Thursday, January 30, 2014

Up on the Roof With the Fab Four

"We went on the roof in order to resolve the live concert idea because it was much simpler than going anywhere else.

"Also nobody had ever done that so it would be interesting to see what happened when we started playing up there. It was a nice little social study.

"We set up a camera in the Apple reception area behind a window so nobody could see it, and we filmed people coming in.

"The police and everybody came in saying, 'You can't do that! You've got to stop.' "

George Harrison

If there is a seminal moment from the '60s that still lives in pop lore, it is probably the fabled rooftop concert given by the Beatles on the roof of the Apple building in London on this date in 1969.

Ultimately, about half of the 42–minute show served as the concluding segment of "Let It Be" — the fourth and final Beatles movie.

As George Harrison said, it was an interesting study. The movie captured a range of reactions on the street level in London, from excitement to exasperation. In hindsight, probably the Beatles were the only musicians who had the luxury of conducting such a social experiment. Anyone else might have been arrested, and their careers would have been reduced to punchlines.

But they were the Beatles, internationally known. Everything they did made news — not always good news but news. They could get away with things that other groups could not — like playing loud music in the business district during the noon hour.

In the movie, pedestrians could be seen looking skyward, trying to ascertain where the sound was coming from. A few of the older pedestrians clearly were annoyed by the intrusion into their lives.

They didn't realize they were witnesses to history — the Beatles' last public concert. They were hearing something for which Beatles fans would yearn for 11 years — until John Lennon was murdered in December 1980 and it was no longer possible — a Beatles concert.

(In the 1970s, the talk was not of a Beatles concert but of a Beatles reunion. It was understood that they would perform together, but the shape that performance would take was never established in the discussions I heard or in which I participated. If such a reunion had taken place, it might have been on a TV show. It might even have been in the form of a multi–city tour.

And a few might have dreamed of a repeat of the rooftop performance. Who knows?)

The concert took place nearly five years to the day after the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.