Baby Boomers love history — not necessarily the classes we may have slept through in school, but our history.
And we’re all old enough now to have plenty of it.
For example, the Eagle landed 50 years ago in July. Charles Manson and his disciples committed Helter Skelter on two households 50 years ago this August. And we came upon a child of God as he was walking along the road 50 years ago in the same month.
But before we can really get into any of that, we have one more anniversary to mark. Fifty years ago Wednesday, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — the Beatles — gave their last concert as an entity.
It wasn’t at a concert hall, or on the Ed Sullivan show. It was on the rooftop of Apple Corps in London, on a freezing cold day when they all had to wear heavy coats to ward off the chill.
There’s an interesting back story — as there most always is where the Beatles are concerned. Let’s pick it up three years earlier, in 1966 — a turbulent one for the Fab Four that culminated in their decision to stop touring. Perhaps the nasty fallout over Lennon’s off-handed statement that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus had something to do with it. Or maybe it was the way they were roughed up in the Philippines over a misunderstanding with Imelda Marcos.
Also, in August of 1966, the Beatles released the heavily-psychedelic “Revolver” album” that basically used the studio as another instrument. With the limited technology of the era, the songs were impossible to recreate on stage. Ditto its follow-up, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
But in the two short years that followed, there was a move among certain musicians, including the Fabs, to move away from the ornate and “Get Back,” to their rock ‘n’ roll roots.
The idea, then, was to rehearse and produce a follow-up to the eponymous “White Album,” document it on film, and then perhaps put on a concert as an adjunct.
The effort, under the working title of “Get Back,” did not turn out as planned. The group was already splintering, and the frays showed. There were business issues created by the death of manager Brian Epstein; and personal issues that had been endured patiently in the past were becoming less and less tolerable.
In the film that accompanied the record (“Let it Be”), McCartney is running the show with a heavy hand (precipitating a tense confrontation with Harrison that the group left in the movie); Lennon looks bored most of the time, except when he’s playing; Yoko Ono is ever-present (much to the others’ dismay); Harrison looks like he’s waiting for the dentist to drill his teeth; and Ringo Starr sits dispassionately in the background behind his drums most of the time.
Neither Harrison nor Lennon wanted to perform live (only McCartney had any real enthusiasm for that), and, by compromise, they decided to go up to the roof of the Apple building and play, with Billy Preston in tow.
As depicted in “Let It Be,” the Beatles rocked on the rooftop. Actually, a lot of the album rocked, especially the stripped-down version without all the syrupy arrangements by Phil Spector.
But maybe it rocked a little too much. The local constabulary was called, and ultimately had to go up on the roof to shut them down.
As they were leaving, Lennon spoke into a microphone, and said, “I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition.”
The four of them never appeared live together again. They recorded one more album — “Abbey Road,” one of their best. And “Let It Be,” album and film, was finally released more than a year after that rooftop concert happened. Starr and McCartney had joined each other on stage, most famously for the 2002 tribute to Harrison and the 50th anniversary commemoration of their first Sullivan show in 2014.
As “Let It Be” was hitting the charts, so was McCartney’s debut album. Later in 1970, Lennon also went solo, and still later that year, Harrison scored a huge hit with “All Things Must Pass.”
I’ve often wondered why it was that so many British Invasion groups lasted as entities much longer than the Beatles, who never really made it past the sixties.
We all have our own theories, I guess. Mine is that all those other groups fell in behind the Beatles. They were the first, and they took all the flak for all the others. They were simply exhausted from it all.
In another two years, Ringo will be 80. Paul isn’t far behind. And wasn’t it McCartney who once said, “nobody wants to see a creaking Beatle at 80?”