12 Get Back Moments You Need to Know to Act Like You Watched the Whole Thing

This is Get Back (Vulture’s Version). Photo: Walt Disney Studios

As has been widely noted, Peter Jackson’s new three-part documentary The Beatles: Get Back is long. Like, three Avengers: Endgame long. (But for good reason!) At nearly eight hours, sitting through the whole behind-the-scenes of the band’s painstaking process while recording their final album can be a daunting task to complete for those who are casual fans, lead busy lives, or just don’t feel like hearing them play “Don’t Let Me Down” for the umpteenth time. (You wouldn’t be alone — George Harrison didn’t care for the song either.)

While we can’t offer you a condensed edit — Get Back (Vulture’s Version) — we can give you a handy cheat sheet that highlights some of the best moments, with time codes included, so you can get a feel for the whole deal. These 12 scenes run the gamut of emotions: moments of joy, intraband tensions, tomfoolery, and the incredible creative magic that happened in the three weeks they spent making the album and film Let It Be. Read on and watch along so you won’t be left out of all the chatter surrounding this (deservedly) much-hyped documentary. Or the memes.

Part 1

The Beatles’ Creative Cigarette Placement

Time: 29 minutes (well, throughout, really)
For people who didn’t grow up when cigarette smoking was commonplace, it’s pretty jarring to see how much the Beatles and everyone else in the documentary lit up. (Disney+ even includes a disclaimer for it.) What’s wilder is witnessing how they used the floor at Twickenham studios as an ashtray, finding creative places to stash their lit butts mid-performance. (You ever tried singing and smoking at the same time?) The best of these moments comes in part one, when Lennon pokes the end of a guitar string into the dart’s filter to keep the nicotine as near as possible as they discuss revisiting some of the songs they wrote as teens, including the eventual album cut “One After 909.” (It’s even funnier considering back then cigarettes were cheap, and the Beatles had any number of employees able to run out and buy more … and yet they held onto each butt.)

George and Paul Have a Row

Time: 57 minutes
The Let It Be documentary has always been infamous for this scene, where McCartney and Harrison argue during the early days of rehearsals over how Harrison is playing. “I’ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all, if you don’t want me to play,” Harrison tells McCartney. “Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.”

When the movie was released in 1970, the Beatles had just broken up, and this moment allowed fans to rubberneck at the cracks in the band’s façade, giving fuel to those who argued that McCartney was to blame for the split.

McCartney Starts Writing ‘Get Back’

Time: 1 hour, 3 minutes
Arguably the coolest scene in all of the eight hours happens when McCartney, after noting that “Lennon’s late again,” starts strumming an A chord on his Hofner bass, improvising vocals as Harrison and Starr look on. At first, the other two Beatles look bored and tired, with Harrison yawning at one point, until they realize McCartney is onto something as he lands on a melody and the words “get back.” It’s an incredible look at the magic of the Beatles’ creative process — we the audience know that this simple two-chord riff will eventually become one of their greatest hits, but to them, it’s just another idea with hints of promise, born in part because of a looming deadline. They work on it repeatedly throughout the rest of the doc, adding then dropping lyrics about anti-immigration sentiments before landing on the two-verse, three-solo structure that would become the single and album versions.

The Many Locations for a Live Show

Time: 1 hour, 8 minutes
Perhaps it’s the fact that we know how this story ends that makes the idea of the Beatles performing anywhere but the Apple headquarters’ rooftop seem ludicrous, but there’s real tension at the outset of Get Back, when everyone has an opinion about where they should play. You can feel the tension growing as various locations are offered by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and others, including a Roman amphitheater in Libya and on a boat, but the best is when he suggests they play an orphanage or a hospital. “But I don’t mean for really sick kids. I mean for kids with broken legs,” he says, firmly entrenching him as the member of this project with the worst ideas. McCartney shoots it down quickly, saying, “In a hospital, they can’t all get up and walk.”

Mal Evans Plays the Anvil

Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Here’s a good conversation starter — just say, “I really loved that big guy Mal.” The large teddy bear of a man served as a roadie and personal assistant to the band from their early days to their breakup. Here, he gets a star moment when, being the Beatles’ gofer, he has to fetch an anvil to add a sound effect to the future Abbey Road track “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” and is then tasked with picking up an actual hammer and “playing” it. Evans is a constant presence throughout Get Back, setting up studio equipment and supplying whatever creature comforts the band wants. (And if you need a further conversation piece and aren’t afraid of being a total bummer, you can discuss how he was tragically killed by police in 1976 during a drug-fueled incident where he was holding an air rifle.)

George Quits the Band

Time: 2 hours, 22 minutes
The end of part one of Get Back shows a moment that wasn’t included in the original film, where Harrison quits the band, saying, “See you ’round the clubs,” after suggesting they put an ad in NME to find another guitarist. Harrison’s frustrations were palpable throughout the sessions, what with the rest of the band tepidly reacting to his compositions like “All Things Must Pass” and McCartney being a bit overbearing in his pursuit of perfection, and this is when it finally comes to a head (at least until the band officially breaks up). It’s a stroke of genius by Peter Jackson to show Harrison’s diary entry from that day — “Got up, went to Twickenham, rehearsed until lunchtime. Left the Beatles. Went home.” — and soundtrack the end of the episode with the melancholy, then-in-progress “Isn’t a Pity,” which would appear on his 1970 solo album.

Part II

‘They Broke Up Because Yoko Sat on an Amp’

Time: 5 minutes
There are many state-of-the-union discussions among the various Beatles throughout Get Back, but the most prescient comes when McCartney is discussing the presence of Yoko Ono. Though Ono’s presence and willingness to speak for Lennon during a band meeting makes the other three Beatles slightly uncomfortable, it’s clearer that they’re just getting used to the new dynamic, not outrightly despising her as so many people came to believe.

This point is proven when McCartney correctly predicts the sexist backlash, saying, “It’s going to be such an incredible, comical thing in 50 years’ time: ‘They broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.’” Indeed, it would be funny if it wasn’t so viciously thought of as fact for so long.

John and Paul’s Bugged Conversation

Time: 11 minutes
One of Lindsey-Hogg’s smartest moves as a director was to put a microphone in a flower pot in the break room at Twickenham studios, where the initial filming for the project took place. Thanks to Peter Jackson’s ability to restore audio from that mic, we now get to hear a private conversation between Lennon and McCartney as they discuss Harrison quitting the band, with both of them airing some grievances and betraying the anxieties that come with being a Beatle.

“George said he didn’t get enough satisfaction anymore because of the compromise he had to make to be together,” Lennon says. “It’s a festering wound that we’ve allowed. Yesterday, it’s a wound that festered even deeper, and we didn’t give him any bandages.” It’s the kind of conversation one wishes they’d had more of, as they were all obviously harboring resentments and insecurities that needed addressing.

Billy Preston Breathes New Life Into the Band

Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Because the Beatles wanted to record and perform this album live, with no overdubs, they needed an extra set of hands to fill out their sound. So they enlisted keyboardist Billy Preston, whom they’d known since their days playing in Hamburg, when he was part of Little Richard’s band. His virtuosity and easygoing nature bring a renewed sense of purpose to the group, as seen here when he starts adding riffs to “I’ve Got a Feeling.” Preston was so good that, at one point, they discussed adding him as a full-time member of the band, though that idea was rejected when they remembered how tough it was getting four people to agree on anything, let alone five. Here’s a fun fact: When “Get Back” was released as a single in ’69, it was listed as “The Beatles with Billy Preston,” the only time in their career that another person was given credit in that way.

Part III

Ringo Introduces “Octopus’s Garden” With George’s Help

Time: 1 minute
Starr didn’t have any lead-vocal tracks on Let It Be, but the documentary captures the beginnings of his second — and best — original Beatles song, “Octopus’s Garden.” He starts playing it on a piano and sings the opening lyrics to the chuckles of those in the studio, with Harrison joking that Starr finally mastered the A-minor chord on the piano. But then the guitarist seemingly realizes Starr isn’t just fooling around and starts helping him write the song. It’s a touching moment between the two bandmates whose contributions were always in the vast shade cast by Lennon and McCartney.

If you keep watching for a few minutes here, you’ll see another heartwarming scene. The sessions featured in Get Back took place in January 1969, two months before McCartney would marry photographer Linda Eastman, who had a daughter, Heather, from a previous marriage. In another lighthearted scene that cuts some of the gloom surrounding the proceedings, the 6-year-old pays a visit to the studio where she tells Lennon all about their new kittens and runs around, as children do, to the delight of the band. It’s particularly tickling to watch McCartney, just 20 years older than Heather, beaming as she rolls around on the floor and brushes his hair while they’re listening to the playback of “The Long and Winding Road.”

Ringo Farted

Time: 1 hour, 3 minutes
When the documentary gets tense, you can almost always count on Ringo to either bring a moment of levity or sit there with a relatable look of bemused exasperation. Here, he’s sandwiched between Lindsay-Hogg and famed Beatles producer George Martin as they’re in the midst of yet another intense-yet-dull discussion of the rooftop concert that would serve as the closer of the Let It Be documentary. With almost perfect timing, Starr drolly announces, “I’ve farted,” and admits he thought about leaving it as a silent-but-deadly rip. The way McCartney casually raises a finger in acknowledgment and takes a few steps back suggests this is not an uncommon occurrence.

The Rooftop Concert

Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
There’s a lot to love about the famed rooftop concert, shown here in its entirety for the first time. But if you really want to prove that you watched the entire documentary with rapt attention, talk about receptionist Debbie Wellum, who deftly keeps the cops from shutting the performance down with an impressive array of stalling tactics. Of all the unsung heroes that day, Wellum is the most entertaining with her feigned ignorance and consummate professionalism. There are many other highlights within this long Get Back highlight, including the band peering over the rooftop’s edge to see the gathered fans and the man-on-the-street interview with a priest, who quite likes the music — but really, it’s all worth watching.

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