An Arctic blast swept over the rooftop of the Apple Corps Building in Savile Row, Mayfair, London, on January 30, 1969 when The Beatles assembled (along with keyboardist Billy Preston) for their famous last-ever 42-minute concert, about half of which was used the dramatic close of their Let It Be film.
The Beatles singing Get Back
Traffic in the street below was in chaos as news spread throughout freezing London that the “Fab Four” where about to do a concert on the top of their famous building and the police tried to control the crowds as the show began.
According to a story at www.maccafan.net, one of the songs, Get Back, the third rooftop version, was somewhat distracted owing to police presence, seeking to bring the show to a close. The song almost breaks down but lurches to a finish, with Paul ad-libbing “You’ve been playing on the roofs again, and you know your Momma doesn’t like it, she’s gonna have you arrested!”
Among those witnessing this piece of rock and roll history was Ken Mansfield, the American head of Apple Records USA, and in an interview for my Front Page Radio show on the KWVE Radio Network, he recalls that fateful day which marked the end of The Beatles live recordings.
“The thing that’s interesting is that the Apple building was right in the middle of a very exclusive district and we had painted the building white and of course no one none of the people in that area liked us being there,” said Mansfield, now 75. “So when the band cranked up the sound that day at lunch time and this rock and roll music was just wafting down the streets they were pretty upset about it.
“We were doing the film Let It Be and one of the concepts of the film was to have live footage of The Beatles. They hadn’t played in years so it became kind of the logistics became very hard. What do we do? So we had this idea that we would book a club in Germany and we would do this giant promotion of this new band coming out of England that would be the next Beatles.”
So this would be like reliving the old days of The Beatles.
“Yeah,” he replied, “that was the reason we thought about Germany and all that. So we gave the band the name Ricky And The Red Streaks and we were going to do this big promotion Ricky And The Red Streaks in this small club maybe two-hundred people seating. Then the people would come to see this new hot band we would lock the doors and The Beatles would walk out and we’d have our live footage and of course the people would be going crazy in the club.
“Well we could never pull things like that off because we couldn’t keep a secret. You can imagine how many people if they knew The Beatles were performing together for the first time in years. So we just couldn’t come up with an idea to play the concert on the rooftop of the Apple Corps Building instead.
“And like I said, January top of it was freezing up there. So anyway the guys came up I went to their dressing room which was one of the offices just before and we set like a one o’clock concert date time and they were back in the room there like a nervous band getting ready to do a show. And then they came out and they did the show and it was just magnificent.
“There were just a handful of us up there up there including another American, Billy Preston, and a girl from Arizona. Alan Parsons was pulling cables for the concert, but anyway it was the most incredible special moment I’ve ever experienced and it turned out to be one of the most historic moments in rock and roll — the last time they played together.
“So you know that two of them are gone [John Lennon and George Harrison] and those of who were involved with them who are still alive, have this bond with each other like guys in a foxhole who had lived through something that were forever bonded by that moment.”
Ken Mansfield then explained how he got the job with Apple Records in the US.
“Well it’s amazing,” he said. “I was the promotion manager at Capital Records in Hollywood and when The Beatles came over to America on tour in 1965, it was my job just to work with them in general doing just whatever they needed — press conference and all that kind of stuff.
“I was a twenty something year old guy and was pretty hip with a suntan, a Cadillac convertible and a house up in the Hollywood hills with a swimming pool. It I was like everything The Beatles had read about growing up because the media was so fascinated with California. So in all honesty they were about as fascinated with me as I was what them because I just kind of represented California to them.
At that point because they’d become so famous that everyone that they worked with, such as the head of EMI in the UK, or the chairman of the board of Capital Records, were all the grey haired and wearing suits and all of a sudden they’re working with a twenty something year old guy like them, so we just hit it off. I mean it was just something they had a day off they invited me up to the house where they were staying and we were just hanging around the pool.
“You know John wanted to know where Mulholland Drive was and Ringo wanted to know if I could introduce him to Buck Owens because he was a Capitol artist.
Were you a hippie looking guy then?
“I was getting there,” said Ken. “My hair was as long as that of The Beatles hair, and so we just hit it off. They came back on the tour in 1966 and I worked with them again and then they got the idea to set up Apple Records as this was the most important market for record sales in those days, with fifty percent of all record sales.
“So when they decided to launch the label as they really wanted to concentrate on America, they needed somebody to run the company and I was the guy they knew and had worked with as an executive. So they sent for me to go to England and also Europe for the first time on their dime and what’s so fascinating is their mindset is they wanted to be businessmen themselves.
“So I got off the plane in London and Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon, who I used to pick up in America as he came in as Peter and Gordon, picked me up in a white Rolls limousine and drove me to my suite in one of the posh London hotels. And I get to the hotel and Peter Brown comes to the door to give me my schedule and he said ‘You’re going to have breakfast in the morning with all four of the lads and at lunchtime we’re going to go over the schedule together and then Ringo’s going to take you to the theater to see the new Robert Morley play. So it was just an incredible time.
“So anyway, we put together the marketing plan for the launch in America and I went back and hired a special promotion team and we decided which four records we were going to release. You know and the thing that’s so interesting about this is that these guys always showed up for our meetings on time and they came in with their notepads and their plastic things in their shirt pocket and they were ready for the launch of our first four records.”
Mansfield said they included Mary Hopkin’s Those Were The Days, which became a smash it for the newly-formed label as well as three others which strangely also included the Black Dyke Band, formerly Black Dyke Mills Band, one of the oldest and best-known brass bands in the world. The band has won many prizes and competitions over the years. The A-side was an instrumental composed by Lennon–McCartney called “Thingumybob” (the theme to a Yorkshire Television sitcom of the same name starring Stanley Holloway). The flipside was a brass band instrumental version of another Lennon–McCartney song, “Yellow Submarine”. The single was released under the name John Foster & Sons Ltd Black Dyke Mills Band, produced by McCartney, and was one of the first four singles issued on the Apple label. In 1979, the Black Dyke Mills Band worked again with McCartney on a track for the Wings album Back to the Egg. For those who don’t know that’s a North of England brass band.”
He went on to say, “The Beatles were never on Apple at that time as they were actually a Capitol act, but the deal we arranged with them is the Apple label actually had a control run which was actually a Capitol number, but that way The Beatles could be on the label so it would give the label prestige. So now the most important record is the first Beatles single. Well they’d done this thing called Hey Jude and the problem with Hey Jude was it was seven and a half minutes long.
“The problem was in America in those days a hit record a hit record had to be under two and a half minutes. Radio stations wouldn’t even play a record over two and a half minutes because they were all having these battles over who could play the most hits. So we’re sitting we didn’t have the furniture in the Apple building yet, so we’re sitting on the floor and they just painted the inside of the building white and all green carpet and we had a table with some food on it and this giant sound system.
“So we were sitting on the floor and McCartney especially was afraid to release Hey Jude because he was afraid nobody would play it. Now this was The Beatles in 1968 and they could have belched on a record and it would have been number one,” he added with a huge laugh.
“So I had an idea and I said to Paul, ‘Trust me with it’, because we had to guard everything they did like mad because it would get out. I asked Paul to let me take a copy of it and I will hopscotch my way back to Hollywood and I’ll stop at some of the major radio stations and meet with the music directors that have the best ears at picking hits and let them say what they think.
“Well I went to Philadelphia and met with Jim Hilliard at WFIL and went down to Miami where Jim Dunlap was at WQAM and I hit like four cities on the way back and they all fell on the floor. I got to LA called back to Paul and said you know I think it’s a go and you know the history of Hey Jude. But to think that a Beatle would sit there worried that somebody wasn’t going to play a record called Hey Jude.”
I then asked Mansfield if that that time he had a Christian faith, or if that came along later.
“No in fact, it was never discussed. Jesus or God was just really not on the table,” he said.
I wondered if that was because John Lennon had caused such a furor when he said that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus.
“That was a little later and that was actually that was a mess for us,” he said. “John was just saying was there was a problem with today’s youth because they worship a rock band and he said because of that ‘we’re bigger than Jesus’ in their minds. You know poor John, who was great as a writer and a lyricist, he was he had a problems sometimes whereby he might have a hundred word thought and he would try to communicate it in seventeen words and the words he left out it were easy to misconstrue. And he apologized for that again and again but nobody would let him up from that. And I talked to somebody that was with John not long before he died and that was still on John’s mind that he just couldn’t seem to get past that.”
So how long were you working with them altogether?
Well, I worked with them on the tour in 1965 and then they came back in 1966 and then they brought me to work with them in 1968 and I worked with them right to the end of 1969, right about Abbey Road time.”
And were you pinching yourself that you were working with the world’s most famous rock band?
“Well,” said Mansfield, “here’s what’s so wild about that I’m gonna admit this on your radio program. I didn’t get it with The Beatles. I just thought they were just such neat guys they were a great band but I thought like every other rock band there would be this thing and then it would fade away and I even told Ringo once, ‘I can’t wait for this to all be over so you and I can just hang out.’ Well I liked him you know but he’s still a Beatle to this day.
“So the only thing about it was I wasn’t as much in awe of it in that way or pinching myself because the responsibility I had was so giant, and that whole thing was just so over the top that there was nothing like it. I felt very privileged to they were very kind and I think this is a very British thing in a way it’s like inner circles their great loyalty to old friendships and the people you grew up with and the people you know. And so it’s like this inner circle to be in one of the inner circles not the inner circle but like to be included and they were very kind to me. They had dinners with me every day when you’re in the limo or one of their homes or the hotel whatever you were doing when the people weren’t there it was just like being with a good pal.”
So when Apple collapsed and all this did you go through a really rough time then?
“Well no,” said Mansfield, “because we saw it coming that day on the roof; we knew that that was the end. The Beatles didn’t say this was the last time, but we all kind of sensed it when Alan Klein came on the scene.”
Klein, who took over their management, was an American businessman, talent agent and record label executive, whose clients had included The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
So Ken Mansfield then joined MGM and later worked with Andy Williams, who owned his CBS label and he became president of that.
But eventually, it all came crashing down for Mansfield, and he said, “My life just fell apart with no explanation. It was like I had a perfect resume with all this success, yet it was just like nothing worked for me.”
Was it because of heroin that the problems arose?
“No I wasn’t,” he said. “We did our drugs, but fortunately heroin just didn’t happen to be one of mine. Harry Nilsson, Ringo and I, we were totally into the drugs scene in LA and just going crazy all the time. Ringo’s life fell apart he went off to something like the Betty Ford clinic. So in 1984, I bailed out to Nashville as I had just lost everything. I quit getting the projects. I was spending too much money I was having to good a time and I ended up going from having servants and an estate with guest houses in the Hollywood Hills and ten acres on the ocean in Mendocino County with drivers and just all this kind of thing, to where I lost everything.
“I had three cardboard boxes and three suitcases and I decided to go to Nashville where I had success with producing Waylon Jennings group, The Outlaws. When I got there, I decided that I was going be crazier, get I’m get more stoned, and be even badder this time around.
“After three days of getting to Nashville, I met Connie, a beautiful young lady and she told me I needed the Lord. I had a guru at one time but I was a mess and had lost a fortune. And she brought me to the Lord from the very bottom. I had gone from being a millionaire to being destitute and I was one day from being homeless. I was actually out in Nashville looking at parks where I could sleep maybe under the benches on the little baseball diamonds.”
But he said that after he committed his life to Christ, things began to get even worse for him.
“It wasn’t like, oh gee, I became a Christian and everything became wonderful. It was trials and the betrayals that were even worse. Connie, who is my wife right now, said it was like watching Job go through all his sufferings,” said Mansfield.
Another major event that happened to Mansfield is that he was diagnosed in 1996 with incurable bone marrow cancer in in recent years is that you were diagnosed with an incurable cancer. But then, after much prayer and experimental cancer treatments, he is still alive today.
Eventually things improved and now he and Connie have a ministry together and he shares his testimony at churches all over America.
“I tell the story about my time with The Beatles, my years of decadence and falling apart and my road of coming to Christ,” he said. “And it just shows how God will use anybody and I realize now that I thought that I was a big deal because I was with The Beatles and God revealed to me that I wasn’t a big deal. The Lord has told me, ‘I just used that to give you a platform later on.
“So many people come to I speak at churches and events and so many people come because they’re fascinated with The Beatles and they get to meet the guy that was with The Beatles and they come in and some of them walk away saved.”
One of his books is called THE White Book, and another is The Beatles, The Bible and Bodega Bay which he says tell his extraordinary story which he said he wrote when “I felt I was washed up on the beach.”
Another is Between Wyomings and you can see a video about it at: http://www.youtube.com
His latest is Stumbling on Open Ground: Love, God, Cancer, and Rock ‘n’ Roll which is being published by Thomas Nelson in which he deals with a near fatal illness in which he says, “Dealing with cancer is not as linear as most books describe the ordeal. Going into it, going through it, and coming out of cancer is not that orderly. The battle is more of a hanging on, a falling apart, a sense of loss, and a lot of lonely flailing among the rubble.”
Note: I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.