Let It Be at 50

Every original studio album by the Beatles has now celebrated a 50 year anniversary. How can that be so?  It is hard for me not to associate Let It Be with the end of the Beatles.  Upon its release, the wheels were in motion for the band to dissolve.  There was even a rancorous meeting between Ringo and Paul about Let It Be’s release date and the close release of Paul’s solo album.

For me, Let It Be is more history than it is an album.  I have detailed the Abbey Road album in three blogs, the recording of which mainly occurred after the original Let It Be sessions.  Let It Be had been put aside as various folks sifted through the results to find a releasable album, while the Beatles moved on to Abbey Road sessions.

Beatles_get_back_album_coverA number of versions were put on acetate by Glyn Johns, one even made it to be released, before it was pulled.  The idea had always been to show the Beatles was they were, and the proposed album cover was to update the Please Please Me cover from 1962, with the Beatles photographed from the same location.

Until Let It Be…Naked was release in 2003, under Paul’s supervision, the world only knew the 1970 Let It Be release.

LetItBeNaked

As part of filming, Beatles staged the famous rooftop concert to record several songs.  This was the last time the four Beatles would all play together “live.”  The event was filmed as a substitute for various concert ideas.  Frankly, the Beatles had no real interest in staging a concert, the bad taste of touring still hung over them.

The Let It Be film is subject for another blog.  Later this year, the Beatles’ representative indicated some version of the Let It Be film will be unveiled. This will probably be after the Peter Jackson documentary about the Let It Be sessions he was been working on, which purportedly shows a very different side of the Beatles during that period. I doubt the Beatles would have approved another project that focused on the warts.

For the rooftop live recording, Engineer assistant Alan Parsons worked to run cables from the basement of the Apple Records building where the studio was, to the roof where a makeshift stage had been erected. A number of songs were recorded that resulted in versions for either the album or the film.

The_Beatles_rooftop_concert

Lennon/McCartney except “I Me Mine” and “For You Blue” by George Harrison

Side one

Title     Lead vocals     Length

“Two of Us” McCartney with Lennon   3:36  A rolling acoustic-based song, with both McCartney and Lennon singing lead.  I always like the camaraderie of the song and the blended vocals over the acoustic guitars.  Great job, guys.

“Dig a Pony” Lennon 3:54  Recorded from the rooftop, a song written and sung by Lennon.  Not a great song, in fact Lennon disowned it, but one of his few contributions to the sessions.

“Across the Universe” Lennon 3:48  By the time the album came out, this song was already known from a version on a charity album. Because the song was heard in the film, it was decided that an album version was needed.  The version released on Let It Be was a re-recorded version with the Spector orchestra and choir.

“I Me Mine” (George Harrison) Harrison  2:26  This song is much maligned, why, I don’t know.  Harrison played a version that was recorded at part of the film, Lennon and Yoko are seen dancing to it.  Since it was included in the film, the Beatles felt compelled to finish the song for release.  This was actually the last song that the Beatles worked on before they disbanded.  Phil Spector took the bit from the film and Harrison, McCartney and Starr worked to turn the fragment into an actual song.  The lyrics reflected Harrison’s fight within the group to stake out his own identity.

“Dig It” (Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Richard Starkey) Lennon  0:50  An excerpt from a long jam during the recording sessions.  Interestingly, Lennon played the bass notes while McCartney played the piano.  Not included on the Naked edition.

“Let It Be” McCartney 4:03  A song about Paul’s mother.  The version on the album is slightly different than the single version released prior to the album’s appearance. The album version contains a grittier guitar solo than is on the single and a more flamboyant string arrangement.

“Maggie Mae” (Traditional, arr. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starkey) Lennon with McCartney   0:40  A snippet of the folk song the Beatles sang during the many hours of sessions.  Not included on the Naked edition.

 

Side two

Title     Lead vocals     Length

“I’ve Got a Feeling” McCartney and Lennon  3:37  This version was a composite of McCartney’s “I’ve Got a Feeling” and Lennon’s “Everybody Had a Hard Year,” and recorded live on the rooftop.  Not a hard rocking song, but the guitar riffs and runs are quite distinctive.  Other versions of the song exist.

“One After 909” Lennon with McCartney   2:54  Written by Lennon when there were boys, a skiffle type song, which was a major musical genre then for young people.  Lennon did not have his usual bag of original material when the sessions started, so he pulled this from the old days.

“The Long and Winding Road” McCartney 3:38  Perhaps the most notable track on the album, more for the acrimony surrounding the production of the song.  The Beatles recorded several version of the song with McCartney on piano, Lennon on bass, Harrison on guitar and Billy Preston on electric piano.  Phil Spector was given permission from Beatles manager Allen Klein to “tidy up some songs”, this one being among them.  Strings, heavenly choir and additional instruments later, it was released on the album and as a single.  McCartney was livid when he heard but the album went out as planned.  McCartney’s dissatisfaction was one of the reasons cited in his court case to dissolve the band and the release of Naked, some 33 years later.

“For You Blue” (Harrison) Harrison  2:32  A blues track, inspired by Harrison’s recent travels to America to play with Bob Dylan and the Band, and Harrison’s other musical interludes with Eric Clapton, Dave Mason and the group Delaney and Bonnie.  Harrison had taken up the slide guitar and become more interested various styles of the blues.  On this recording, Harrison plays the acoustic guitar while Lennon played the lap steel guitar, while McCartney contributed the piano and bass.

“Get Back” McCartney 3:09  The most rocking of the songs on the album, recorded on the rooftop, which appears in the film. A studio version was released as a single and on the album.  Spector added the remarks from the rooftop concert for the studio version for the fade out.

“I would like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” – John Lennon

 

On a personal note, I’ve always enjoyed this album, warts and all. The idea of an “unplugged” album was way ahead of its time. Sadly, the result did not hold with the original vision, as a few songs were dressed up with artificial sweetener. Whatever the intention, the result, good or bad, it timestamped in my memory. It is interestingly hear other versions of these songs, stripped of production gloss, but I make my way back to these versions. I never just play a song or two from the album, I play the entire thing, it’s one total experience. I love the chatter in between the songs and the false starts. It’s how I remember it.


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