When the inevitable 50th anniversary Let it Be box set is released later this year, there’s one outtake you can safely bet will be omitted. See, it took several attempts before “Get Back” evolved into its final form, and along the way it took…well, let’s go ahead and call it a detour before Paul McCartney becomes a victim of cancel culture.
Pictured: Paul McCartney walking onstage at Coachella 2021
In the version we all know and love enough to rank at #88, the chorus “Get back to where you once belonged” implies a return to one’s roots–in fact, that was even part of the song’s marketing campaign, suggesting that the Beatles had recorded a “pure spring-time rock number” that was “as live as live can be.” But in an earlier draft, it carried a far more sinister message with a facetious slight against immigrants. “Don’t dig no Pakistanis taking all the people’s jobs. Get back! Get back! Get back to where you once belonged.”
Of course it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, but any good piece of satire is going to get some flack, and Paul’s defense falls just short of “some of my best friends are…” territory: “If there was any group that was not racist, it was the Beatles. I mean, all our favorite people were always black.”
“Always black”? Guess Paul McCartney disliked Michael Jackson for more than just buying the rights to Paul’s songs. Also, kudos to me for keeping the cancel culture theme going!
While this early version was nothing more than a rough rehearsal the public was never meant to hear, Paul’s defense feels a bit like Kurt Cobain protesting that Nirvana’s “Rape Me” was misinterpreted because it was so obviously anti-rape. If you’re inviting controversy, you can’t be surprised when people react to it.
Ultimately, the “Get Back” that emerged as a single lived up to its rock revival hype. The lyrics still might catch some flack under the woke lens of 2020–I’m sure someone can find a way to make the verse about sweet Loretta Martin seem transphobic–but 50 years on, it still grooves, thanks in no small part to Billy Preston’s sultry keyboard fills. Billy, by the way, was black and was one of George Harrison’s best friends.
That joke about two beloved dead musicians just got me canceled. No regrets.