As a child of Baby Boomers, I grew up hearing a lot of music by The Beatles, a band that broke up shortly before I was born. As I grew up, I was more and more amazed by how much music The Beatles produced in such a short window of existence as a band and how anyone could just give that up after basically just a decade of work.
So I’ve been eagerly awaiting “Get Back,” the three-part rock doc by Peter Jackson about The Beatles’ rapid, chaotic production of their final album, and the work leading up to their famous concert on the roof of Apple Studios. It comes on the heels of “McCartney 3, 2, 1,” a six-part Hulu series in which producer Rick Rubin talks music and Beatles history with Paul McCartney.
After seeing both now, I have to say that “McCartney 3, 2, 1” is more interesting, especially to those more focused on the music.
Jackson’s “Get Back” comes in at a little over 6 hours over three shows. He culled that down from more than 100 hours of footage. And, yet, it feels like he could have accomplished the same feat in a 2-hour show. And while “McCartney 3, 2, 1” is something anyone who likes music can enjoy, only a true Beatles fan can handle “Get Back.”
Some of the sequences go on and on and on until you’re like: “OK, they clearly are headed for a breakup. We get it. Can we get back to making this last album?”
Among the tracks on that final album, by the way, is “The Long and Winding Road,” a McCartney tune that was the No. 1 song on the day I was born in 1970. After seeing Jackson’s rock doc, I think “The Long and Winding Road” might have been a better title for it.
Here’s the gist of what you get out of this series:
Paul McCartney: He was crafting the best Beatles tunes by the end of the 1960s mostly on his own and was getting frustrated trying to pull more than his weight and convey his vision to sometimes deaf ears. (An aside: We saw McCartney live in Atlanta in 2015, and it’s one of the best live shows I’ve ever witnessed. The man is a genius.)
George Harrison: He was just 25 years old at the end of The Beatles’ run, having been brought on at the age of 13. He had developed his own genius in the background and clearly had grown tired of being treated like the kid in the group.
Ringo Starr: He was the most professional in the sessions, ready to go and patiently waiting for the others to behave. I came away much more impressed with him than before.
John Lennon: His genius was best when reined in with a little structure. Left to his own devices, it’s amazing he accomplished anything at the time, especially considering how impressed he was with his own ramblings and humor. He clearly was better with McCartney as a partner than with Yoko Ono as a pet.
Billy Preston: The man basically dropped by for fun and made the record infinitely better with his instinctive organ playing that wowed even The Beatles who already were acquainted with him.
Yoko Ono: Worse than you thought. Annoying and smothering. Paul, George and Ringo come off as very patient with her constant presence up in their business. Occasionally, she even got on a microphone. If you’ve ever accidentally thrown your ferret in a blender and hit “frappe,” well, you’ve heard Yoko Ono. Why there is more than two seconds of her voice in the doc, I dunno.
By the way, each episode begins with a warning that the show contains mature themes, explicit language and smoking. And I mean a lot of smoking. Jackson focuses in on it so much that sometimes it feels like a documentary about cigarettes. If I have a suggestion for the warning, it would be to add “Yoko Ono’s voice.”
In short, “Get Back” leaves you wanting less, not more. And “McCartney 3, 2, 1” leaves you wanting more. But if you are a die-hard Beatles fan, both are worth seeing. Also, if you’re a Beatles fan who has never seen the movie “Yesterday” (one of my top 10 all-time favorite movies), you need to see it. You just might appreciate it even more than the two documentary series.