Remembering The Beatles Last Performance

Jan 30, 2019
Originally published on January 30, 2019 5:37 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Fifty years ago today, the Beatles climbed to a London rooftop and performed together for the first time in more than two years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEATLES: (Singing) Jojo left his home in Tuscon, Ariz.

SHAPIRO: It was a small concert, just the Beatles, keyboardist Billy Preston, a film crew and a small audience huddling in the cold.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEATLES: (Singing) Get back, Jojo.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

No one knew it then, but this would also be their final performance together.

KEN MANSFIELD: When you were on the roof, it was like something is happening here. I don't know what it is, but something magic's happening here.

KELLY: That's record executive Ken Mansfield. He was part of that audience that day, and he memorialized the experience in his book "The Roof: The Beatles' Final Concert."

SHAPIRO: A film crew was documenting the production of the group's album "Let It Be." They'd hoped to film the Beatles before a big audience in an exotic location, but at the time, the members of the band weren't getting along. Filming the final scene on the roof was a compromise.

MANSFIELD: This was a time of dissension, if we should use that word. Somebody said, we just need to go up on the roof. This was just an easy answer to just - to get it over with.

KELLY: Turns out that was exactly what they needed. Mansfield says on the cold roof that day, all the band's tension melted away.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEATLES: (Singing) Get back. Get back to where you once belonged. Get back. Get back. Get back to where you once belonged.

MANSFIELD: Well, this is one single moment that is something I'll treasure forever - is, they started playing. And John looked over at Paul, or Paul looked over at John. And I was just, like, 4 to 6 feet away. And I saw this look on their face. It was like, you know what? This is us. It doesn't matter what's going down and all the problems and everything. This is who we are. We're mates. We've been together for so many years. And we are a good rock 'n' roll band, and that's what we're doing right now. And, man, they start having a good time. You know, John's throwing out these one-liners, and they're just rocking out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEATLES: (Singing) Don't let me down. Don't let me down.

MANSFIELD: I wrote in the book that they came up on the roof without a sound check, but they walked back down with a soul check.

SHAPIRO: They also walked back down after the police broke up the performance because of noise complaints. Mansfield says the whole thing took a while to sink in.

MANSFIELD: When we left the roof that day, nobody talked to each other and then next morning still couldn't quite figure out what I'd experienced. I didn't realize it was going to be one of the historical moments in rock 'n' roll, but I knew something had happened.

KELLY: Historic because, again, it was the Beatles' last live performance as a group. They had conquered the world, and they went out with an ironic line from John Lennon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN LENNON: I would like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves. I hope we passed the audition.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Fifty years later, safe to say they did. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.