In that complete journey into disbelief that is Get Back, the seven-hour-plus documentary based on previously unreleased footage about the last installment of The Beatles, there is a moment when the band’s tribulations, the same ones that will lead to their dissolution months later, they seem to fade away altogether. It is when Billy Preston, a pianist whom the people from Liverpool had met in 1962 during a tour in Hamburg of Little Richard, with whom he played with, unexpectedly happens to greet Billy Preston at the EMI studios on Savile Row in London.
To attend that precise moment of this impressive film is to feel the privilege of infiltrating the greatest intimacy of this unique and mysterious gang. Preston was 23 at the time, a smile of contagious freshness and a surprising naturalness when he entered the studio. In the previous takes the group showed some difficulties to unlock the execution of some songs, especially I’ve got a feeling, and although the discomfort is progressing, they are palpable (“Sing Paul !!!”, Lennon demands of McCartney in the middle of an initial session of the subject, which resists to flow, something that also happens with them).
And in this somewhat bogged-down situation, Michael Linday Hogg’s camera captures Preston’s arrival and with it the subtle and vertebral atmosphere of change that pervades the set. The four musicians approach Billy with spontaneous joy. What Preston, an American from Houston-Texas, who had arrived in London for some TV appearances, did not imagine is that the band was thinking of incorporating a keyboardist into the recordings, which will be the prelude to the last live performance, the from the roof of the EMI building.
In a moment of remarkable group harmony Lennon explains to Preston that all the songs they are creating have a piano part planned and that they are usually recorded afterwards. But this time they want to do it live, one song after the other, and that means that someone plays it at that moment. “So if you want, go ahead.”
After receiving the suggestion there is an exquisite hundredth of a second in which Preston deciphers that the most important band in history is inviting him to be a part. When capturing the sense of what he hears, he emits an exclamation, a short, high-pitched giggle, barely audible, which recalls the moment of supreme joy of babies when they are put in warm water to bathe them. “Sure, great, incredible, you’re kidding,” says Preston, continuing to laugh with delight when Lennon tells him that their idea is also that it is on the album.
That climate in which he is so welcome is seen in Preston’s expression, like a baby in a toy store, extremely elegant in a very pop blue suit. First they tell him to take some tapes home to learn them and come back with the arrangements the next day. But there is something that the documentary does not explain and in the following free cut, in the same sequence, the unexpected guest is already seated at a Fender electric piano, as if impatience to see the results had won them all.
It is the moment of glory, of what can only turn out well, of the epiphanic. They start playing I’ve got a feeling. Mc Cartney sings like a demon, like a black man out of a Louisiana plantation, taking his voice wherever it occurs to him. In the transitions of the theme the keyboard enters for the first time and it is as if Preston has been playing with them all his life those harmonic sequences that for anyone who has spent 50 years listening to Let it Be, are part of the most substantial identity of the album. . The song ends, Lennon looks at Preston and says: “You are in the group.”
When director Peter Jackson was handed those unreleased 56-hour reels of film that had slept for half a century in a vault at Apple Corps, the company founded by The Beatles, he managed to exclaim. “I can’t believe this material exists.” Alright, it’s genuine, you can’t believe it. The potency of such a record of intimacy by the greatest band in history and of hypnotic disbelief is almost implausible. That moment, Preston’s coupling with the group in the film, is at the climax of everything recorded. It is the time when unmotivated and overwhelming joy is captured by something that goes well. In a next take, the pianist works magic, pulling out some very gospel chords in Let it Be. Mc Cartney at the end of the song looks at his new musician with rapture as if he felt, he so later, incapable. “Being from the north of England is not easy for soul,” he says.