From the cavern, to fool on the hill, and then finally the roof
The Roof: The Beatles’ Final Concert
Author: Ken Mansfield (The Man in the White Coat)
Publisher: Post Hill Press (www.posthillpress.com)
On the debut double LP Loosen Up Naturally by the Sons of Champlin, Bill Champlin sings, “I got one thing to say to the Fool on the Hill / You’re gonna feel funny on a rooftop.” While that may be true for the environmentally conscious, the rooftop in this story becomes the setting that rekindles a little of the magic that produced a meteoric rise from the Cavern Club to the most revered stages.
It is now 50 years since the Beatles last live performance, which is the subject of Ken Mansfield’s latest book, The Roof. The timing of this release could not be better. This year witnessed the announcement that famed filmmaker, Peter Jackson, has been given access to 55 hours of never-released footage of the band’s 1969 studio sessions, which led to the Let It Be recording. The original Let It Be movie reportedly will be made available some time after a new film directed by Jackson is released.
The Roof is a wonderful guide for those who want to enjoy that last performance and what led to it. The author was the US manager of Apple Records and the man in the white coat pictured in the background as the Fab Four give their all on a cold London day. What a terrific cover! It alone makes this worth having for the collector, but the contents make it all the more meaningful.
Mansfield writes to convey a feel; not just communicate facts. He writes for casual fans and Beatles experts by providing intimate details of his experiences with the group and those surrounding them while conveying impressions as a friend and confidant.
If new revelations of significant magnitude are all a reader seeks, they may be disappointed. Much of the preliminary writing is conveying background essential to imparting what that time was like. Mansfield accomplishes his stated intent of establishing the setting, including the historical climate, providing background on the building itself, the inner workings of Capitol and Apple, and some of the dynamics between the chief players. What makes the book special is that this is an eyewitness providing observation, not just someone sharing research.
It all leads to the roof, but I appreciate asides like this: “The day I was invited into the Let It Be sessions at Apple was second only to the concert on the roof when it comes to experiencing Rock ‘n’ Roll history in the making…. I was blown away by being one of only two people in the studio besides the Beatles and Yoko—not the lobby, not the lounge, not the control room with the production/engineering team, but sitting on the floor in the actual recording studio while the four Beatles were recording live…. The other person in the room that day was my friend Billy Preston” (70).
He goes on to mention the well-known paradox: “The idea was to have ‘live’ takes. Looking back, I find it ironic that the album from these sessions, which was issued more than one year later was anything but ‘live.’ It wasn’t until the Apple-approved, McCartney-mandated do over Let It Be … Naked CD arrived more than 30 years later that the intended ‘bare bones’ approach to the music was finally heard” (71).
Immediately I wanted to hear the Naked version, which is available on YouTube. The difference is especially noticeable on “The Long and Winding Road” and “Across the Universe.” Also, this includes “Don’t Let Me Down”; not found on the original Let It Be.
Being in the studio made a lasting impression, “I never realized how good the Beatles were until I was in the Apple basement studio, watching them play their instruments and seeing their creative process unfold before me” (71). He was especially impressed with Ringo’s restraint, his ability to play just the right thing in service of the song.
Mansfield invited Brent Stoker, a contributing editor to Mansfield’s first two Beatle books, to write the chapter, “Taking It To The Roof,” which gets into the intricacies of the songs performed that day. Speaking of the “One After 909” he writes, “The entire band cooks on this one. It was mighty cold up there, and they did it all in one take! Remarkable!” (127).
He mentions that George Harrison’s “For You Blue” would have been a perfect fit in the set list, and John Lennon’s Hofer Hawaiian lap guitar used on the song in the film is visible in rooftop photos but was never called in to action that day. He speculates as to why.
He acknowledges that “Billy Preston’s spirited playing on a Fender Rhodes suitcase piano adds so much light and life to the proceedings” (128).
It’s sobering that of the select few that made it to the roof many are no longer with us. Whether still living or deceased they shared a special moment that bonded them forever. Throughout the book Mansfield reminisces about this bond with both groups as he connects again with some who are still living. Their stories are fascinating.
In particular, I enjoyed reading about Billy Preston and Mal Evans, the gentle giant. The latter met a tragic end. It is still so painful that the author had to use an earlier writing of the events to include here.
And in the end it’s Mansfield’s faith that enables him to put everything into perspective. In the epilogue he returns to the roof where he surveys his journey. He summarily writes, “I finally became a man today because I realize it is all about just being His child” (182).
Experiences are transitory. Friends come and go. Life is fragile. God can use all that transpires to bring people to the place where they realize that their relationship to Him is what matters most.