On this Day Factola
January 30, 1969
The Last Public Performance of The Beatles
Back before elaborate album rollouts and surprise releases, the Liverpool quartet spontaneously previewed songs from their forthcoming album Let It Be to scores of Londoners, staging an impromptu 42-minute set on the rooftop of Apple, their label, on Savile Row.
Before Metropolitan police eventually halted the performance, filmmakers captured not only the memorable set, but also the reactions of its attendees and those in the nearby area. While the January 30th, 1969 event luckily made its way onto the Let It Be documentary, the unannounced rooftop concert ultimately signaled the last time people would see the Beatles perform together live.
Getting The Beatles to play any kind of a show during that time was surprising, considering they officially stopped touring in 1966. This was partially due to the legions of loyal fans drowning out their concerts, as well the obstacle of not being able to perform some of their new material’s more complicated arrangements live. Despite their fatigue with playing traditional gigs, the band wanted to continue premiering and recording new music.
George Harrison explained, “We went on the roof in order to resolve the live concert idea, because it was much simpler than going anywhere else; also nobody had ever done that, so it would be interesting to see what happened when we started playing up there.”
Once the band kicked things off with the rousing “Get Back”, word began to spread through the London streets. Dozens, if not hundreds congregated, crowding neighboring rooftops and balconies as well as stopping traffic and disrupting local businesses. Before the Metropolitan Police could shut down the scene, the band, along with the young keyboardist Billy Preston, got through nine takes of five songs. With George Martin, engineer Glyn Johns and tape operator Alan Parsons recording the takes onto two eight-track tapes in Apple’s basement, these early renditions of “I’ve Got a Feeling”,”One After 909?, and “Dig a Pony” would end up on the final version of Let It Be.
Though it would be their last show ever, the band sounded as good as it always had. The aforementioned recordings were all rollicking, and despite the cold January day, everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Just as they were about to end their performance, McCartney improvised the lyrics of “Get Back” to poke fun at the situation singing, “You’ve been playing on the roofs again, and you know your Momma doesn’t like it, she’s gonna have you arrested!” The set ended with John Lennon’s famous line, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.” The quote was a fitting send-off to one of music’s most important bands. The group would officially break up in 1970.
The London rooftop, five storeys up, atop the Apple Corps building on 3 Savile Row, January 30, 1969
Josh Terry originally published this article in 2014 - Courtesy of COS (Consequence of Sound)
To see video of "Don't Let Me Down" from this concert visit YouTube
“Get Back” (three takes)
“Don’t Let Me Down” (two takes)
“I’ve Got a Feeling” (two takes)
“One After 909” (one take)
“Dig a Pony” (one take)
“I Want You (She’s So Heavy” (Snippet)
“God Save The Queen” (Snippet)
“A Pretty Girl Is A Melody” (Snippet)
Here is a NPR Podcast that reports on this same event from another perspective (from someone who was there):
In 1969, Ken Mansfield, (pictured in white in the far back) was the U.S. manager of Apple Records and one of the few people allowed on the rooftop to witness the band's final performance. He shares his memories of the historic event in his new book The Roof: The Beatles' Final Concert Courtesy of the author
January 30 - On this Day Factola