realise how great they were. For the rest of us watching, it was a privilege.
We will never get to see Leonardo da Vinci at his easel or Michelangelo wield his sculptor’s knife, but now we are given an insider’s view of The Beatles creating some of the most important art of the 20th century.
Courtesy of painstaking restoration, we can also revel in a pin-sharp, evocative slice of late 1960s London, a city of men wearing hats, most people smoking and bobbies on the beat.
It’s a visit to a world which no longer exists. The music lives on, but the world in which they existed is long gone. All of us who were at the preview were thrilled that we had a chance to experience it again.
Now it is your turn. Do not miss it. Get into your time machine and immerse yourself in one of the greatest musical stories of all time.
- Get Back will be released on the Disney Plus Channel in three parts on November 25, 26 and 27.