Glyn Johns Doesn’t Get Why People Like His Look in ‘Get Back’
The long-lost outfits of the Beatles sound man have made him an unwitting fashion favorite, five decades later.,
“It’s just cringe-making,” said Glyn Johns, the recording engineer and producer who plays a prominent role in “The Beatles: Get Back,” Peter Jackson’s marathon documentary series about the fateful Beatles sessions in 1969 that culminated in the “Let It Be” album.
Mr. Johns was not talking about the nearly eight-hour series, which critics and fans have embraced as a watershed television event, but of the Austin Powers-esque outfits his 26-year-old self wears throughout it. “I look like a bloody clown,” he added.
It is not easy to stand out in a documentary featuring four of the 20th century’s most famous people. But with his flair for accessories and slinky-pants-cool, Mr. Johns has found a new round of appreciators a half century after the fact.
“Glyn Johns is the late ’60s fashion icon I didn’t know I needed,” tweeted Katie Irish, a costume designer who worked on “The Americans.”
“Glyn Johns in the fluffy jacket is my look for the rest of winter,” said Emma Swift, an Australian singer and songwriter, on Twitter. Others have noted his uncanny resemblance to Liam Gallagher of Oasis; Cillian Murphy, the star of “Peaky Blinders;” and Ronnie (Z-Man) Barzell, the debauched rock impresario in the 1970 camp classic, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”
For Mr. Johns, 79, the experience has been amusing — to a point.
“I’m fed up with it now, I’ll tell you,” he said with a laugh in a telephone call from his home in Chichester, England. “I have 9,000 emails and texts from people from my past, all taking the Mickey unmercifully.”
“Some people are saying, ‘Oh, the jacket you wore on X day was fantastic,’ or ‘Where did you get the goatskin coat?’ But in general, they’re laughing at how ridiculous I looked, which of course is true.”
Mr. Johns was hardly the only peacock during those fateful weeks, as the Beatles labored to get over their differences and get back to their roots with a no-nonsense rock n’ roll album, accompanied, in theory, by a concert television special.
What to Know About ‘The Beatles: Get Back’
Peter Jackson’s seven-plus hour documentary series, which explores the most contested period in the band’s history, is available on Disney Plus.
- Re-examining How the Beatles Ended: Think you know what happened? Jackson may change your mind.
- Yoko Ono’s Omnipresence: The performance artist is everywhere in the film. At first it’s unnerving, then dazzling.
- 6 Big Moments: Don’t have time to watch the full documentary? Here’s a guide to its eye-opening scenes.
While John Lennon and Paul McCartney generally seemed to be dressed for comfort, befitting long hours toiling in the studio, Ringo Starr showed up to one session in a lime-green pinstriped suit with a forest green musketeer shirt. George Harrison, wore a similar ensemble in pink and purple. (Fashion sites including W and Marie Claire have offered guides on how to shop the looks in “Get Back.”)
In such company, it is a little surprising that Mr. Johns has garnered so much attention. He was already an industry heavyweight, who would later become the go-to sound man for The Who, Eric Clapton, the Eagles and many others. But at that point, Mr. Johns was anything but a Beatles insider. He was associated with the Rolling Stones, whom he had worked with since the early days. In fact, when the Beatles first reached out to him, he was dubious.
“I was at home on a very rare night off and the phone rang, and the person on the other end announced themselves in a Liverpudlian accent as being Paul McCartney,” he said. Mr. Johns thought it was Mick Jagger pulling a practical joke, so he told him to get lost, albeit in saltier language.
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“And of course there was silence on the other end of the phone,” Mr. Johns added. “He started all over again, and I thought, ‘Oh, it is Paul McCartney, Jesus Christ!”
The Stones’ fashion influence on Mr. Johns is undeniable. “I remember Brian Jones taking me to a store in Carnaby Street once, and we bought stuff,” he said. “I remember Mick gave me a fabulous shirt.”
“The coolest thing I think I wore in the film was the crocodile Levi jacket, which in fact had been given to me by Keith Richards,” he added. “We were in Paris, and Keith had this jacket made for him in France, and it had been delivered to the hotel. He took it out of the packaging, put it on and said, ‘Here you have it, I don’t want it.’ I have no idea what happened to it. Maybe I gave it away.”
Nor can he remember where he got the goatskin coat that viewers are obsessed with, although he does remember how it smelled after a rainstorm.
“I distinctly remember queuing for an airplane wearing that coat, and the people in front and behind me moved away from me because it actually stank,” Mr. Johns said. “And of course in those days, if you had long hair you were suspect anyway.”
Fans rightly laud Mr. Johns’s looks in the film as the epitome of ’60s British rocker cool, and the costume-like whimsy he (and various Beatles at various times) display in “Get Back” has all the color and exuberance of the peak-psychedelia moment.
By 1969, however, rock was taking a harder, darker turn, as evidenced by the Rolling Stones’ “Let it Bleed” and Led Zeppelin’s eponymous first album (both of which Mr. Johns worked on), not to mention Beatles songs like, yes, “Get Back.”
The Beatles’ public image was starting to reflect that. For the cover shot of “Abbey Road,” taken on Aug. 8 of that year (coincidentally, the same day four members of the Manson family set out for Sharon Tate’s house in Los Angeles.) Mr. McCartney and Mr. Starr opted for somber navy and black, Mr. Lennon blank-slate white and Mr. Harrison, “gravedigger” denim — at least according to the viral Paul-is-dead conspiracy theory of the day.
Nor did the Beatles seem to gussy themselves up much for their last public appearance on a London rooftop — the climax of “Get Back.”
Gone were the Technicolor satins. Mr. McCartney was basically dressed for the office in a somber black three-piece suit and open-collar shirt. Mr. Lennon, in sneakers, and Mr. Starr went minimalist black-on-black, although the former wore a fur coat borrowed from Yoko Ono and the latter, his wife Maureen’s bright red raincoat, presumably to gird themselves against the winter chill. George Harrison looked somewhat festive, if a little thrift-store chic, in bright green pants and a grizzly-like Mongolian lamb-fur coat. And then of course there was the ever-present Ms. Ono herself, in her ever-present black.
A traditional analysis was that the Beatles had stopped putting on showbiz airs by then because they were bickering over money and management, and were headed toward a breakup. That view became canonical after the release of “Let It Be,” the downbeat 1970 documentary by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who plays a prominent role in “Get Back,” and captured the hours of unseen footage that appears in the series.
To Mr. Johns and many others, “Let It Be” has all the joy of a divorce proceeding.
“It’s awful, terrible,” Mr. Johns said of the earlier film. “My memory was that we actually had a really good time and everybody got on great. The fact that George left the band for 24 hours is no different from any other band I ever worked with, or anyone who works in an office. People who work together for years on end, they fall out, and they patch it up at the end. It’s normal.”
He would never have guessed the Beatles were heading toward a split.
“The four of them had gone through this mammoth experience, from when they were unknown, to being four of the most famous people in the world,” he said. “There was this massive bond between them. They were like family, really.”
He recalls a lot less about what he was wearing, and why.
“Listen, mate, it was 50 years ago, how can I remember?” Mr. Johns said with a laugh. “Everyone has a style of their own, I suppose. But I was busy working.”