One of the ways the Beatles‘ Get Back project was intended to bring their career full circle involved a recreation of the cover photo of their 1963 debut, Please Please Me. But, as with every other aspect of the record and movie, it didn’t go as planned.
In May 1969, several months after initial sessions and filming wrapped, the four Beatles gathered at EMI’s headquarters at 20 Manchester Square in London with Angus McBean, who took the 1963 picture of the group looking down from the building’s balcony. But there was a slight problem.
“When I got there, I couldn’t retake the shot,” McBean later recalled. “A new porch had been built and I couldn’t get into the same position. However, EMI asked if I could come back in a week. Meanwhile, the whole new porch was pulled down and we tried again.”
They regrouped on May 13, four days after they thought they’d completed mixing of the record, and got the picture they wanted. “Ringo Starr was so late that the staff of EMI was streaming down the stairs,” McBean noted. “I got the camera fixed up, and John, fascinated by photography, came and lay down beside me to look at my viewfinder. I can still hear the screams of the EMI girls as the realized who they were stepping over to get out the door!”
The poses in the two photos are almost identical. In the new picture, Paul McCartney‘s chin is obscured by his arm, and George Harrison is leaning a little closer to John Lennon (perhaps subconsciously due to his frustrations with McCartney during the sessions?).
Apple took McBean’s photograph and replicated the original, right down to the fonts, colors and placement of the text. The Get Back album was supposed to be released in July 1969; promotional copies of even went out to radio. But the LP was pushed back because the Beatles were dissatisfied with the song selection as well as with Glyn Johns’ mix.
As the Get Back project sat around, Abbey Road was recorded and released. Johns made a second pass at Get Back in December 1969 and then again in January 1970. That mix was also rejected, so producer Phil Spector was brought in to work on the tapes.
By the time the album finally arrived on May 8, 1970, McCartney had announced the group’s breakup and the LP’s title had been changed to Let It Be. And it included new cover art comprised of four separate pictures of the Beatles, a more apt representation of how they had evolved in the past seven years.
Over the years, bootlegs of outtakes from the sessions have featured McBean’s photographs from May 1969. The picture was eventually given an official release in 1973, when Apple released the 1962-66 and 1967-70 compilations, better known as the Red and Blue albums. The 1963 original picture was used on the front cover of the earlier set, with the 1969 remake on the later one.