Updated: Jan 3, 2022
By Justin Gray (Songwriter/Producer/Founder MDIIO)
Please don’t be mad. I never really liked the Beatles. They were always just ok to me. A little overrated in my opinion. But now…? Now I love the Beatles! I can admit when I’m wrong. Don’t tell my wife.
The funny thing about The Beatles “Get Back” documentary, is that I felt that it was almost exclusively geared towards Beatles fans, or anybody that has a creative bent. Even after watching all eight hours (with a few naps scattered throughout), I can hardly imagine that a casual listener, or somebody with little interest in music would find this anything but boring, although most of their songs are embedded into our musical DNA.
So, after watching it, I decided to load the Beatles essentials playlist on Apple Music just to have a listen on random. About 40+ songs into it, and realizing that I knew almost every word to every song even as a casual Beatles listener, I began to understand the absolute depth of their contributions to modern Pop music. I was wrong. The Beatles don’t suck. They are beyond brilliant. The complexity, the simplicity, the awkward song structure, the IDGAF attitude to write whatever they wanted and make it a hit…even the self-deprecating covers of their songs. I was beyond impressed. Hearing Paul and John weave in and out of impossibly complex chord changes, while at the same time re-inventing tried and true musical tropes was...awe inspiring.
What was incredibly enlightening to me personally, was understanding how the dynamics worked between all four members. Sure Paul McCartney and John Lennon were the key songwriters, but the Beatles don’t become the Beatles without the support of George Harrison and Ringo Starr. It was plainly obvious.
As a creator, here are five takeaways I gleaned from watching The Beatles “Get Back” to help polish your poppycock, rate your rubbish and improve your dodgy bits n’ bobs to earn you a few quid.
1. Let It Be (Trust the process) - Watching songs Come Together (pun intended), at the same time as seeing them step away, come back to it, and pivot etc what is a reminder of why it’s important to see ideas through all the way, until the end. Also…witnessing the genesis of other songs that inevitably would become Beatles classics not quite hit the mark was enlightening and reassuring to me as a songwriter. Sometimes it’s not time yet for a song to be born. Someone listening to your songs will take for granted the rollercoaster that IS songwriting. Only at that point can you determine whether or not something is good or bad. Witnessing the early stages of songs that didn’t even make this album crystallize right in front of us was an inspiring reminder of what it takes to just let it be what it’s meant to be
2. Don’t Let Me Down (Collaboration) - We all know the Beatles as four members. But what became evident was the cast of supporting collaborators. Everybody from George Martin and Glyn Johns obviously all the way down to the tea boys. Even Yoko and Linda. But what was the most striking was witnessing the dynamics between four incredibly talented and gifted musicians. Even just Ringo being at the ready anytime even the smallest groove or bit of music was being composed to start developing his drum performance. Witnessing Paul or John give him suggestions on what to play, and him playing it was impressive. But what became most evident was everybody understanding their role within the dynamic and maximizing their contributions to the fullest. Even when they felt like they needed new energy, the suggestion to bring Billy Preston into the fold and even offer him a job as a fifth Beatle was a real example of understanding where you fit in the dynamic of creativity. The biggest takeaway…give everyone space to be their best. The outcome won’t let you down.
3. I Got A Feeling (Vision) - Watching Paul passionately articulate the long term vision of this particular project and undertaking it, was a prime example of formulating a strategy. So what? You’ve written some great music. But what’s the point unless you have a strategy to share it? Vision without execution is guaranteed to fail. No success happens accidentally. Sure…you say it’s The Beatles. But only after YEARS of flawless execution were they able to succeed and see this vision come to life. Invest the time NOW, and the future will be much easier to succeed in. If you've got a feeling...go for it!
4. The Long and Winding Road (Experimentation) - Chords are Chords…melodies are melodies…lyrics are lyrics. OK. But what made the Beatles more special than others before AND after? For one…the respect of their bandmates…but for two? The ultimate respect for the musicality necessary to serve their creativity ultimately. I wish I had never downplayed George. He WAS a beast as a guitar player…and whether or not Ringo was a technically proficient drummer is debatable…but his instinct to play exactly the right parts was uncanny. A drummer serving the song is a rare gift. But the best one's do. Chops is not about how many notes you can play in a short time. It's about WHAT you play. To me, that makes him a GREAT drummer! What I happened to love was watching John pick up a bass, or Ringo on the piano…Paul on the drums. It created a shorthand to helping everyone experiment safely and with incredible results. Too many people want to write with too many people. Finding your tribe and constantly creating together will force everyone's creativity to flourish. No one wants to write the same song over and over and over again. It's a long and winding road, but the destination is always worth it.
5. Get Back (Focus) - The Beatles“Get Back” was a masterclass in how to properly focus on a task. There were deadlines (and yes they were extended)…but not arbitrarily. Having a defined end date and goal forced that creativity to come out. I loved that NO IDEA was a bad idea. I loved that at one point their road manager was suggesting lyrics and Paul listened. Unpopular opinion…I loved that Yoko for much of the film sat next to John, and everyone accepted it (with exception to a couple moments). The respect that they all had for one another was beautiful. They were heartbroken when George quit…it felt like a democracy. Overhearing John and Paul discuss the future of the band without ego and respectfully should be taught at Harvard in a course on problem solving. 50 years ago when this was shot, no one considered the consequences of social norms and mass media consumption. It was just 4 people that were creatively involved with each other. Each of them committing the focus required to accomplish their mutual goal. This one concert…on a rooftop…in the cold…playing all brand new songs. Several of which became evergreen copyrights. You can’t be so vividly creative with a lack of focus. At times it felt like chaos…but as creators, we can all acknowledge how what’s perceived to be chaos, is actually well controlled creativity and focus just appearing as chaos. Get back to where you once envisioned yourself and focus on that.
CODA: Every Beatle had a role. A significant one at that. In the end, none were more important to the end result than the other. The creative push and pull, but also the immense respect between Paul and John was palpable. George’s dissatisfaction and untimely walkout forced the band to re-evaluate, and Ringo’s uplifting energy always brightened the room. You don’t always have to be John, Paul, George or Ringo…your role within the dynamic of your session can change. One day you’re the John…one day you’re the tea boy. No ego. Do what is in the best interest of the end goal. An amazing song. It is important to identify exactly the spot that you fit in. Perhaps my favorite moment in the whole 8 hour offering was the time that Ringo said “I’ve farted” in the midst of a rather tense conversation about the concert with Paul, George Martin and Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Classic Ringo!
See you next week, and keep writing those hIts!