Starring Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney
Published November 26, 2021
As Kanye West reminds audiences with each album cycle, it’s a hubris that lowers even the best musicians to announce a major live event before you actually finish any material. Come back was basically the 1969 version of Donda, when the Beatles planned to perform the material of a new album in front of a live audience and only gave themselves a few weeks to compile it. Famous, it did not go well.
These fateful rehearsals (culminating in the iconic rooftop performance) were filmed and released as the 1970 documentary leave it. While that doctor was lean 80 minutes, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has now compiled them into a three-part series, Come back, which clocked almost eight hours.
Jackson clearly knows his way around in a marathon-length trilogy, but even Fab Four fans may wonder why The Beatles: Come back must quite as long as it is. The implosion of the Beatles is less dramatic than one might have imagined – these candid clips do not capture dramatic blowups as much as boredom, mild irritation and a tendency to get around the task. As George Harrison puts it at one point: “The Beatles have been at a standstill for at least a year.” Or to quote Ringo Starr: “We’ve been angry for the last 18 months.”
Even for songwriters as big as the Beatles, this situation does not set them up for success. They spend a lot of time fumbling through unfinished versions of good-not-good songs like “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Two of Us,” and they play “I’ve Got a Feeling” about a million times. There are glimpses of what could have been: Paul McCartney’s “Long and Winding Road” sounds better in solo rehearsals than it did in Phil Spector or Naked forms, and the group puzzles with a more rocket arrangement of John Lennon’s “Across the Universe.” Future solo tracks like Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” (performed here with its original “Child of Nature” lyrics) pop up for possible inclusion. Various Abbey Road cuts jump around in the sessions. Lennon and McCartney revive some bland early songs that are nowhere near as good as they are capable of.
There is plenty of frivolity, but they are self-destructive rather than actually funny. John in particular makes a lot of jokes without showing much wit – like when he plays a slapstick skiffle-ditty while singing “shag that girl” with the annoying energy of a teenager playing out instead of doing his homework. There are many chaotic noise jams, including a few with the eternally present Yoko Ono making his vibrato scream.
complain about Come back being too long is a little unfair as being a fly on the wall is the whole point. But seriously – did we really need to see so many fake starts while messing with the arrangement of “Get Back”? Or all the versions of “I’ve Got a Feeling”? Or the many, many montages where they ironically sing with silly voices? At one point, mixer Glyn Johns tells Paul: “You play the same three or four songs in a week, or whatever, and you whip them to death. Obviously you’re bored with them. It can ‘t be on another way.” We know he’s right because it’s boring to see them do it. As amazing as the climatic roof concert is, did we really need to see them play all three versions of “Get Back”? (Especially if you’re like me and would not place “Get Back” in your top 50 Beatles songs.)
As a document on the collapse of the Beatles, Come back seems to exist for posterity rather than for enjoyment. What it comes down to is: do you really want to see eight hours of the Beatles’ struggling way through one of their smaller works? If the answer is yes, Come back delivers. (Disney)
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