I now have a working theory as to why the precise details of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions remain so squirrelly, even though the whole thing is on tape: It’s that no sane historian can sustain an interest long enough to sort it all out. Do you want to sit down and listen to 43 takes of “Get Back,” interspersed with The Beatles playing half-assed versions of old rock songs, semi-remembered covers, and embryonic new compositions, sometimes without bothering to be in tune with each other? I didn’t think so.

In some parallel universe I acquire the 83-CD set of the complete session recordings and devote myself day and night to delving into its secrets. And quite possibly emerge gibbering mad on the other side. I note that the wonderful They May Be Parted — a blog devoted specifically to this subject — has, after seven years, made it only up to January 9. Its task may perhaps be completed within the remaining lifespan of the human species, but I wouldn’t necessarily bet on it.

So rather than spend an excessive amount of time untangling, I’m just going to roll these two days into one, and, um, let it be.

One of the many things about this period that’s unclear is what, exactly, The Beatles thought they were doing. There was still an idea they they were rehearsing for a live performance of some kind, but no concrete plan for what that might be. There seems to have been a general understanding that an album would eventually emerge from the sessions, but on the tapes you can still hear the camera operators slating, ruining many potential takes.

By this point they have “Get Back,” “Dig a Pony,” “Two of Us,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” and “Don’t Let Me Down” in pretty good shape. Other future Beatles songs that make an appearance during these days include:

  • Oh! Darling
  • Mean Mr. Mustard
  • Octopus’s Garden
  • Let It Be
  • The Long and Winding Road
  • She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
  • Maggie Mae
  • Polythene Pam
  • Her Majesty
  • Dig It

The last was quite different from the one that eventually appeared, in fragmentary form, on Let It Be:

There was also a fair amount of playing around with old Beatles songs to see what they’d sound like with Billy Preston in the band:

  • Help!
  • Please Please Me
  • I’ll Get You
  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
  • Hello, Goodbye
  • Lady Madonna
  • Lovely Rita

The results were generally underwhelming.

A handful of Billy Preston originals were also attempted, along with a few songs that ended up as Paul McCartney solo joints and, making a surprise reappearance, John’s “Child of Nature” — which would go back into the old kit bag and finally re-emerge in 1971 as “Jealous Guy.” The only Harrison composition to show up was an otherwise unknown sketch called “Window, Window”:

George tried to interest the others in this one, but got no traction, and I’m not sure how hard he really tried. I get the sense that at this juncture, George was politely counting the days till this damn project was over and he could get on with his solo career. It would take a little longer than he thought.

Among the many covers making cameos on these days were:

  • Twenty Flight Rock (Eddie Cochran)
  • Let’s Twist Again (Chubby Checker)
  • Happiness Runs (Donovan)
  • (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (the Stones)
  • What’d I Say (Ray Charles)
  • Singing the Blues (Guy Mitchell)
  • Little Demon (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)
  • Maybellene/You Can’t Catch Me/Brown-Eyed Handsome Man/Sweet Little Sixteen/Around and Around/Almost Grown/School Days (Chuck Berry)
  • Stand by Me (Ben E. King)

But all told, the musical highlight of these days may have been a piece of Paul’s that’s been given the name “There You Are, Eddie.” Though thrown-together and goofy, with John suggesting lyrics from the sidelines, it’s sturdily melodic and quite charming. That’s a good place to end for now.

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