On Monday 17 November, 2003, nearly 34 years after the original recordings, The Beatles' Let It Be album was finally released as it was originally recorded.
Behind The Original Recordings
When the Beatles finished recording The White Album1 in October, 1968 they were unsure of what to do next. By January, 1969, Paul McCartney was enthusiastic about working with a specific aim in mind - a live concert of new songs. Although the final venue for this concert was never agreed upon, several locations were suggested, including the Albert Hall, a cruise liner, the Sahara Desert or a Roman amphitheatre. Work for this, the Get Back project, began.
Glyn Johns worked as balance engineer and as an uncredited producer, and Denis O'Dell was appointed as producer of the TV Show. Denis O'Dell suggested that the rehearsals should themselves be filmed to create a documentary on Beatles At Work, with Michael Lindsey-Hogg2 as director.
The project suffered difficulties from its start on 2 January. Principally, being under the constant and eternal surveillance of being filmed, the Twickenham Film Studio had a claustrophobic atmosphere. The Twickenham studio building itself did nothing to help the mood as the studio lights sometimes made it unbearably hot inside - yet it also suffered from chilling draughts.
By Friday 10 January the idea had collapsed. Paul McCartney had an argument with John Lennon, and George Harrison had had enough, and announced that he was leaving the Beatles, saying 'See you 'round the clubs!'. George Harrison later described the Get Back sessions as 'the low of all time' and John Lennon agreed by calling them 'Hell... the most miserable sessions of all time.' On Wednesday 15 George had a meeting with the other three and said he would return to the Beatles on two conditions - that they made a studio album and not a live performance, and also they would move from Twickenham Film Studios into the Apple Building.
The Apple Sessions
The Apple recording sessions were a lot happier than at Twickenham. Not only was the building a more comfortable and familiar place, but Billy Preston, a talented pianist and old friend, was brought in to play too. The Beatles had met Billy Preston during their Hamburg days in 1962 at the Star Club, where Billy Preston was in Little Richard's backing group.
The Concert On The Roof
On Thursday 30 January, eleven songs were performed outside on the roof in what was the Beatles' last live performance, three versions of 'Get Back,' two of 'Don't Let Me Down,' and 'I've Got A Feeling,' as well as 'The One After 909,' 'Dig A Pony,' 'God Save The Queen' plus a few seconds of 'Danny Boy.' George Harrison, though, only sang on 'I've Got A Feeling,' as he was not entirely convinced by the idea of a concert. By the beginning of the third performance of 'Get Back,' the police had arrived and the performance was over.
The next day, Friday 31 January, 1969, the final Get Back session was completed, with indoor performances of the quieter songs 'The Long And Winding Road,' 'Let It Be' and 'Two Of Us' which were felt to be unsuited for an outside performance. The project was abandoned, and the Beatles were fed up of the whole idea. Glyn Johns, though, worked to make the material recorded in January into an album.
The Unreleased Get Back Albums
He produced two versions, one on the 28 May, 1969, and the other on 5 January, 1970. On the second version it was decided that it would include two more songs that had been included in the film Let It Be. The first was John's 'Across the Universe,' which had been recorded back in February, 1968 and had been released on the World Wildlife Fund December, 1969 charity album No-One's Gonna Change My World3. The second was George's 'I Me Mine,' the only Beatles song to be recorded in the 1970s.
The Get Back Albums
The first two attempts to create an album from the recordings are, interestingly, different in places from either Let It Be album.
|The 1969 Album
|The 1970 Album
The album cover was designed to show that the Beatles had gone full circle, as it showed the Beatles in a pose identical to the one they had used on the cover of Please Please Me, their first album. Even the words used on the front cover were similar, using the same font. It said 'GET BACK with Let It Be and 11 other songs,' echoing 'PLEASE PLEASE ME with Love Me Do and 12 other songs.' This photo, though not used for the Get Back project, was later used on the The Beatles 1967 - 1970 Blue Album.
In the end, neither version of the Get Back album was used. On 3 January, 1970, the band returned to work on songs for the album, recording 'I Me Mine' without John. After two days more work, the second Get Back album version was produced. The Beatles were unsure as to whether they liked the album or not, and again abandoned the project.
The Original Let It Be
On Monday 23 March, Phil Spector4 started work at John and George's invitation to reproduce the Get Back tapes. It was from this moment on that the project started to be called Let It Be, along with the film that was accompanying it. By the 2 April Phil Spector had finished. The album was released on 8 May.
Paul McCartney, who had opposed Phil Spector's appointment from the beginning, was unhappy with the album. He objected to the overdubbed sounds that had been placed on his songs without his permission, especially 'The Long And Winding Road' was changed. He also felt that his song 'Let It Be' had been deliberately sandwiched between the album's weakest songs, 'Dig It' and 'Maggie Mae', neither of which were even full length. It was introduced by John Lennon's degrading and spiteful comment, ‘And Now We'd Like To Do 'Ark The Angels Come’.
He had attempted to have the album changed before release, but was ignored. Let It Be... Naked is not only the version of the album he would have wanted, but one with only the sounds that Beatles and Billy Preston recorded - without Phil Spector's 'wall of sound' background noise.
The Two Let It Be Albums
|Let It Be 1970
|Let It Be... Naked
Let It Be has a reputation for being one of the weakest of the Beatles albums. This is perhaps unfair considering the strength of the songs on the album - three of the 11 songs were number one hits. Not only were 'Let It Be' and 'The Long And Winding Road' number one hits in the US, but 'Get Back' was number one worldwide, including in Australia, Canada, France and West Germany. It was number one in the United Kingdom for six weeks between April - June, 1969 and for five weeks in America between May and June. The album Let It Be not only topped the British charts but in the US it received advance orders for a record four million copies.
So, what were the inspirations behind the songs on the album?
'Get Back' was famously originally intended to be a political song, a satire on the racist attitudes present in Britain and the US. It was originally about someone who thought that immigrants should 'get back to where they once belonged,' with the message that everyone's ancestors were immigrants at sometime or other. This idea did not work well, and only the chorus was retained with new verses written in the Apple studio.
The mention of Tucson, Arizona was a reference to Linda Eastman - Paul McCartney's wife - who had lived there. The song later became a reference to the aim behind the Get Back/Let It Be project - to get back to the Beatles' musical roots.
'Dig A Pony'
'Dig A Pony' was a combination of two songs - the chorus of 'All I Want Is You,' a song John wrote about Yoko Ono, and 'Con A Lowry,' a nonsense song that John Lennon described in September, 1980 as 'another piece of garbage.' The combined song was originally called 'All I Want Is You,' this line being originally more prominent, as is evident on the 'Anthology' version, with 'Con A Lowry' being changed to 'Dig A Pony' because as John said, 'Con A Lowry’ didn't sing well...it's got to be d's and p's you know.'
'For You Blue'
'For You Blue,' the first of George Harrison's song compositions to appear on Let It Be... Naked was an experiment by George Harrison to write a traditional happy-go-lucky blues song.
'The Long And Winding Road'
For those who want to know, the inspiration for 'The Long And Winding Road' came from the B842, which runs from Paul McCartney's farm at High Park, Scotland, sixteen miles along the east coast of Kintyre to Campbeltown, the nearest town to the farm.5
'Two Of Us'
The opening song of the original Let It Be album, 'Two Of Us' also featured predominantly in the film Let It Be where John and Paul play acoustic guitars together. It is in fact a song written by Paul about his relationship with Linda, not his musical partnership with John.
'I've Got A Feeling'
'I've Got A Feeling' was a combination of two songs, Paul's 'I've Got A Feeling' and John's 'Everybody Had A Hard Year.' Although in the Let It Be film John states that he had written it the night before - in January, 1969 - it was written before December as footage of him singing it in his Ascot home shows.
John had indeed had a hard year as he had divorced his first wife Cynthia, lost contact with his son Julian, his wife Yoko Ono had suffered a miscarriage and he had been arrested for drug possession.
'One After 909'
'One After 909' was the oldest song on the album, and perhaps the oldest Lennon and McCartney song recorded by the Beatles. It was written in 1957 by John as an attempt to write an American-style railway song in the same vein as 'Last Train To San Fernando', 'Freight Train' and 'Rock Island Line.' It was a song that John and Paul never forgot - singing it in the 5 March, 1963 session that produced 'From Me To You' and 'Thank You Girl,' both sides of their third single. Although it failed to impress George Martin, that early recording of it can be heard on the Beatles Anthology 1 album.
This song shows that the Let It Be sessions had indeed encouraged the Beatles to get back to where they had started with one of the songs they had written when truanting off school...
'Don't Let Me Down'
Although not released on the original Let It Be album, this song was intricately linked to the Get Back sessions and was one of those sung on the roof of the Apple building. It was a song of John's about his early worries of his relationship with Yoko.
'I Me Mine'
'I Me Mine' is the second George Harrison song to appear on the album and was inspired by his pursuit of Eastern philosophy - in order to attain enlightenment, the ego and personal possessions must be sacrificed and abandoned.
'Across The Universe'
'Across The Universe' was a song written by John after an argument with Cynthia. As he lay in bed, unable to sleep, the lyric 'pools of sorrow, waves of joy' kept repeating in his mind. John has said, 'It drove me out of bed. I didn't want to write it, I was just slightly irritable and I couldn't go to sleep.'
It was recorded back in February, 1968, when John had hoped it would be the next single, but Paul's 'Lady Madonna' was released instead. John later described it as his favourite Beatles' song, and in 1975 played guitar for David Bowie's cover version on his Young Americans album.
'Let It Be'
Although the title suggests it was written as the last Beatles single deliberately, at the time of recording no-one knew it would be the last.
It was a song written at a time when the Beatles were beginning to fall apart - the hour of darkness - and was inspired by a dream Paul had about his mother Mary, who had died when Paul was 14. The hymn-like style suits the song perfectly, with the words 'Mother Mary' in the lyrics evoking thoughts of the Virgin Mary.
Let It Be... Naked
In 2000, Paul McCartney bumped into Michael Lindsay-Hog, director of the film Let It Be that documented those difficult studio sessions as well as that legendary rooftop performance of 'Get Back'. Michael suggested to Paul that it would be a good idea to release a DVD of the film, restored and with additional footage, as is the norm with DVDs. Realising that it would make sense to remaster the Let It Be album as well, Paul remembered the album he'd wanted to release all those years ago and decided to contact the people at Apple to set about making that album a reality.
Since 1968, the Beatles' 'Apple' company had been in the hands of their former tour manager, Neil Aspinall. Aspinall had managed to stay friends with the Beatles even when the individual members hadn't been talking in all the years, and it was he who was responsible for the Anthology albums and the greatest hits compilation, 1, that managed to keep interest in the Beatles going well into the 21st Century6. Together with Aspinall, Yoko Ono, George Harrison's widow Olivia and of course Ringo Starr, McCartney went back to where he once belonged to create Let It Be... Naked, stripped of all the Phil Spector production that had alienated McCartney at the time and with a line-up of tracks closer to the original vision for the project.
So, how does Let It Be... Naked compare to the original Let It Be? Although there are many who have automatically branded this album release a pure exercise in trying to con fans out of more money and at first glance may not notice any difference from the version of Let It Be that has existed since 1970, Let It Be... Naked is in fact quite a different album. It is a purer Beatles experience and the better for it, making Phil Spector's 'wall of sound' approach sounding quite dated and even cheesy in places.
That the album has removed many of the original speeches can only be considered a good thing; comments such as 'I Dig A Pygmy By Charles Hawtrey And The Deaf Aids - Phase One In Which Doris Gets Her Oats' failed to add anything to the album originally. The album design too is effective, even if not the original Get Back design. Not only is it a reminder of the original Let It Be design, it continues the 'album laid bare' ethos with the negatives of the famous photos on the cover.7
The album is short, at only thirty-five minutes long, yet the bonus Let It Be... Naked - Fly On The Wall disc features rehearsal material from the recording sessions, and adds an invaluable insight behind the making of the album. The running order seems more logical, with the song 'Let It Be' being a fitting end to the album and a natural follow-on from 'Across The Universe'. That the short extracts 'Dig It' and 'Maggie Mae' are missing does not adversely affect the album as short extracts from them are both present on the Fly On The Wall disc.
The inclusion of 'Don't Let Me Down' - released as the 'Get Back' single's B-Side in April, 1969 more than makes up for their absence and is a logical inclusion to the album as it was on both the Get Back album versions compiled by Glyn Johns.
There are other tracks which could have been included on the 'Let It Be... Naked' album. These include 'Teddy Boy,' 'Rocker,' and 'Save the Last Dance For Me,' all of which were on the original Get Back line-ups. 'Teddy Boy' was a Paul McCartney song, and was on his McCartney album. A version dating from the Let It Be sessions is on the Beatles Anthology. 'Rocker' was a group instrumental, and is unavailable. 'Save The Last Dance For Me' was a song originally released by The Drifters in 1960, but had often been sung by John during their Liverpool and Hamburg days. The original version of 'Dig It' lasted just under four minutes, but the version that ended up on the Let It Be album was only 58 seconds long. Even though it is a jam and not a fully-developed song, the full version could perhaps have been included on the new album.
All in all, Let It Be... Naked is an album well worth listening to. It was an album all but demanded by Beatles fans after hearing the unadulterated 'The Long And Winding Road' on the Beatles Anthology. Although many of the songs on Let It Be... Naked did indeed appear on the Beatles Anthology albums8,' the songs on Let It Be... Naked are full-length and high-quality.
Let It Be... Naked is essentially the pure, unchanged realisation of the Beatles' vision. George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were undoubtedly the best songwriters of their era and Phil Spector's 'wall of sound' dubs and sound effects only interfered with that. Paul McCartney has said:
If we'd have had today's technology back then, it would sound like this because this is the noise that we made in the studio. It's all exactly as it was in the room. You're right there now.
And who can argue with that?