Was The Beatles' Famous Rooftop Gig Actually Their Worst Show?

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 49 months ago
Was The Beatles' Famous Rooftop Gig Actually Their Worst Show?
An onlooker checks his watch while The Beatles play Don't Let Me Down... again. Image: YouTube

It's 30 January 1969. Still steeped in a state of post-Christmas catatonia, you escape the office in search of an uplifting bite to eat. Passing by 3 Savile Row, you hear the jangle of an Epiphone guitar. A waft of familiar Merseyside brogue. People are gathered round, heads angled towards the heavens. You ask a nearby bobby what's going on. Well aren't you the fluky so-and-so: you're witnessing the last ever public appearance of The Beatles. It'll come to be known as their most famous gig of all time.

Except here's a thought: was the Beatle's 'legendary' concert on the Apple Corps rooftop in fact the most disenchanting — nay, their WORST — show of all time? Quite possibly.

Worst Beatles gig ever?

We'll overlook the frigid winter wind that forced Lennon to swaddle himself in 75% of the mink-skinning industry. We'll even ignore that the lion's share of the audience was stranded on the pavement, five-stories below the band, craning their necks like bemused meerkats.

Let's focus on the set list for a second:

No Twist and Shout. No Walrus. Luckily, no Long and Winding Road either

The Beatles had pretty much their entire back catalogue behind them. So it's troubling to see a setlist that includes the decent-but-no-way-amazing romp Get Back features not once, not twice but FOUR times. (That's if you go with Setlist.fm — there's even more repetition throughout the set, if you count the rehearsals and half-performed odds and sods here.) I've Got a Feeling and Don't Let Me Down get multiple renditions too. And there's a lacklustre airing of God Save the Queen, dribbled out with all the chutzpah of Jeremy Corbyn. No Twist and Shout. No Taxman. No Walrus. (Fortunately, no Long and Winding Road, either.)

Of course, this wasn't a gig in the real sense: the impromptu rooftop session — apparently hosted at the summit of Apple HQ because they couldn't be arsed lugging their equipment to the Palladium or Giza — was the finale for a video that went on to become the documentary, Let It Be. But then, lads, why no rendition of that soulful title track? Or the album's best track, Across the Universe? And why, sweet lord, expose us to One After 909?

Not even one for the hardened Fab Four zealots

Despite all the song repeats, The Beatles' rooftop exploit came in at a measly 42 minutes (you can blame the Met Police for cutting it short — although they could have done it much sooner had they wanted). Still, in that time, people are caught on camera looking positively bored. On one of the renditions of Don't Let Me Down (the one where John managed NOT to screw up the lyrics), a bystander can be seen taking a long, luxurious look at his wristwatch (watch the video below at 3:00). It's the polar opposite of all those squealing gals in A Hard Day's Night.

And in fact, this was a gig that The Beatles themselves were reluctant to go ahead with. Rolling Stone quotes the film director Lindsay-Hogg as saying: "George didn't want to do it, and Ringo started saying he didn't really see the point... Then John said, 'Oh, fuck it — let's do it.'"

Hardened Fab Four zealots might struggle to listen to this gig in full — even Beatles tribute acts. When it was recreated on top of Liverpool Central Library, in 2015, the ersatz group decided it was wise to chuck in a few tastier morsels including Back in the USSR, Come Together and Revolution. They could also only bring themselves to do Get Back twice.

Yet the rooftop gig's 'legendary' status remains sealed by its 'end of an era' vibes, the uncanny nature of the whole thing, and Ringo's bold decision to sport his wife's cherry red macintosh. There may be one more reason too. As one Beatles fan explains, this is "The only Beatles concert where you can actually hear the band."

Last Updated 30 August 2018