On January 30, 1969, members of The Beatles gathered together on the rooftop of the Apple building on London’s Saville Row for one last concert together.
The Beatles were ready to break up, having been pushed and pulled different directions as a band. They couldn’t see eye to eye on different matters and, according to Rolling Stone, both business and personal issues had reached a boiling point.
They lugged their equipment and instruments up five stories — to the top of the building — to capture this poignant moment in their career. This footage captured for their “Get Back” project is very cool to watch, the legends singing and playing instruments outdoors as the wind whips their hair around.
To battle the brutally cold weather, Lennon pulled on Yoko Ono’s fur coat, Ringo Starr donned his wife’s bright red rain coat, and the rest of the guys threw on other warm ensembles as fans smiled in the background, watching the concert in disbelief, Rolling Stone shared.
This documentary film — and accompanying album, Let It Be — were released in May of 1970. They had talked about going out with a bang, holding this farewell concert in a sweltering hot desert or on a floating ocean liner. Since they all couldn’t agree on just one location, John Lennon suggested the rooftop, Rolling Stone reported.
30th January 2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of @thebeatles infamous Rooftop concert on #SavilleRow London. Their very last live performance.— Camera Press (@CameraPress) January 22, 2019
Photo @CameraPress inside @thebigissue #TheBeatles #1960s #musicphotography #JohnLennon #PaulMcCartney #RingoStarr #GeorgeHarrison pic.twitter.com/uJEYbBe4uA
Legendary engineer and musician Alan Parsons assisted engineer Glyn Johns with the recording of the rooftop concert, he told Guitar Player. It was a last-minute decision.
“They announced it just the night before. It was just, ‘Let’s go up on the roof tomorrow morning.’ So we worked late into the night to get it happening. Part of my job was to run multiple cables from the basement up to the roof,” he said.
In Phillip Norman’s book John Lennon: The Life, documentary director Michael Lindsay-Hogg said scaffolding planks were set up to help support the weight of their equipment on the rooftop. But right before they were supposed to perform, they got “cold feet.”
“George didn’t want to do it, and Ringo started saying he didn’t really see the point. Then John said, ‘Oh, (expletive) it — let’s do it,'” Lindsay-Hogg said.
Lindsay-Hogg shared in the book that he set up five cameras on the rooftop in order to capture the iconic footage. Cameras were also placed in the building’s reception area, atop an adjacent building, and in the street. Not only was the wind troublesome that day, but the cold hampered the delicate microphones capturing the sound from the drums and guitar amplifiers. So Parsons bought women’s pantyhose to cover them up.
Not only was this their final concert together, it was also their first live performance in more than two years, according to Rolling Stone. Like always, Lennon needed cue cards to remember the lyrics — and no one was surprised when the local police called and gave them 10 minutes to wrap up or they would be busted, according to the book The Beatles: Day-by-Day, Song-by-Song, Record-by-Record by Craig Cross. The band — and others — scampered to get rid of their illicit drugs, too, the book detailed. A chorus of flushing toilets could be heard.
While on the rooftop, the band played “Don’t Let Me Down” after recording two versions of “Get Back” and “I’ve Got A Feeling” during the 42-minute set. They were able to play nine takes of five songs before the police told them to turn it down. Even though they recorded one more album — Abbey Road — by September of 1969, The Beatles had officially disbanded.