The Beatles – Let It Be

I didn’t really know what to title today’s entry, because in essence, I’m covering two version of the same album that are both titled differently, for today I’d like to cover a lot of ground in as few sleepy words as possible. Namely, today we’re talking about The Beatles’ “final” album, Let It Be:

We’ll also be talking about Let It Be… Naked, and I suppose this is the last entry about The Beatles, and if I had my way, I’d use the entirety of it to complain about Phil Spector.

This album was recorded just before The Beatles recorded their “actually final” album, Abbey Road, and released just after they broke up, so needles to say, this is an album with problems. In fact, in all fairness, I’d say the album wasn’t really finished until 2003, when Paul decided to fix the thing and released the Naked version.

Basically, after the “White Album” was finished, and despite the band’s insurmountable personal differences, Paul McCartney wanted to get the band back together, all recording in the same room, and make things nice and Beatley again, per chance to possibly tour again. These suggestions were met with looks of confusion and dismay from the other 3 members, so Paul chuckled and said “Just kidding!” about the touring, but the band members did think that recording another album wouldn’t be too hard a way to make millions, so they took him up on this and all got together.

In listening to the songs that wound up on the album, it’s quite evident that it’s Paul’s baby. He was the one to fight and keep the group together through this tough time (even though he reportedly was a little too excited and caused George Harrison to quit for a week), and some of his best work is on this album, I feel. In fact, when I think of the other late Beatles albums, I often paint McCartney as the idiot and Lennon as the guy making sense in how things should go, but I side with Paul in this recording. Not only for the reasons already stated, but because he absolutely hated what Phil Spector did to the album, and Lennon was the one responsible for that bastard ever getting ahold of the Beatles’ music.

Who knows why anybody likes Phil Spector, I recently watched 2 full documentaries on him and it made me hate him all the more, though it did give me an understanding of how he came to work with The Beatles. Apparently, Spector was busy being a recluse and locking his wife in his mansion from 1966 until 1970, all because one single to which he had applied his repulsive “Wall Of Sound” dared to peak at #88 on the Billboard chart. He was brought to England to work with John Lennon on his solo stuff, as John was a fan, which makes sense because Phil Spector was the “big thing” between Elvis and The Beatles for reasons that people speculate have to do with “no-one else being available at the time”.

Either way, after all the hundreds of songs got recorded for Let It Be (known as the “Get Back” sessions, because the whole concept of the album was McCartney wanting to “get back” to the band’s original way of doing things) were essentially shelved because nobody wanted to go through hundreds of songs’ worth of tapes and put together an album. Phil did, so he was given the job as producer of the already-recorded album, and while just finding the tapes, cutting them together, and calling it a day would have been just fine, of course he applied his terrible production standards all over it. It’s like drizzling honey over a priceless painting: yeah it’s pretty sweet but is it art?

I will admit, there are some things that Spector did to the album that were pretty good. For one, he took bits of dialogue and banter and spliced them in between songs, which gives the album a kind of good-natured vibe that keeps the thing from taking itself too seriously. Of course, when you realize that The Beatles were fighting all the time during the recording and had broken up by the time the album was released, that might have been a better idea to utilize about 10 albums ago. Admittedly, some of the string arrangements sound lovely, but that’s where I must segue into a short version of his huge list of crimes.

One example of something that could have been so right but went so wrong is the song “Across The Universe”. It’s a beautiful melody by Lennon, which is made even sweeter by acoustic guitar and sitar at some point (I think). Spector added in a lot of strings, which were too many strings playing too few notes, so it wasn’t that effective, but still sounded all right. Oh, but then he slowed the song down by lowering it half a step so that both the guitar and singer sound weird, then he applied an echoey sort of prickly effect on the acoustic guitar, then drowned the melody in reverb. I used to only half-like this song until I heard the Naked version, which is so much better, though I do kind of miss the strings.

McCartney was perfectly right to be furious about Phil Spector working his “magic” on this album, mainly because the album was McCartney’s idea, and his biggest obstacle in getting anything done was Lennon anyway, so who was Lennon to let Spector loose with all the tapes? Really, none of this would concern me as anything more than an amusing anecdote that happened to get turned into a whole album if not for one nagging notion: if this album would have been produced the right way, and with the right amount of care, it would easily be the Beatles’ best album.

See, I love me some Beatles, but there are two things, especially during their artistically meritable stage, that I will invariably put down about them when asked. For one, they were all great musicians (yes even Ringo), and for the most part they had brilliant ideas, but functioning as a band was something they could only do until they got too famous to need to be in a band anymore, then they just seemed to get in each others’ way all the time. For two, a lot of their most lauded albums are kind of a mess as far as cohesion goes, I always feel like I’m putting the album I started listening to on hold while some interloping song comes through, usually sung by Ringo, and then the show’s back on the road or has changed entirely.

In Let It Be (or, at least the …Naked version), the fact that all the members of the band are playing the parts at the same time with a minimal amount of overdubs at least lends the album the appearance that The Beatles are this amazing band that aren’t have any trouble at all, and it’s nearly a palpable feeling that makes me kind of sad for once that they didn’t continue on after this. The other aspect to the album is that, not just because it’s an album without a “Ringo” song on it, all the songs fit together so nicely that the album just flows from start to finish. Indeed, the …Naked re-mix of the album is a lot better than the official version, but I still feel like it’s more of an idea of how good the album could have been rather than being the end-all best Beatles album. At least it’s a lot smoother than the Spector-produced version. In that version, the inclusion of an unfinished song (“Maggie Mae”) and a bizarre excerpt from a meaningless jam (“Dig It”) trip things up, with the former ending too abruptly and the latter sounding more like Mick Jagger had infiltrated the studio as he’s known to do. Not the most cohesive thing ever, for sure.

Either way, no matter which version of the album you prefer, Let It Be has some incredible songs in it, and it’s occasionally well put together. This is, of course, the part where I point out that it’s a little ironic that an album called Let It Be has received the opposite treatment. Indeed, the album was shelved for a long time, but instead of letting it be, they tried something like three times to get an album out of the tapes, and then Phil Spector got involved, and then McCartney got angry, but couldn’t let it be until 33 years later, when the …Naked version came out, and indeed one could “let it be” at that point, but then the original Spector-produced version came out as a remixed album which does sound better but still… let it be.

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One Response

  1. One of the things I’ve found is that some bands really need a particular producer because they’re almost a member of the band on some level. Radiohead needs Nigel Godrich, and the Beatles should never have tried working with anyone who wasn’t George Martin. At some point, after working together for so long, they really seem to understand each other and what they want much better. Though then again recording on this was such a mess that it’s somewhat surprising anything resulted.

    It’s got good cover art though. All cover art needs to reflect the contents, and here we’ve got something by four people who didn’t even want to appear in the same picture together at this point.

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