Demystifying Songwriting in The Beatles: Get Back


The Beatles’ unique and unvarnished look in the three-part documentary series The Beatles: Come Back by Peter Jackson is a revelation for many reasons.

It reshapes the narrative around Yoko Ono and her impact on the group (hint: it was a lot less important than fans made it look, although we can all agree it was weird to see her 18 inches from John. Lennon always), reinforces the close relationship between Paul McCartney and John Lennon, and, more importantly, peers behind the curtain in the process of one of the greatest songwriting groups in the history of the pop music.

It is the latter that seems to have captivated and surprised many fans of the Beatles and music in general. Rarely has anyone outside of the music world had a front row seat to the inner workings of the songwriting process, especially from such an iconic duo as Lennon / McCartney.

Broadcaster Howard Stern, who has become one of the industry’s top radio interviewers, frequently interviews musicians, including McCartney. Because he always wanted to be a musician, his questions often have a childish character, assimilating songwriting and musicians’ influences to an almost magical level. It’s a sentiment, it seems, shared by dozens of those watching To recover and see how it works.

In one segment, McCartney strums randomly on his bass while singing various melodies. At first it sounds like noodles until about a minute later we hear the song “Get Back” forming, the initial melodies and chord progressions which would be one of the greatest songs. rock and roll history. And it all happened in just a few minutes.

The truth is, when you look at the work of a musician, famous or not, the writing process can be demystified quite quickly. Obviously, not all of the great (or horrible) songs come out nearly fully formed like “Get Back” seems to do for McCartney and the Beatles, but it’s probably astounding for fans to realize that many of the songs they do. ‘They’ve Loved and Sung for Decades was written in minutes during a jam session.

In the classical music documentary Runnin ‘Down a Dream: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Petty recoils from what he considers a poorly written song for his friend, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. He blames a rep for the record company in the studio and the rails, “I could smoke a joint and find three better lines than that.” The truth is, he’s probably right. Petty would often jam on songs with the Heartbreakers and develop them in the studio almost in real time.

This is not always true, of course. Some songs take months to develop and are treated with the sincerity of religious experience, but the revelations in To recover are not really revelations for musicians. What McCartney did in this scene is part of the normal writing process of most artists, bands in particular, where the collaborative process is essential to writing and improving what has already been written.

None of this is to say that what The Beatles did was not magic. It was. It was precisely this creativity and spontaneity that made them so amazing. It wasn’t an end-of-album draft he was writing, after all.

But, it underscores the fact that a lot of what goes into writing songs and playing music is this combination of creativity mixed with a relentless pursuit of excellence and lots and lots and lots of practice. Not all musicians can do what The Beatles did (almost none could or ever will), but virtually all follow a similar path even though the results are remarkably different.

And don’t be disappointed if you thought it all happened through an unseen inspiring process with chants and sacrifices to the music gods. Rather, it should remind us of not only how good these guys were, but how hard they worked to get to this point. It is their greatest legacy.


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