By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer
A new documentary about The Beatles streams on Disney+ November 25. Produced by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, it casts new light on the legendary band’s final days. The Let It Be sessions were famously turbulent.
Director Peter Jackson spent four years assembling a documentary of footage about The Beatles’ Let It Be sessions. Originally filmed for the accompanying film of the same name, the nearly 200 hours of video and audio footage ultimately went unused. Jackson narrowed it down to seven hours, showing much more than the well-known infighting and drama behind the band’s final album.
Jackson acknowledged the challenge of the project overall, but he was encouraged by the footage he saw. His concern is understandable; the original documentary Let It Be was mostly panned. In his video series England, the 1960s, and the Triumph of the Beatles, Dr. Michael Shelden, Professor of English at Indiana State University, detailed the inflammatory nature of the band at the time.
Breaking the Beatles
The Beatles‘ final four studio albums were The Beatles (1968), also known as The White Album; Yellow Submarine (1969); Abbey Road (1969); and Let It Be (1970). While most fans didn’t know about the band’s turbulence until after Let It Be was released, the band began to fracture years earlier.
“They drifted during the making of The White Album, then a frustrated Paul tried reasserting authority in the making of the documentary that eventually became—after much editing—Let It Be,” Dr. Shelden said. “Of course, they fought as they tried to reach a unified vision for their new music when they all had their own ideas of how to sing and play.
“If they couldn’t manage their own relations, there was only one person left who could give it a try: [longtime producer] George Martin.”
Unfortunately, John Lennon had come to see Martin as just another authority figure and didn’t want him interfering with the band’s plan to go back to their basic rock sound, nor did he want Martin to act as a mediator. However, Martin tried to work with the band on several recording sessions, to which Lennon reacted with varying acceptance.
“Immersed in his drug habit and in his obsessive love for the new woman in his life, Yoko Ono, John became a source of constant tension in the studio,” Dr. Shelden said.
After an argument with George Harrison, Lennon suggested replacing him with Eric Clapton. Harrison was eventually persuaded to rejoin the band.
The rift between Lennon and McCartney widened and the recordings languished. They played two of the new songs, “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” at their famous farewell performance on a London rooftop. Unfortunately, the band had no idea how to run their company, Apple. The worst moment for McCartney came when the band suggested to him that they be managed by American businessman Allen B. Klein.
“Klein’s real talent was for tying his adversaries up in endless litigation, or for threatening to do so, and it never dawned on Lennon that Klein could undercut The Beatles with the same legal ploys he used against record companies and others,” Dr. Shelden said. “But in the spring of 1969, John thought that Klein would fix everything that had gone wrong for The Beatles […] and he talked Ringo and George into siding with him against Paul, who was adamantly opposed to Klein.”
After the initial dispute over Klein led to a stalemate, they returned to the Abbey Road studios and recorded Abbey Road in the summer of 1969.
In the end, it all came down to show business and money. Klein picked up the pieces of the band and pocketed what he could, milking their assets. He packaged the album and film of Let It Be for a 1970 release, and his takeover of the project angered McCartney so much that McCartney left the band. All of The Beatles’ fighting over money and the breakup of the band was so well hidden that most fans didn’t realize the album Let It Be was recorded mostly before 1970.
Get Back streams on Disney+ starting on November 25.