The Beatles‘ rooftop concert was the climax of a project originally titled Get Back. It was conceived as exactly that, a return to their rock roots in a desperate effort to restore unity when business and personal chaos threatened to destroy the band. A documentary crew filmed the Beatles rehearsing and recording new material for an “honest” album, free from the studio wizardry that had dominated their recent work. The experience pushed the group to the point of disintegration, but they needed an end to the film.
So 47 years ago — on January 30th, 1969 — the band climbed five stories to the top of their Apple Corps headquarters and played their last concert together. The album and film were ultimately released in May 1970 as Let It Be, their swan song. Here are 15 little-known facts about the Beatles’ final bow on the world stage.
The concert was originally going to take place in an ancient amphitheater. Or on a cruise ship. Or in the desert.
The Beatles had many ideas about where to perform the climactic concert for their new film — too many ideas. London venues like the Palladium and the Roundhouse were some of the more levelheaded propositions, but most were pretty far-out. The Sahara desert was floated as a potential location, as were the Giza pyramids, and even the QE2 ocean liner. A 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater in Tunisia was seriously considered, and location scouts were sent to investigate. “The Beatles were to start playing as the sun came up,” explained director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, “and you’d see crowds flocking towards them through the day.”
But nothing was ever agreed upon. As enthusiasm for the project waned, the band opted to do something a little simpler and closer to home. Guest keyboard player Billy Preston recalls that it was John Lennon who had the idea to stage the concert on the roof of Apple headquarters. Lindsay-Hogg says it was his idea. Others attribute it to Ringo Starr. The concept sounds inspired, but in retrospect it speaks less to creativity and more to laziness.
Preparations were made, with scaffolding planks laid to support the weight of the gear. A few minutes before the concert was due to start, the band huddled in a small vestibule at the top of the stairs. They had cold feet. “George didn’t want to do it, and Ringo started saying he didn’t really see the point,” says Lindsay-Hogg. “Then John said, ‘Oh, fuck it — let’s do it.'”
Jefferson Airplane performed on a New York City rooftop several weeks earlier.
The Beatles racked up many firsts over the course of their career, but they were not the first band to hold an unauthorized concert on a metropolitan rooftop. That distinction goes to Jefferson Airplane, who climbed to the top of midtown’s Schuyler Hotel on December 7th, 1968 and surprised the city with cries of “Hello, New York! Wake up, you fuckers! Free music! Nice songs! Free love!” Lacking permits, they would only make it through one song — a blistering version of “The House at Pooneil Corners” — before the NYPD threatened arrest for noise disturbance. The band went peacefully, but their friend, actor Rip Torn, was busted for harassing an officer and taken away in a cruiser.