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Jan. 29, 2022 | Saturday
Editorials and Opinions
Op-ed: All you need is love – and a strategic plan
The Beatles: Get Back image gallery.

Beatles’ 'Get Back' series has lessons for getting things done


David Israelson
Special to The Lake Report

Anyone who watched the entire documentary "The Beatles: Get Back" that was released a few weeks ago on Disney Plus will likely have mixed feelings. It’s great to see the Fab Four back together, at least on screen, but it bursts the bubble to watch them dithering and bickering back in 1969.

It’s hard to watch four people who used to get along but don’t anymore sulking and scrambling as they try to prepare songs and organize a live performance in just a few weeks.

Even for the Beatles that was asking a lot. Fortunately, somehow there’s a payoff with their short but riveting rooftop concert — the last time they performed publicly as a group.

With the hindsight of five decades, in addition to enjoying listening to the Beatles and watching them drink a lot of tea, we can look at this series in other different and interesting ways. It offers evidence about why, great as they were, the Beatles could not go on.

It's a good chronicle of the background events that led to one of most acrimonious business breakups in the history of show business.

Money can’t buy them love

In the same year as the film was released and the breakup became official, the case of McCartney v. Lennon, Harrison and (Richard) Starkey was filed in London’s High Court of Justice, Chancery Division in 1970. It had everything — fame, fortune and family discord. And, of course, it’s all set to the ultimate soundtrack of the '60s.

McCartney filed an affidavit on the last day of 1970, asking the court to dissolve the partnership. It would take years to unravel, though.

Meanwhile, Lennon gave a blistering, book-length interview to Rolling Stone magazine, while George and Ringo went their separate ways.

The breakup story has fascinated people since the baby boomers were youngsters because of the Beatles’ fame, their personalities and, of course, their music.

What’s still interesting is the backstory — how casual, friendly collaboration can turn into angry and acrimonious bile when success and money are added to the mix and everyone involved is stirring, but no one is steering.

There has yet to be a definitive, exhaustive look at the legal side of the Beatles, though many have made good attempts. A 1972 book called "Apple to the Core: The Unmaking of the Beatles" by Peter McCabe and Robert D. Schonfeld dealt with the business side, but those were still early days in the legal story and many of the issues weren’t resolved back then.

In the middle of negotiations, they break down

Really, what were the Beatles fighting about? Probably only the survivors, Paul and Ringo, can tell us now, but if you watch the entire series, you may get a few ideas.

Here are a few:

• On the law side, the Beatles were a partnership that badly needed a corporate structure. Who made the decisions? When they were kids, John and Paul could crank out great tunes and get the others to play, and everyone loved it. But once they became the biggest band in the world and their manager Brian Epstein died, they lacked a boss and had no chain of command to make sure things got done. So they bickered.

• On the business side, what exactly were the Beatles selling in 1969? They had amazing products, yet they didn’t know. Everyone waited eagerly for the next Beatles’ singles and albums, of course, but they themselves sort of wanted to do a concert and were expected to do a film. Or maybe a TV show? Or maybe a concert in an amphitheatre? Or not.

• Consultants can help. As soon as the Beatles engaged their friend Billy Preston to play keyboards, everything picked up. That’s because Preston filled the role of an outside consultant — he was with the band but not in the band, and his presence and contributions could keep them on better behaviour. Let’s hope he got paid handsomely, the way consultants often do.

• On the music side, watching Paul McCartney express his ideas is fascinating. He takes a few rumbly bass notes and within a few minutes has the basic outline for the song "Get Back." He also seems to pull together "The Long And Winding Road" while everyone around the room is fussing with equipment or doing other distracting things. And regardless of what we all thought, he works on ideas pretty closely with John Lennon.

Also, it appears that we all have underestimated Ringo over the years; in this documentary, he shows up, reads the band’s musical ideas impeccably and — literally — does not miss a beat. As for George Harrison, no wonder he wanted to quit — they kept ignoring him and downplaying his ideas.

• Again on the legal side, the details count. The Beatles should have learned this when they included snippets from the French national anthem "La Marseillaise" and the song "In The Mood" in their own "All You Need Is Love" in 1967, and discovered that both excerpts required royalty payments.

Today we call it sampling. They also apparently didn’t get permission to blast their own awesome music from the rooftop, which is why the police showed up.

That encounter with the cops is another lesson — sometimes it’s OK to disrupt. The bobbies added some drama and tension to an otherwise long movie of people arguing and smoking, with occasional singing.

It’s also an early example of acting first and getting permission later — that’s what the '60s were supposed to be about before they degenerated into, well, whatever you think that decade means to us now.

And disruption is still with us — it’s now the playbook for the entire high-tech sector.

David Israelson is a non-practising lawyer, writer and consultant in Niagara-on-the-Lake.