Saturday, August 17, 2013

86. Let it Be. (1970) The Beatles

  1. Two Of Us 3:33
  2. Dig A Pony 3:55
  3. Across The Universe 3:51
  4. I Me Mine 2:25
  5. Dig It 0:51
  6. Let It Be 4:01
  7. Maggie Mae 0:39
  8. I've Got A Feeling 3:38
  9. One After 909 2:52
  10. The Long And Winding Road 3:40
  11. For You Blue 2:33
  12. Get Back 3:09

Ten years ago Paul McCartney gave the world a gift. In one of those rare moments when an artist actually listens to his public, Paul took Let It Be and transformed it from one of the Beatles lesser albums into a much stronger listen. Unlike a lot of musicians who feel the need to take something that isn't broken and break it, Paul took something that someone else broke and fixed it. Thanks Paul, you're the man.

I'm referring to Let it Be...Naked which came out in 2003 and is basically a version of Let it Be as the Beatles intended. It returned a set of songs which Paul has always felt strongly about to the way he and the other three originally wanted it to sound and while technically it's Let it Be that occupies this position on the countdown it should really be Let it Be...Naked's spot.

In early 1969 The Beatles went into the studio and attempted to record a simple album. They'd got progressively more complicated and grander in design since the mid sixties when they first started to see the studio as their creative playground. The had become accustomed to including embellishments,  additions and trickery on their music and became creators of sound designs rather than rock and roll musicians. The recording of Let it Be was an attempt to return to simple days and culminated with the legendary rooftop performance when the band played live on their studio roof to bemused office workers and less than happy police.

But the Beatles weren't satisfied with what they produced and shelved the recordings. They were eventually released after the band broke up and the tapes were put in the hands of an idiot. I know I'm supposed to think of Phil Spector as a genius (with occasional homicidal tendencies) but for me he'll always be a massive twat of the highest order. Spector took the tapes from the Let it Be sessions and thought "These performances by the greatest band in the world are okay but clearly what they need is a massive dose of schlock! Bring me my schlockafier!"

Spector's preferred way to schlock something was to overdub orchestras and choirs and big production numbers and treat the work of the world's greatest songwriters as just a canvas for him to throw things at. The end results are partly Beatles songs but they're also Spector songs. And it's the Spector bits which are the problem.

For years people have listened to Let it Be and wondered what it would be like if it was de-shlocked. In 2003 Paul oversaw Let it Be...Naked which let us all find out. The result is a much stronger collection of songs and is better in almost every way. For a listener like me it transformed some songs I've always hated into recordings I actually enjoy. It removed a barrier I'd always had to some great music and I can't thank Paul enough for doing it. Granted I miss some of the banter he removed. Those of us who have listened to Let it Be for years miss hearing "I hope we pass the audition" but it's a loss I can put up with. More controversial for some was the use of technical trickery to fix a few errors made by the band when they were performing. Bum notes and missed cues have been corrected to make the songs slicker and more produced. While there are those who lament this touching up after the event there are others who point out that if the technology was available at the time it's something the band wouldn't have hesitated to do. Either way most people probably wouldn't notice these slight tweaks if they weren't pointed out so it seems somewhat churlish to argue about it.

Let It Be is great, Let it Be...Naked is better. Both are fantastic.

Track by Track...

Two of Us

It's appropriate that the opening track on their final album sounds like a reflection on Paul and John's relationship. Paul's simple acoustic ballad seems to tell the tale of a perfect partnership that soured over time.  Let it Be has its bouncy, upbeat moments and light touches but underneath it all is a genuine sadness. The greatest songwriting duo of all time were barely on speaking terms. It was sad at the time but now we know the bitterness continued for ten more years before one of them died makes it even sadder.

Dig a Pony

Not Lennon's finest moment and not the album's highpoint either. If you handed Let it Be to an alien and said "Give this a listen. Greatest band our planet has ever produced" they'd have fairly low opinion of earthling music after tracks one and two.

Across the Universe

John wrote a beautiful and simple ballad and Spector wrote an absurd piece of bombast over the top of it. Naked restores the beauty and takes away the stupidity and lets you sit down and appreciate that John was a wonderful songwriter with a beautiful voice.

I Me Mine

While it's not in the same league as Across the Universe, I Me Mine is another song that benefits from a stripping away of Spector's nonsense and a return to what the creator intended. George's contributions to Let It Be aren't among his finest moments. The movie of the recording process (which I recommend you avoid because it's too depressing for words) clearly show Harrison is totally disengaged from everything and couldn't care less. The real shame is that some outstanding George compositions were rejected for Let it Be by the other two. Isn't it a Pity and All things must pass finally surfaced on Harrison's first solo album but were offered up by their writer for consideration as Beatles songs. Both are brilliant tracks and their presence here instead of the two lesser songs that Harrison was permitted to record would have made Let it Be so much greater.

Dig It

Dig It is a small and pointless interjection which was thrown in to pad out the album to something approaching a full length release. It's not a song, it's the sound of a band stuffing around the studio and pretending to get on. When Paul compiled Naked he ditched this and replaced it with Don't Let Me Down a song that originally appeared as a B-side of Get Back. You'd have to say it's a good swap. Dig It was always too short to wear out its welcome but Don't Let me Down is a great song even though the line "I'm in love for the first time" must have been a huge slap in the face for John's first wife who he was dismissing outright. Most of us who listen to music on computers and other devices promptly put Dig it back in. It's stupid, pointless and has no redeeming features but we love it.

Let it Be

There are now four officially released versions of this song wandering around. The single version prepared by George Martin, the album verison with Spector's orchestra, an early take on the Anthology series and the Naked version. Then there are a million different live versions played by Paul on subsequent tours. It's a great song but one whose impact has diminished for me over countless listens.

Maggie Mae

Ever wanted to hear the Beatles sing a rude folk song? No? Can't say I blame you. Apparently Paul didn't either because he removed it from the Naked track listing. Of all the bits he removed this is the one I miss the least.

I've got a feeling

Paul and John used to write songs together, by which I mean they were in the same room while they wrote them. They'd sit somewhere with a guitar each and play things for each other and come up with a unified whole. As the years progressed they stopped writing together but still managed to produce songs like I've Got A Feeling which is a co-production created when John and Paul smooshed three different songs they'd half written into one coherent whole. It actually works. It shouldn't on paper but it really does with Lennon's "Everybody had a hard year" bit sounding like an authentic bridge to McCartney's main refrain.

One After 909

Originally recorded but rejected by the band in 1963, One After 909 must have really got on George Harrison's nerves. He had songs ready to go that he'd been itching to record and release on a Beatles album but John and Paul preferred to dig up something they'd had lying around for almost a decade. Still if you can overlook the sound of George's teeth gnashing in disappointment it's a great track. It doesn't quite emulate the great train songs that John and Paul were trying to copy. They're hoping to convey an image of someone jumping a freight down to San Antone but it sounds far more English and conjures up a picture of a girl missing a commuter train for Thickwistle on Tweed. The original version rocks but the Naked version is even better.

The Long and Winding Road

Of all the tracks that Paul stripped down for Naked this is the one that truly justified the project. Spector totally ruined Winding Road. He turned it into one of my least favourite Beatles tracks and one that I couldn't stand to listen to. It was an immediate skip for me and the first thing I'd bring up whenever discussing the album and its worth. But stripped of the appalling choral moments and the awful orchestration it's actually a really nice track. It's not their greatest hit but it's now a song I really enjoy. It wasn't a massive revelation, we'd heard similar versions on anthology and bootlegs but it was still a joy to hear a good version of this song on an original album. Don't ever come out of prison Phil, the world is a better place with you behind bars.

For you Blue

George sounds more committed on this up-tempo rocker than any other on the album but it's hard not to picture him thinking "You let me record this but you're giving Isn't it a Pity a miss? Seriously?"

Get Back

Its lyrics might not make much sense but Get Back is a massive amount of fun. It's a hugely entertaining listen and a classic in every respect. It's also the perfect conclusion to the Beatles career with a sound that is late era Beatles but still harks back to the early mop-top days. The Let It Be Naked version is fine but the original album version will always be a keeper for me with its dialogue and laughter in place. I need the banter and joking as an antidote to the album's opening moments. I love the Beatles and I hate the fact that their career ended in acrimony and bitterness with lawyers involved. I need the laughter and light tone on their final track to preserve the fantasy of four friends making music together and loving the inexperience. I know it's not true but it's a personal delusion that I like to treasure and the fantasy of the rooftop concert lets me keep it alive.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: Why the hell did this album show up in my recommended search results??? I don't even like this album! Those four french morons should have "let their careers be" and not have even bothered with this freak side-show nonsense!

-French? Seriously?

So do you love Paul's upgrade or do you think he should have let it be? Let me know below.


  1. Very impressive review, the blog nearly made me read all and each single album's review, fascinating writing, hope you get to do all each single album, and yea you forget to rank'em numerously according to The Rolling Stone's list.