The Beatles – how they ended up on the rooftop

1968. The White Album: the album design became important – the music was all over the map – would it cohere as an album? At the very least, The Beatles needed to create a visual theme where a musical one may or may not exist.


Paul McCartney spent a week going to the artist Richard Hamilton’s home every day to put this non-theme album art concept together.

A white album with no title other than The Beatles, a poster of collected photos, and four iconic portrait sized photos of their faces.


It was the antithesis of the splendor of the previous album Sgt. Pepper.

The White Album is indeed a place you initially go to on your own. I remember receiving this album (and Sgt Pepper too) at my grandparents house on a farm in rural Minnesota. The Beatles’ London could not have been more remote. But somehow it was an internal, strange, magical island visually and aurally calling to curious 10-year-old.

Two months after The White Album was released in November 1968…

It was a cold January 1969 winter day in London when the Beatles took to the roof of their headquarters in London’s street of tailors, Saville Row, to play their latest unreleased (at that time) songs. Down below in the street, the bankers and their secretaries could not see who was playing on the roof (the fab four were filming for a movie) but they knew it sounded like the Beatles.

The temperature was in the 30s Fahrenheit – cloudy, blustery winter in London – you can see John blowing on his fingers in the footage from the Let It Be film. Each of the Beatles (except Paul), borrowed their wives’ coats, but the Beatles could pull this off. John is rocking a fur coat and somehow it works – some insulation as he stares out across the universe.

Just before they went up to play, the boys were huddling behind the roof access door. “Should we really do this?” they asked each other. It had been almost three years since they had played in public. “Let’s go” they said and we are glad they did…. Those tens of thousands of hours playing together across Britain and Hamburg could not be denied as the magic poured out through their nerves and the cold.

They were not showbiz. They could have never emerged from American Idol or The Voice. They had no stage patter or dance routine. The act was a non act. It was about the music. They tossed their greatest source of income, touring, out the window, to follow the Muse. A muse to music that never wavered from genius level in the nine-hour legacy of officially released music.

They grew up in a non rock-and-roll era. Until they were 15, rock and roll did not even exist. They were not blues purists like the Yardbirds or the Stones. They grew up in an era when the weekend entertainment was the family sing-along. And everyone, even the kids, had to sing a tune.

There will never be another Beatles.

The rooftop concert reminds us how great they were. Within a year, the Beatles would be no more.

Here’s a nice summary of the day courtesy of Rolling Stone:

And here’s a blog dedicated entirely to these sessions in January 1969:


And finally, some YouTube analysis about the rooftop performance:


Paul McCartney – in praise of live music

On the initial leg of his Driving USA tour in 2002, Paul McCartney (affectionately known to his fans as Macca) was not coming anywhere near Minneapolis.

The Driving USA tour was part of the Driving World Tour, which was Paul McCartney‘s first concert tour of the 21st century and of any kind since 1993.

So I drove to Denver to see him. This was the first time I saw and listened to what the man said in person.

The date: May 7, 2002.

The the opening act was not a band, but rather Cirque du Soleil characters milling about the crowd and on stage creating a festive, circus-like atmosphere.

The first image you see of Macca on stage is a silhouette with that famous Hofner violin bass from the early Beatles days raised aloft.hofner-5001-electric-bass-guitar-free-vector-800x565

It’s a little jarring to see that this person – the dude who has created the soundtrack to so many moments of your external and internal life – is a real person!

It’s a strange feeling – like your internal landscapes have become animated in 4-D technicolor with a killer sound system.

But that wears off quickly and you realize Paul is not resting on his laurels – he is, besides being perhaps the greatest songwriter of all time – an entertainer. Macca is going to give you your money’s worth.

What songs did he play? All the classics like Hey Jude, more obscure numbers like C Moon, a sprinkling of tracks from his current CD at the time called Driving Rain, as well as the theme song to the movie Vanilla Sky. He did not disappoint. Lots of charisma. The banter was maybe a little too well-rehearsed between songs, but who cares? We all love to hear a story from Macca, right?

I saw him again October 26, 2005 in Saint Paul at the Excel Energy Center with my erstwhile musical collaborator David F. and his friend from Poland, Pivo (Polish for beer), who belted every word from every tune aloud and aloft.

Macca played Target Field (Minnesota Twins outdoor baseball stadium) in Minneapolis August 2, 2014 – I saw him there with with Lisa and Anna. Due to rain, it seemed like the show might become an extremely damp one.

In fact, the rain flooded some seating areas (including ours).

To make up for this, an usher handed us the perfect tickets – about 15 rows back right in the center.

This was the best Macca show I have seen (even better due to our perfect location) – we were treated to over three hours of Beatles, Wings and solo Macca tunes. Paul was 72 at this time, and his enthusiasm was showing no signs of flagging.

The visuals on the screen were always cutting edge, and thematically tied to each song. But one of the coolest parts of this particular show was the preshow. Instead of an opening band, music was played through the sound system – an interesting chronological mashup of Paul’s Beatles, Wings, Fireman and solo music, accompanied by a film, photo and animation montage scrolling down on screens on both sides of the stage. The video below should give you a flavor of it.

The most recent time I saw Paul play live was May 5, 2016, at Target Center in Minneapolis. This was a smaller venue that his previous concert here – an indoor basketball arena instead of the outdoor baseball stadium he played previously.

Macca was in a great mood that night, constantly chatting with the crowd and inviting a mother and daughter on stage for a group hug and an autograph.

The preshow visual montage was similar to his previous show in 2014 – but this time the videos where projected onto two round kiosks (think giant cans) – one on each side of the stage, which created a distorted, psychedelic effect as the images and films moved from right to left across these curved screens.

Although the mid-range of Macca’s voice is partially gone – Eleanor Rigby was a bit wobbly, he more than makes up for it with his charisma – and the screaming high notes are still there on Live and Let Die and still sung in the original key. His musicianship remains flawless (still the greatest bass player of all time) and the enthusiasm of his bandmates remains undimmed and unjaded in all the right ways.

Due to Prince’s recent passing, Paul and his band pulled out a moving little trubute to Prince in the form of Let’s Go Crazy and the end of Hi, Hi, Hi:

As demonstrated above, this is still a tight little band that will rock your socks of for close to three hours…

Kudos here also goes to Paul’s band – whom he has worked with since 2002.


It should be said that all of these guys are massive fans of Paul’s music, and their enthusiasm comes through in their performances. The band includes:

  • Brian Ray, Etta James’ former band leader, on bass and guitar. Like his band mates, Brian is an accomplished studio musician as well as a rocking live performer. His blond hair and giant smile makes him look far younger than his 60 years. For the most recent 2016 show I saw, he played more lead guitar as well. Brian and Rusty (see below) still often bounce around the stage like teenagers.
  • Rusty Anderson on lead and rhythm guitars. Like Brian Ray, Rusty comes from a session musician background in Los Angeles. Rusty has been a professional musician since age 14. Also like Brian, Rusty knows how to have fun with the music onstage, while still playing every part with the right balance of perfection and looseness. For his debut solo album Undressing Underwater, Anderson invited Paul McCartney to play bass and the rest of the McCartney band to sing backup vocals on the lead track, Hurt Myself. Hurt Myself is a great song worth checking out:
  • Paul “Wix” Wickens on keyboards. Wix is the mad scientist of the band, and as a member since 1989, the one who has been with Paul the longest. If you need a horn part recreated on the keys from Got to Get You in to My Life, Wix is your man.
  • Abraham “Abe” Laboriel, Jr. on drums. Abe not only nailed his drum parts with an absolute joy of abandon, he sings angelic harmonies with Paul that belie his enormous frame. He is the son of jazz legend and Mexican bass guitarist Abraham Laboriel, Sr. Abe has been the drummer for Macca as well as the talented French singer Mylène Farmer, among others.

See the musicians you love live if you can, because to truly get a sense of who they are and what they do – you need to be there in person to hear, see and feel the full force of their creativity.