January 30, 1969 was a big day in the history of The Beatles – it was the day of the last show they ever played together. You’ve probably seen some video or at least photos of that famous performance on the rooftop of the Apple Corps building.
Happy 47th Birthday to The Beatles’ Rooftop Concert. Feels like only yesterday pic.twitter.com/pBXYU5NUZw
— Andrew (@realandrewhight) January 30, 2016
According to Rolling Stone, The rooftop concert was the climax of a project that was initially titled Get Back. The Beatles had been hard at work on an album free of the studio wizardry that had been so prominent on their recent albums. It was a desperate effort to restore unity between members while business and personal chaos threatened to break them up. While it did ultimately push them to the point of disintegration, they needed an end to the film they were shooting. So the group climbed five storeys to the top of the Apple Corps building and played their final show ever. The album and the film would go on to be released in 1970 under the title Let It Be. Here’s the finished product of that rooftop concert:
Since then, there have been plenty of cultural references to that day. Perhaps the most prominent one was the episode of The Simpsons that documents the history of Homer’s barbershop quartet with Apu, Lenny and Principal Skinner, The B-Sharps. This doesn’t show the video, but it does have a still shot AND the song:
Homer even utters John Lennon’s famous line from the end of the concert… And of course Barney doesn’t get it.
But you know, from reading this Rolling Stone article, I learned some pretty interesting things about this concert… Such as:
It almost didnt happen on the rooftop
The band had a few ideas of where they’d like to do it. The Sahara Desert was a potential option, as were the tops of the Pyramids of Giza. The Queen Elizabeth II ocean liner was another potential option, and a 2,000 year old amphitheatre in Tunisia was strongly considered. Nothing was ever agreed upon and the band decided to do something a little closer to home. Numerous people take credit for the idea of doing it on the roof of Apple Corps, though when you look at it, it seems to be more the product of laziness than creativity. The band almost didn’t go out to do it, getting cold feet just before the show began, but John Lennon reportedly said “Oh f*** it! Let’s do it!” and that was the push they needed.
The Beatles were not the first to do the rooftop concert thing
Weeks prior (December 7, 1968), Jefferson Airplane (who recently lost founding member Paul Kantner) had climbed on top of the Schuyler Hotel in New York for an unauthorized show. They only managed to get one song played before the NYPD threatened to arrest them for a noise disturbance. The band left peacefully but apparently Rip Torn, a big supporter of the band, was busted for harassing an officer.
John and Ringo wore their ladies’ coats
It was chilly on that day in foggy London town (though warmer than we’d be used to on the 30th of January), around 7 C or so. It was foggy, and the threat of rain was real. You could even hear John Lennon utter “[My] hands [are] too cold to play the chords!” Apple Corps exec Ken Mansfield held a constant stream of lit cigarettes so George Harrison could keep his hands warm. Lennon donned Yoko Ono’s fur coat (as he occasionally would) and Ringo Starr wore his wife Maureen’s red raincoat.
The microphones were wrapped in pantyhose
It was windy on that day, and the wind was troublesome for the fragile studio microphones that were being used on the band’s amplifiers. Alan Parsons (tape engineer and future Pink Floyd cohort (as well as the project of the same name)) went out and bought 3 pairs of pantyhose and wrapped the microphones with those.
It was their first show in 2 years
People remember it as the band’s last live concert, but it was also their first in over 2 years. They’d performed for a TV Studio audience at the time, but the songs were heavily bolstered by a backing track. Their last real previous live show had come on August 29, 1966 at San Franscisco’s Candlestick Park.
The police cut them more slack than we’re led to believe
From Rolling Stone:
The West End Central Police Station is located at 27 Savile Row — mere feet from Apple headquarters. The authorities obviously must have heard the loud rock music wafting down the street. Windows rattled, floors shook, and horns blared from the resulting traffic jams. If they wanted to, the police could have walked over and shut things down before the first song was over. Instead, they let the concert continue for 42 minutes. It was only when the noise complaints began to flood in from stuffy local businesses that they felt compelled to act.
Even then, they gave the Beatles and Co. ample warning to get rid of certain illicit substances that might have been on the scene. “Before the raid, someone called from the Savile Row police station saying, ‘You’ve got 10 minutes.'” recalled one Apple employee. “So we knew they were coming and everyone was ready for it. … When the police raided the building, there was a whole chorus of toilets being flushed.” Crisis averted.
It’s the last sound you hear on the last Beatles album
That famous quote, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the band and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition,” can be heard at the end of Get Back, the final track on Let It Be. Although Abbey Road was recorded AFTER Let It Be, the latter was the last to be released in May 1970, after news of the band’s breakup had made headlines around the world.
So there you go – some fun facts you may not have known about the Beatles’ final show. Now sit back and enjoy the video if you haven’t already!