The No. 1 Beatles Hit John Lennon Believed Paul McCartney Wrote About Yoko
By early 1969, The Beatles had more than their share of problems. In the Let It Be documentary, viewers see some of these issues play out in front of the cameras. But the band still had a lot left in the tank.
When the Fab Four plays on the roof of Apple studios at the end of the film, you see Paul McCartney and John Lennon get swept up in the performance. John seems particularly exuberant during the set, which included his funky guitar solo on “Get Back.”
That track, written by Paul, represented everything he’d wanted for the band in this period (“As live as live can be in this electronic age … The Beatles, as nature intended,” a press release written by Paul said). But the song’s subject matter became a source of controversy later.
Originally conceived of as a “racial satire,” Paul eventually settled on the harmless-enough tale of Jojo and Loretta. Looking back on the track a decade later, John saw it as a message Paul had directed at Yoko Ono.
John believed ‘Get Back’ contained a hidden message for Yoko
Speaking with Playboy’s David Sheff in 1980, John gamely ran through all his Beatles songs, identifying the author and anything special he remembered about the composition or recording. When they got to “Get Back,” everything started out normally.
John identified the track as Paul’s and described it as “a potboiler rewrite” (basically, an upbeat song). After Sheff asks if it’s a true story, John says it wasn’t. Then he takes it in a different direction. “I think there’s some underlying thing about Yoko in there,” he says.
Sheff asks what he meant by that. “You know, ‘Get back to where you once belonged.’ Every time he sang the line in the studio, he’d look at Yoko.” At that point, Sheff couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Are you kidding?” he asks John.
“No,” John replies. “But maybe he’ll say I’m paranoid. You know, he can say, ‘I’m a normal family man. [John and Yoko] are freaks.’ That’ll leave him a chance to say that one.”
The Beatles never released the earlier versions of ‘Get Back’
Before “Get Back” zeroed in on Jojo and Loretta (who thought she was a woman), the song had very different lyrics. As a 2013 Salon piece detailed, Paul originally wrote the track to condemn an anti-immigrant member of Parliament named Enoch Powell.
Coming from the point-of-view of someone like Powell, Paul had a character ranting about “Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs.” But those lyrics, which the Salon writer described as “racist satire,” got buried with the other tapes in the archive.
Even though Beatles fans never got to hear this version on an official release, John certainly knew it. But still he had his own ideas by the time he spoke to Sheff for his Playboy interviews some 12 years later.
To John, Paul was sending a message to Yoko. And, going by John’s interviews went, he might come up with a different interpretation the following day. But he wouldn’t regret saying it either way.