The Beatles’ rooftop concert was the final public performance of the English rock group the Beatles. On 30 January 1969, the band, with keyboardist Billy Preston, surprised a central London office district with an impromptu concert from the roof of Apple headquarters at 3 Savile Row. In a 42-minute set, the Beatles were heard playing nine takes of five songs before the Metropolitan Police Service asked them to reduce the volume. Footage from the performance was later used in the 1970 documentary film Let It Be.
Although the concert was unannounced, the Beatles had planned on performing live during their Get Back sessions earlier in January.It is uncertain who had the idea for a rooftop concert, but the suggestion was conceived just days before the actual event. The group Jefferson Airplane had performed at lunchtime on the roof of the Schuyler Hotel in Manhattan and had been filmed by Jean-Luc Godard the month before; it is unknown whether or not the Beatles were aware of this. George Harrison brought in Preston as an additional musician, in the hope that a talented outside observer would encourage the band to be tight and focused.Ringo Starr remembered:
“There was a plan to play live somewhere. We were wondering where we could go—’Oh, the Palladium or the Sahara.’ But we would have had to take all the stuff, so we decided, ‘Let’s get up on the roof'”
The audio was recorded onto two eight-track recorders in the basement of Apple by engineer Alan Parsons,and film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg brought in a camera crew to capture several angles of the performance—including reactions from people on the street.When the Beatles first started playing, there was some confusion from spectators watching five stories below, many of whom were on their lunch break. As the news of the event spread, crowds of onlookers began to congregate in the streets and on the roofs of local buildings. While most responded positively to the concert, the Metropolitan Police Service grew concerned about noise and traffic issues. Apple employees initially refused to let police inside, ultimately reconsidering when threatened with arrest.
As police ascended to the roof, the Beatles realised that the concert would eventually be shut down, but continued to play for several more minutes.Paul McCartney improvised the lyrics of his song “Get Back” to reflect the situation, “You’ve been playing on the roofs again, and you know your Momma doesn’t like it, she’s gonna have you arrested!” The concert came to an end with the conclusion of “Get Back”, and John Lennon’s famous statement, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”
The Beatles’ rooftop concert marked the end of an era for many fans. The group would go on to record one more album, Abbey Road, but by September 1969 the Beatles had unofficially disbanded.Several of the rooftop performances, particularly that of “Dig a Pony”, showed the Beatles once again in top form, if only temporarily. Fans believed the rooftop concert might have been a try-out for a return to live performances and touring.