10 Facts About The Beatles's 1969 Rooftop Concert

Evening Standard, Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Evening Standard, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On January 30, 1969, at lunch time, The Beatles appeared on the rooftop of their record label’s headquarters, unannounced, and started performing. Londoners looked on with excitement and bafflement as the world’s biggest band, which hadn’t played live in two and a half years, tried out new material for 42 minutes. It would end up being their final live show.

Here are 10 things you might not have known about this strange moment in pop culture.

1. The concert took place during the Beatles’s “winter of discontent.”

When The Beatles reconvened in January of 1969, the band was frayed and dysfunctional, according to The Beatles: Ten Years That Shook the World, Mojo magazine’s book-length chronicle of the group. Paul McCartney assumed leadership of the band and envisioned the follow-up to the White Album, tentatively titled "Get Back," as a return to basics. The band would write songs and bang them out as a four-piece ensemble, forsaking all the overdubs and lavish production of their past few albums.

George Harrison came to resent McCartney's control, and recordings were often interrupted as the two bickered over Harrison’s guitar work. Ringo Starr was anxious for the project to end so as to not conflict with the filming of The Magic Christian, a comedy in which he was slated to star alongside Peter Sellers. John Lennon was prone to long silences, allowing the ever-present Yoko Ono to speak for him. Harrison and Lennon reportedly came to blows over the Yoko issue, a report the former denied to the press. Harrison called the time “the winter of discontent” and Lennon dubbed the Get Back effort “the most miserable sessions on Earth.” The recordings were scrapped in favor of Abbey Road and then retooled as Let It Be, The Beatles’s final album.

2. The concert was staged for a TV project.

McCartney planned a two-night TV special to accompany the release of Get Back. The first installment would document the group writing the material and the second would show them performing it live, marking their first concert since their 1966 U.S. tour. The band’s press agent, Derek Taylor, even told the media The Beatles were scouting locations for a January 18, 1969, concert, according to Ten Years That Shook the World. The band hired director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had created a handful of their promotional videos (including those for “Paperback Writer” and “Hey Jude”). Like the album, the TV special did not pan out as envisioned. In 1970, Lindsay-Hogg’s footage became a documentary film, also titled Let It Be.

3. The Beatles picked the rooftop for one main reason: convenience.

In The Beatles Anthology coffee table book, Neil Aspinall, the band’s former road manager and head of their label Apple Corps, said he suggested a boat, a Greek amphitheater, and London venue the Roundhouse as locations for the live show. But scheduling didn’t allow for any of those. “[I]t was a case of, ‘How are we going to finish this in two weeks’ time?’” McCartney recalled in Anthology. “So it was suggested that we go up on the roof and do a concert there. Then we could all go home. I’m not sure who suggested it. I could say it seems like one of my half-baked ideas but I’m not sure.”

4. Billy Preston was hired to lighten the mood.

Keyboardist Billy Preston, a distinguished American session musician, is the only non-Beatle in the rooftop performance. The band met him in their early 1960s Hamburg days and thought he could lighten the mood in 1969. “He got on the electric piano and straightaway there was a 100-percent improvement in the vibe in the room,” Harrison said in Ten Years That Shook the World.

5. There’s a reason no George Harrison songs were played.

Photo of George Harrison of The Beatles
Keystone/Getty Images

Five new songs were played in a total of nine takes. All of the songs—“Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down," “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909,” and “Dig a Pony”—were credited to Lennon and McCartney. Harrison contributed a few songs to the Get Back sessions, including an early version of “My Sweet Lord.” According to Ten Years That Shook the World, the band skipped them because they didn’t know if he would still be a Beatle when the project was done. The guitarist walked out of the Get Back recordings twice, at one point telling the band they should advertise for his replacement in the British music magazine NME.

6. The concert's audio was piped to the basement.

As the band played, the audio feed went to producer Alan Parsons in the basement of the building.

7. There were cameras hidden at street level.

Lindsay-Hogg’s camera crew set up cameras in the windows of the Apple Corps building that morning, anticipating a crowd gathering.

8. Onlookers were underwhelmed by the Beatles's performance.

As the band played, traffic came to a halt, pedestrians gathered around the Apple Corps building, and workers in neighboring buildings came to their windows and their own roofs. “I remember it was cold and windy and damp,” Starr said in Anthology, “but all the people looking out from the offices were really enjoying it.”

Contemporary assessments, gathered in Ten Years That Shook the World, were more critical. “It’s The Beatles? Christ, it doesn’t sound like that,” said one man. “You call that a public performance? I can’t see them,” complained a woman. “This kind of music is alright in its place, but I think it’s a bit of an imposition to disrupt the business in this area,” said an annoyed Londoner.

9. Some Apple Corps employees skipped the concert to keep working.

British rock group the Beatles performing their last live public concert on the rooftop of the Apple Organization building for director Michael Lindsey-Hogg's film documentary, 'Let It Be,' on Savile Row, London, UK, 30th January 1969
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“I knew there was going to be something on the roof but it was not my business,” press agent Derek Taylor said in Anthology. “I had other things going on and saw people outside in the street.” The band’s longtime producer, George Martin, was also in the building. “I was downstairs when they played on the roof,” he said, “worrying like mad if I was going to end up in Saville Row police station for disturbing the peace.”

10. Police pulled the plug on the concert—literally.

Eventually, a bank manager (no doubt London’s biggest square) called police to complain about the noise. Officers from the Greater Westminster Council marched over to Apple Corps and made their way up to the roof. In Anthology, McCartney claims he heard an officer yell, “You have to stop!” (he said he still remembered his badge number: 503), but the singer egged the band on to continue until the officer yanked a cord from the equipment setup, ending the performance. No one, Beatle or otherwise, was charged for the incident.

Rare, Early Portraits of Jim Morrison and The Doors Are Headed to Auction

Jim Morrison of The Doors photographed in 1968.
Jim Morrison of The Doors photographed in 1968.
Michael Montfort, Swann Auction Galleries

The Doors left a bluesy mark on rock ’n’ roll music that lasted long after the tragic death of frontman Jim Morrison at age 27. But because the band only existed for about six years—in a pre-smartphone era, no less—there isn’t a ton of behind-the-scenes content to tell the story of Morrison’s bright, albeit brief, career.

Come February 25, nine rare photos of Morrison from The Doors’ first European tour in 1968 will end up in the hands of one fortunate fan. Swann Auction Galleries is selling them as part of their “Classic and Contemporary Photographs” auction, which also includes portraits of early Hollywood stars like Joan Crawford, John Barrymore, and Veronica Lake.

The black and white photographs of Morrison were taken by German-born photojournalist Michael Montfort when the band performed in Frankfurt, Germany that September, and they manage to capture the strangely hazy, somewhat intense nature of the legendary lead singer. In one, Morrison looks right into the camera while leaning against a church pulpit; in another, he lies on the stage clutching the microphone with his back turned to the audience; in yet another, a sweat-drenched Morrison holds a leather jacket in one hand and makes a peace sign with the other.

jim morrison of the doors lying onstage
The Doors' Jim Morrison takes a break onstage during a Frankfurt concert in September 1968.
Michael Montfort, Swann Auction Galleries

The Doors played early hits like “Light My Fire” and “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” to raucous, devoted crowds across Europe, but the tour wasn’t without its calamities, due largely to Morrison’s substance abuse. After leaving Frankfurt, the band stopped to perform a show in Amsterdam, where a drug-addled Morrison collapsed on stage during Jefferson Airplane’s opening set. He was immediately taken to a hospital, and keyboard player Ray Manzarek stepped in as lead singer that night. Morrison finished the tour, but his drug addiction would continue to plague him until he died of a (suspected) overdose in Paris in 1971.

jim morrison the doors backstage photo
A messy-haired Morrison flashes a peace sign in 1968.
Michael Montfort, Swann Auction Galleries

The collection of nine photos is expected to fetch between $1500 and $2500, and you can place a bid here.

[h/t Swann Auction Galleries]

10 Facts About The Beatles's 'Ed Sullivan Show' Debut

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

In 1964, Beatlemania officially reached America. On February 7, 1964, the Fab Four—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison—boarded Pan Am Flight 101 at London's Heathrow Airport with an estimated 4000 fans on hand to wish them good luck on their first trip to America. When they landed at New York City's JFK Airport several hours later, another crowd of approximately 4000 (screaming) fans were waiting for them. But that was nothing compared to the number of people who would tune in to see the legendary rockers perform on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Here are 10 things you might not know about that historic television event.

1. The Beatles didn't come cheap.

Much like The Tonight Show today, being asked to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960s was a huge honor for up-and-coming (and established) artists in the 1960s. The publicity generated from an appearance on the show was enough for most talent to say yes. But The Beatles would only agree to appear if the show covered their travel expenses and paid them a $10,000 fee (which would be just over $80,000 in 2019 dollars). Sullivan and his producers agreed, but only if The Beatles would commit to making three appearances. They had a deal.

2. But The Beatles did end up being a relative bargain.

Though forking over travel expenses and an appearance fee wasn't the norm for The Ed Sullivan Show, it ended up being a great deal for the program, and proof that Beatlemania was just as thriving in America as it was in the UK. It's been estimated that close to 74 million people—40 percent of the country's population at that time—tuned in to watch The Beatles play.

3. Technically, it wasn't The Beatles's American television debut.

While The Ed Sullivan Show marked the first time The Beatles had performed live on American television, it wasn't the first time they had appeared on American television. On November 18, 1963, NBC's The Huntley Brinkley Report aired a whopping four-minute-long segment on Beatlemania—the craze that was sweeping England. Just a few days later, on November 22, CBS Morning News ran a five-minute segment on the band's overseas popularity. The segment was scheduled to re-air that evening, but the news was preempted because of JFK's assassination. Walter Cronkite eventually re-aired it as part of the CBS Evening News on December 10, 1963.

4. more than 700 people got to witness The Beatles' performance live.

While more than a third of America's population witnessed music history in the making the night The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, 728 very lucky individuals got to see it all go down live as part of the show's audience. And when we say "very lucky," we mean it: the program received a record-setting 50,000 requests for tickets to the show.

5. Many people linked Beatlemania to JFK's assassination.

In terms of timing, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the rise of Beatlemania in America were closely linked. While many people at the time decided that the band's popularity was in part due to the president's death—that Americans needed something upbeat and positive—others believe it's purely coincidental. In 2013, Slate ran a piece debating (and largely debunking) "the questionable connections between Camelot’s demise and Liverpool’s ascent."

6. the beatles weren't the evening's only performers.

Remember Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall? No? That's OK. Neither do the majority of the 74 million people who watched The Ed Sullivan Show that night. Brill & McCall were the unfortunate act who had to follow the Fab Four's Earth-shattering, industry-altering performance. The married sketch comedy duo pretty much bombed, as the audience was rather distracted. In 2014, couple—who will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary this year—talked about that infamous night with CBS.

"For us, it went lousy," McCall said, laughing. "It was terrible.”

"We were doing a sketch," Brill added. "We couldn’t hear each other. Because of the screaming."

Though the appearance didn't do much to advance their career, ultimately, McCall said, it was "an honor" to be a part of it. "We were there when the world changed," she said.

7. One of the Monkees was on the show that night, too.

Davy Jones was also on The Ed Sullivan Show that night, but not as part of The Monkees. Jones was performing with the cast of Broadway's Oliver! Jones played the Artful Dodger, first in London then in New York, and ended up being nominated for a Tony for the role.

8. No, the crime rate did not drop the night The Beatles played.

You've surely heard that old legend that the crime rate in the U.S. dropped dramatically during The Beatles's appearance on the show. Apparently the whole nation was so transfixed by the lads from Liverpool that everyone preferred to tune in instead of running around committing felonies and such. It's a nice story, but according to Snopes, it's not true.

The rumor started when Bill Gold, a reporter from The Washington Post, snarkily remarked that while The Beatles were on that evening, no hubcaps were stolen anywhere. It was meant to infer that The Beatles appealed to the type of degenerate who would do such a thing, but the meaning was twisted and reprinted by Newsweek. Gold ended up writing a tongue-in-cheek retraction on February 21, 1964:

"This week’s issue of Newsweek quotes my report from B.F. Henry that there’s one good thing about the Beatles—'during the hour they were on Ed Sullivan’s show, there wasn’t a hubcap stolen in America.'

It is with heavy heart that I must inform Newsweek that this report was not true. Lawrence R. Fellenz of 307 E. Groveton St., Alexandria, had his car parked on church property during that hour—and all four of his hubcaps were stolen.

The Washington Post regrets the error, and District Liner Fellenz regrets that somewhere in Alexandria there lives a hipster who is too poor to own a TV set."

9. That "very nice" telegram THe Beatles received from Elvis Presley did not come from Elvis Presley.

10th February 1964: A group of Beatles fans watching their heroes perform on the American television programme 'The Ed Sullivan Show'
Central Press/Getty Images

Wasn't it nice that Elvis Presley kicked off The Beatles's American "debut" with a personal telegram? Just before John, Paul, George and Ringo took the stage, Ed Sullivan announced that he had received a "very nice" telegram from The King, wishing the Fab Four "tremendous success." Notoriously known for being jealous of The Beatles, Elvis had actually done no such thing. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was responsible for the note, and only sent it because he thought it would make Elvis look good. (Apparently, the disdain was mutual; when the band received the telegram prior to their performance, Harrison reportedly asked, mockingly, "Elvis who?")

10. The Beatles failed to impress Ed Sullivan's musical director.

The crowd (and a third of America) may have been going crazy when The Beatles performed, but Ray Bloch—The Ed Sullivan Show's musical director—wasn't as impressed. When asked for a comment about the performance by a reporter for The New York Times, he was blunt: "The only thing that’s different is the hair, as far as I can see. I give them a year."

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