Fifty-one years ago, release as the “last” Beatles studio album, as they had disbanded. As everyone knows, Abbey Road was the last recorded studio album, it was just released before the oft-troubled Let It Be album.
With the new Get Back book and six-hour film also arriving this fall, the Let It Be Special Edition: Super Deluxe Box Set is a wonderful look back at the Beatles in the twilight of the band.
I do not always purchase these massive box sets, but this one I could not pass up. During recording sessions, the Beatles practiced many new songs, resurrected a few old ideas, and even John and Paul collaborated like they did in the old days. The Beatles also played numerous old rock and roll songs of the past. Bootleg copies of many of these sessions have been available for years, but in rough form.
The super deluxe version includes a remixed version of the original album, plus many demos and outtakes, the 1969 Glyn Johns mix that was not released, and a Blu-ray disc of the remixed album and some other treats. I will go into more detail on all of this later.
Let It Be was conceived as a film about making an album. Recording started at Twickenham Studios (above), a large soundstage where the Beatles seemed to feel sterile and cold. Recording later moved to their own basement recording studio at Apple Records (below).
The rooftop concert at Apple (below), where they played until the constables shut them down.
The Let It Be album was originally going to be called Get Back and feature an updated photo to mirror their first album. Photos were taken and a release was prepared, but not issued.
Paul McCartney, always unhappy with what Phil Spector did with several of the songs on Let It Be, released a sanitized version of the album, Let It Be…NAKED, in 2003, without syrupy strings and choir, remixed and including “Don’t Let Me Down” which was left off the original album, but the B-side of a single. Dialogue between songs, “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It” also removed.
Is this new release worth it? It depends on what kind of a fan you are. The new mix of the original album is worth it. The sound quality and the moderate changes in the mix don’t change history, just clarify it. The Glyn Johns mix is something every serious fan should have. I understand it has been available as a bootleg for many years, but the sound quality here is worth it. The outtakes and studio jams are not really essential for the casual fan. Audiophiles will appreciate the Blu-ray Disc. The book is pretty cool.
The Let It Be Special Edition: Super Deluxe Boxed Set
Disc 1 – Remix of the original LP
Paul McCartney, long a critic of the syrupy original release, had a chance to forever rid his songs of Spector schmaltz, but he told project producer Giles Martin, “You can’t rewrite history,” so he suggested toning it down a bit, not a wholesale remix.
The result is a vibrant version of the original album, bright, with excellent separation of instruments that tended to be buried in the original mix. You can hear instruments cleanly, some for the first time. In particular, vocals have more texture and the guitars sound like they are being played right next to you. Wow!
Disc 2 – Session Tracks
“Morning Camera” / “Two of Us” (Speech / Take 4) 3:42 – False start, added fingerpicking intro. The bass is high in the mix. Still a rough version.
“Maggie Mae” / “Fancy My Chances with You” Traditional / Lennon–McCartney 0:58 – Early run-through with improv added.
“Can You Dig It?” 2:02 – I’m not familiar with this song unless it is an early version of “Dig It.”
“I Don’t Know Why I’m Moaning” (Speech) 1:22 – John and Paul talking.
“For You Blue” (Take 4) Harrison 2:52 – A pretty good working version for only the 4th take.
“Let It Be” / “Please Please Me” / “Let It Be” (Take 10) 4:32 – Studio discussion with a detour into a piano version of “Please Please Me,” then a take of “Let It Be”, which had the basic structure but lacked the fills and polish.
“I’ve Got a Feeling” (Take 10) 3:37 – They have the basic instrumentation, but are still working on the vocals.
“Dig a Pony” (Take 14) 4:01 – Still a working version but sounding closer to the original release.
“Get Back” (Take 19) 3:57 – Similar version to the original, but looser feel.
“Like Making an Album?” (Speech) 0:42 – More studio chatter.
“One After 909” (Take 3) 3:27 – A raggedy version with jazzy piano and electric guitar instead of the more acoustic sound of the original. Definitely an early version of the song.
“Don’t Let Me Down” (First Rooftop Performance) 3:28 – Not quite, but close to the final release. Pretty darn good.
“The Long and Winding Road” (Take 19) 3:47 – Closer to the final final version. McCartney’s vocal is still a work in progress.
“Wake Up Little Susie” / “I Me Mine” (Take 11) Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant / Harrison 2:15 – A snippet of the classic song, with an acoustic version of “I Me Mine” without vocals.
Disc 3 – Rehearsals and Apple Jams
“On the Day Shift Now” / “All Things Must Pass” (Speech / Rehearsals) Harrison 4:22 – Harrison plays the song for the other Beatles with studio chatter. Harrison is an underrated vocalist, he sounds good here.
“Concentrate on the Sound” 1:07 – Studio chatter.
“Gimme Some Truth” (Rehearsals) Lennon 1:19 – This song wouldn’t surface until Imagine, but is premiered here. This would have made a good Beatles song.
“I Me Mine” (Rehearsals) Harrison 1:35 – A half-hearted effort by the other Beatles to support Harrison.
“She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” (Rehearsals) 2:50 – A slow tempo, nothing like the Abbey Road version. McCartney trying to get a feel for it.
“Polythene Pam” (Rehearsals) 1:19 – Another snippet of a song being premiered.
“Octopus’s Garden” (Rehearsals) Starkey 1:50 – Ringo singing to piano accompaniment and fooling around.
“Oh! Darling” (Jam) 5:19 – Sleepy, bluesy piano lounge version.
“Get Back” (Take 8) 3:52 – The song is in fine form by this take. Not quite the polished piano solo of the final version.
“The Walk” (Jam) Jimmy McCracklin, Bob Garlic 0:55 – An old cover the Beatles practiced during the sessions.
“Without a Song” (Jam – Billy Preston with John and Ringo) Vincent Youmans, Billy Rose, Edward Eliscu 2:00 – Bluesy tune with Preston singing lead. A curiosity.
“Something” (Rehearsals) Harrison 1:24 – Another attempt by Harrison to get his colleagues interested in one of his songs with instructions from Lennon.
“Let It Be” (Take 28) 4:42 – False start, still a working version with McCartney adlibbing on the vocals.
Disc 4 – Rejected Glyn Johns Mix – Eliminates “Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine”
“One After 909” 3:06 – Retains some studio chatter before intro. I cannot really tell a great difference from the original, but it is not as bright or crisp as the 2021 mix. The chatter after “Get Back” on the original album shows up here at the end of the song.
“I’m Ready (Rocker)” / “Save the Last Dance for Me” / “Don’t Let Me Down” (Medley) Fats Domino, Al Lewis, Sylvester Bradford / Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman / Lennon–McCartney 1:56 – Songs used as warm ups during the sessions. Interesting, just shows the Beatles amusing themselves in the studio. I can see why it did not make the final release.
“Don’t Let Me Down” 4:05 – With false start, a working version of the song. Lennon’s vocals are more tentative here. Billy Preston on the electric piano is a bit more soulful.
“Dig a Pony” 4:13 – More studio chatter and false start. Definitely a working version, loose and sloppy, but fun.
“I’ve Got a Feeling” 2:53 – Another rough, working version, played with great enthusiasm. John and Paul were having fun trading vocals on this version. Abrupt ending.
“Get Back” 3:13 – Very similar to the original single version with the extra chorus.
“For You Blue” Harrison 2:53 – False start, Harrison’s vocals have a lot of echo. Something is missing in the instrumentation – piano?
“Teddy Boy” McCartney 3:41 – A preview of a song that would show up on McCartney’s first solo album. Rough version, the guitar work is very exploratory. This version would not have been a plus for inclusion on the original Let It Be release.
“Two of Us” 3:29 – A muddy-sounding version and a bit underwhelming. No enthusiasm in this version.
“Maggie Mae” Traditional 0:38 – Mostly like the original.
“Dig It” Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starkey 4:09 – Long version of the jam. I prefer the shorter version, this take feels repetitive, even when it shifts tempo.
“Let It Be” 4:09 – Different lead-in chatter. This version has a lot of echo on McCartney’s lead vocal. The organ is more upfront in the mix and has a different guitar solo from Harrison in the middle and at the end. Harrison is feeding his guitar through a Leslie speaker which bends the sound and faintly gives it an organ effect.
“The Long And Winding Road” 3:39 – Absent the choir and strings. Cleaner, but with less feeling.
“Get Back” (Reprise) 0:40 – A short reprise with improv vocals.
Disc 5 – EP of Bonus Tracks
“Across The Universe” (Unreleased Glyn Johns 1970 Mix) 3:31 – A tamboura is played by Harrison in the background behind Lennon on guitar and vocals. It’s a bit loud and distracting, but nice effect. Sounds like Yoko on background vocals. Lennon’s lead vocal is too deep in the mix.
“I Me Mine” (Unreleased Glyn Johns 1970 Mix) Harrison 1:45 – Similar to the original released version, without the orchestra backing.
“Don’t Let Me Down” (New Mix of Original Single Version) 4:08 – Studio chatter precedes a new version, not much different than the version we are all familiar.
“Let It Be” (New Mix of Original Single Version) 3:52 – The alternate Harrison guitar solo, which I never liked, instead of the blistering one. Fine version, wrong solo.
Disc 6 – Blu-ray disc that contains a Dolby Atmos mix of the original album, alongside a 5.1 Surround Sound mix and a High-res stereo mix
Book – A 105 page book with incredible photographs and accompanying text, including a forward by Sir Paul. Glyn Johns also provides his thoughts, as does producer Giles Martin. The photographs are nice, some I’ve never seen. A description of the recording sessions along with the rooftop concert is provided. Track by track information of the songs in the box set is included.