On Monday 17th November 2003, nearly thirty four years after the original recordings, the Beatles Let It Be album was finally been released as 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. The final venue for this concert was never agreed upon, although 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 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 the 2nd January. Principally, being constantly filmed in the Twickenham Film Studio, under eternal surveillance, 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 10th January the idea collapsed. Paul McCartney had an argument with John Lennon, and George Harrison had had enough, and said 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 15th George had a meeting with the other three and said he would return to the Beatles on two conditions. That they made an album and not a live performance, and also 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 more comfortable and a familiar place, but also because 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 30th 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, not being entirely convinced by the idea. By the beginning of the third performance of Get Back, the Police had arrived and the performance was over.
The next day, Friday 31st 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 28th May 1969, and the other on 5th January 1970. On the second version it was decided to include two more songs that had been included in the film Let It Be. The first was John's superb 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 the 3rd 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 23rd March Phil Spector4 started work on John and George's invitation to re-produce 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 2nd April Phil Spector finished. The album was released on the 8th 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 had been treated. 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 are 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 had 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 America, but Get Back was number one world-wide, including 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. for two weeks in June 1970. The album Let It Be not only topped the British charts, in America 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 America. 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.
Tuscon, Arizona was a reference to Linda Eastman 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, 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, ""I
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, Yoko 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
5th 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, that 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 "Mother Mary" evoking thoughts of the Virgin Mary.
Let It Be... Naked
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, with 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 Hawtry 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.6
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 Paul McCartney's 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 albums7, 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 dubbs 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?
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