The Get Back project, as it came to be known in later years, was a shelved early 1969 attempt by The Beatles to return to touring after a thirty month hiatus from the road. It was to encompass a tour, a film, and an album, and was to signify a return by The Beatles to a more stripped-down musical style without the studio tricks and overdubbing that had become prevalent in their previous three albums, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, and The White Album.
The project was largely the brainchild of Paul McCartney, who was somewhat distraught by the dissension building within the group during the recording sessions for The White Album. He felt that perhaps a return to touring and a more stripped-down style might be a blessing in disguise for the group, as they might return to their old camaraderie. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
The project kicked off with the concept of The Beatles in the studio rehearsing new songs and old ones for their upcoming tour. These recordings were to be completely off the cuff and released with virtually no editing, in much the style of their earliest recordings. A documentary was to be made about the band preparing for their Get Back tour, so cameras filled the studio as rehearsal and recording began on January 2, 1969.
The project started off quite well, actually; the first week after the start of recording went very smoothly. Things began to get seriously rough, though, on about January 10, when tension began to build, largely between George Harrison and John Lennon's significant other, Yoko Ono. John insisted that Yoko be at his side at all times, which was largely accepted by the group, but the inevitable personality conflict between the spiritual George and the avant-garde Yoko didn't take long to appear.
On or about January 16, things came to a head when George left his lunch on a table outside the studio. Yoko proceeded to eat the meal, later stating that she believed that John had prepared and left the meal for her. George, upon discovering the eaten meal, blew up, telling the group that he couldn't tour with John and Yoko and that he was leaving the band, and storming out of the studio.
George did return three days later, and the project did continue along for a while, but the heart that was in it at the start was gone. The band went through the preparation and recording, but by the end of January, it became clear that a tour was not going to work. As a swan song of sorts, on January 30, 1969, the group took to the top of Apple headquarters on Saville Row in London and proceeded to play their final live concert, a more or less impromptu affair lasting about forty five minutes. It was disrupted by police due to the noise disturbance, but the band was able to close out the miniature gig with a rousing version of their final live number, Get Back. This is the last time The Beatles would appear in front of a live audience.
Shortly after this, in early February, the decision was made by the group to abort the project and the tapes, both audio and video, were stored away in the Apple vaults. After the end of the Abbey Road sessions later in the year (Abbey Road was in actuality the band's final record), the group decided to bring the film and music out of the vaults and attempt to construct an album out of them, as well as a film chronicling the "recording of the album." The decisions around this, especially centering around the choice of Phil Spector as producer of the album after George Martin refused to participate, pretty much were the straws that broke the figurative camel's back. By the time the album and film were actually released, under the name Let It Be in mid-1970, The Beatles had already broken up.
These sessions, although full of stress and fighting, were absolutely loaded with musical gems; many of the best songs that The Beatles and the individual members produced in 1969 and 1970 were first tinkered with during these sessions. Particularly of note were the recording of the single Get Back, Let It Be, The Long And Winding Road, and George's title track from his solo album of 1970, All Things Must Pass.
Many fans have clamored for an actual release of a Get Back album, which would basically be very similar to the album Let It Be without the studio tricks done by Phil Spector, but it has never seen the light of day.
Another interesting tidbit about the Get Back project can be seen on the cover of the two Beatles' Greatest Hits albums, known as the Red album and the Blue album for their distinctly colored covers. The Red album, containing the earlier works of the group, has the famous picture, circa 1962, of the group overlooking a balcony; this picture was used as the cover of their Please Please Me album. The cover of the other album is a complete parallel of the first, except with the Fab Four seven years older and wiser; this photo was to be the cover of the Get Back album.
The best opportunities that non-Apple employees will ever have to see and hear parts of the Get Back project are through the album and film Let It Be and the information and recordings provided through The Beatles Anthology, especially the Beatles Anthology 3 album.