I know what you're thinking. Oh Lord, what's McCartney doing now? What desperate revisionism is he foisting on a Lennon-free world? Now calm down.
I know what you’re thinking. Oh Lord, what’s McCartney doing now? What desperate revisionism is he foisting on a Lennon-free world? Now calm down. Far from a repositioning of the historical spotlight that Macca bashers will be so keen to detect, the Let It Be remix is not only a noble, entirely worthwhile exercise which only enhances the reputation of all concerned, it also goes quite a way to putting right an episode which was, in Beatles terms, an historical wrong.
Let It Be was The Beatles’ penultimate project but the last-released Beatles album; recorded mostly in January 1969, it eventually appeared in May 1970, nine months after their true swan song, Abbey Road. Considered at the time a rather second-rate send-off, the manner of its release?by far the most cobbled-together and compromised of all Beatle albums?has left its reputation well behind most other Fab output.
But the intentions were good. After the elaborate 1967 psychedelia of Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour and the individual musical personalities fighting for space on 1968’s White Album, McCartney’s initial idea was to get the Beatles back to being a band again, singing and playing as a four-piece. The filmed rehearsals?originally intended for a TV documentary that eventually became the Let It Be movie?would climax with an exotically located concert. However, with no one except McCartney really wanting to be there (the cavernous, cold Twickenham film studios), what actually occurred was directionless jamming and increasingly ill-tempered exchanges leading to Harrison temporarily walking out. Lennon later described the period as “the most miserable sessions on earth”.
Relocating to the studio in the Apple building basement, George invited keyboardist Billy Preston along for the remainder of the project (remembering the Fabs’ improved behaviour when Clapton guested on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on The White Album) and the band ground out an album’s worth of material. The climactic concert was downsized to half an hour on the rooftop of the Apple building.
With the group barely interested in the music they’d left behind, engineer Glyn Johns had a couple of (widely bootlegged) shots at compiling the so-called Get Back album from the hours of tape left behind but failed to get the band’s approval for his efforts, and the project was shelved. (Johns has since been famously reluctant to talk about his experiences with The Beatles.) By early 1970, Lennon?inspired by his erstwhile business manager Allen Klein?was taking care of Beatle business without referring to an estranged McCartney and appointed Phil Spector to prepare the Get Back tapes into a releasable state as an album companion to the imminent movie. For a week or so, Spector hit Abbey Road studios running, abandoned the back-to-basics remit, got Ringo to overdub his drums, smeared lush stuff all over McCartney’s ballads, performed some neat edits and produced a respectable record from what Lennon memorably called the “shittiest load of badly recorded shit”. Of the significantly retitled Let It Be album, McCartney says now that “I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it, you know.” At the time, however, he was so furious to have Beatles product put out without his approval, he cited it as one of the reasons why he wanted to legally dissolve The Beatles’ partnership.
Fast forward 30-odd years and Apple (mainly McCartney, but approved by Harrison and Starr) commission the Abbey Road team who remixed The Beatles for Yellow Submarine and Anthology for DVD to look once more at the session tapes and make the Let It Be album again, as they saw fit. Ironically, in attempting to better create the spirit of unadorned Beatles, the engineers have used whatever modern editing and processing they needed to achieve the best album they could.
The result, however, is worth it. Anyone who knows the sloppy jamming of the film and bootleg albums or who sat through the dreary outtakes that made it to Anthology 3 will be relieved to learn that only tidy.performances of the core material comprise this 35-minute, 11-track album. It’s not exactly transformed into a classic?apart from a couple of McCartney’s big-hitters, it’s the slightest selection of Beatle compositions since 1965’s Help!?but the new Let It Be is punchy, full of presence and powerfully involving. What was previously an uneasy mix of medium-grade Beatles treated to glossy overstatement and irreverent editing is now a great little record.
Of the main differences, “Don’t Let Me Down” is at last on the album it should have been on all along (here, the passionate rooftop version), “The Long And Winding Road” is a later take with slightly different lyrics (“anyway, you’ve always known…”) and there are no rolling toms in the final verse of “Let It Be”. The highlight of the record, however, may be the new (corrected speed) mix of “Across The Universe”, just Lennon with guitar plus hauntingly processed tamboura and a gorgeous new fade.
Of the tiny differences only Beatleheads who know the original like the face of their mother will spot, more of the improvised vocal yelps of Lennon and (especially) McCartney are retained throughout, Preston’s keyboard licks are more prominent on “I’ve Got A Feeling”, and Lennon’s rhythm guitar and the vocals are more defined generally. In fact, there’s an immediacy and muscle to the sound, particularly the rockers (“One After 909”, always a good performance, now sounds huge), that gives the impression of everything being louder than everything else. Now that’s a good mix.
Spector’s edits on “Dig A Pony” and “I Me Mine” remain, though some may miss the raucous, always incomplete “Maggie Mae”, the saggy improvised jam “Dig It” and Lennon’s “Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-aids” intros. As compensation, there’s a 20-minute bonus disc?a mouth-watering taster for the extra footage of the Let It Be DVD, due in 2004?with around 25 items of other informal but fascinating studio flotsam, including Lennon singing McCartney’s first ever song, “I Lost My Little Girl”, and a snippet of a long lost Ringo song, “A Trip To Carolina”.
McCartney and Starr are said to be delighted. That makes three of us.