The Beatles - Let It Be....Naked
It’s easy to dislike The Beatles nowadays. The sixties’ generation have forever rammed down our throats the notion that new bands will never be as good as John, Paul, George & Ringo and that music as they knew it will forever be dead. Now that both John and George are sadly no longer with us, it’s easy to take out one’s anger of every new Beatles-related action solely on Paul just because one assumes he is the driving force. Recently, Paul angered many by trying to reverse the Lennon/McCartney credit arrangement on songs which Paul claims he wrote almost entirely on his own accord, and now many have drawn comparisons between him and Stalin for trying to rewrite history over the band’s most controversial album - Let It Be.
When the Fab Four initially recorded the album, it was provisionally titled Get Back and its aim was to “get back” to the band’s routes, through live-in-studio one-take recordings. This was the antithesis of the more-and-more complex production values the band were drawn to in collaboration with producer George Martin. Their idea to have the recording sessions filmed by a camera crew caused such disharmony amongst the band that the resulting documentary is almost a text-book guide to a rock group ready to implode and disband. Relationships between the four were so low that a glamourous live-concert finale for the film, said to occur in exotic locales as far ranging as Rome, ended up taking place as an impromptu gig a few steps upward from the band’s HQ – the Saville Row office rooftop of Apple. Regardless of the fact that this concert is arguably one of the most iconic moments of sixties’ counter-culture by it managing to bring busy London to a standstill, and helped to mythologize the band, it was still regrettably the last time the four would ever perform live together again, broken up by the Police investigating complaints from neighbouring offices unaware of the cause of the noise.
Disillusioned by the whole Get Back package, The Beatles unilaterally abandoned it, leaving it to gather dust in the vaults. Realising they were over as a band, the four teamed up once again with George Martin and kept to their best behaviour for their swansong, Abbey Road - arguably the finest album ever recorded. By the time of its release, the band were heavily involved in financial disputes over Allen Klein’s management policies, and engineer Glyn Johns was given the thankless task of cobbling together an album worthy of release. However, as two Johns efforts were rejected, wall-of-sound producer Phil Spector was hired against Paul’s wishes to tidy up the Get Back tapes and churn out something marketable as an album.
On paper, Phil Spector was the least suited producer for The Beatles’ targeted new approach of a back-to-basics no-frills sound. Spector’s work will forever be carved in the annals of music history with his fabulous work on earlier artists such as The Righteous Brothers and The Ronettes, but his production work on the Get Back tapes, now more aptly titled Let It Be, replaced raw energy with lacklustre mediocrity, and added unnecessary saccharine to many of the more ballad-style numbers. Paul, fiercely protective of his own songs, hated the multi-layering of orchestration and choirs that Spector added to The Long And Winding Road so much that he begged everyone connected to the project to have the song restored to its original glory.
However, Paul was clearly the most alienated member of the band at the time due to his differing ideas, and more importantly his decision to let his finances be managed by Linda Eastman’s dad instead of Klein, and somehow the Spector version, complete with over-the-top production, found its way onto the shop shelves on Let It Be. The final album package, whilst containing many classic Beatles songs, including three number one US singles, was criticised by many who felt the band had tarnished their flawless image by releasing an album drenched in animosity. Thirty-three years later, it is still regarded as a strong entry into the band’s magnificent discography.
Parallel to all this, The Beatles were close to bringing in a new member, black American keyboardist Billy Preston, a pal of George’s who was rapidly hurried in to augment the thin, rusty live sound the band produced, and to ensure everyone was on their best behaviour. Preston’s keyboard performances breathed such a vibrant breath of fresh air into the band that he could easily have been the “fifth Beatle” had the band not already ceased to exist, and Let It Be is the album in which Preston forces his musical talents onto the centre-stage with John, Paul, George & Ringo and commands equal share – certainly a commendable effort.
Paul’s efforts, both solo and with The Beatles, have often been overlooked because of his misjudged public persona and more precisely because John was tragically killed before he was allowed to grow old. Sequel films and cover versions of songs often taint the original referenced products, but Lennon was never given the opportunity to undo his historic musical actions by indulging in the eccentricities of his old age. McCartney however, has had to endure each and every one of his past actions scrutinised by the media for around forty years, and now that he is himself nearing “sixty-four”, realises he has some scores to settle. Thus, he has embarked on a mission to re-release Let It Be, sans the Spector wall-of-sound and naked as nature intended.
The public furore over the decision to re-release and "de-mix" Let It Be has been at the very least deeply hypocritical. It’s no different to Ridley Scott changing Blade Runner’s ending, or Warner keeping many Tom & Jerry classics locked away for good because they contain racist overtones. Sometimes history needs revising for its own sake. It’s so hip to have a go at McCartney that many traditionalists neglect to take the revisionist route by refusing to acknowledge that Paul was the only member in 1970 who deeply hoped life remained in his band. Granted, he was the first Beatle to publicly quit the band, but this was only because John had privately refused to sign a new EMI contract with the other three, effectively signalling a departure using Yoko Ono as a getaway car. Anyone who accuses McCartney of cashing in to make a quick buck, or trying to covertly phase out the old version for this new, naked version casually turn a blind eye to the man’s staggering personal wealth, alongside the blaze of publicity (and different title) this version has drummed up. Rather than “another McCartney vanity project, producers of the Let It Be…Naked claimed McCartney told them to go away and make an album out of the tapes, and when they submitted the finished article to him he was so pleased he didn’t request a single change.
The …Naked version omits two irrelevant fillers from the original version - the thirty-second traditional ditty Maggie May, and the rambling minute-long jam Dig It, but thankfully chooses to restore one of the greatest Lennon-penned songs into the proper line-up - Don’t Let Me Down, fresh from its Get Back b-side obscurity. Also, proper consideration has been given to the order of tracks, and one senses that for the first time Let It Be feels like a finished article of a studio album.
The powerful Paul rocker Get Back opens the new version of the album, and sounds so fresh that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was recorded this century. Each of the instruments are given room to breathe, as opposed to being condensed through single channels. It’s an abridged version of the single studio edit, omitting the reprise-close of the original and the studio chatter. Get Back’s an excellent choice to open proceedings as it kick-starts the band into their rockiest phase yet, and launches the potential for their most American sound, circling Music From Big Pink style The Band or the instrumentation of Creedance. Who knows where the seventies would have taken The Beatles had they not pulled each other in different directions?
Dig A Pony is culled, as in the original version, from the rooftop performance, although the legendary false-start has been trimmed from the cut, removing any last trace of the notion that this was actually recorded outside in a freezing cold January. Again, the “All I Want Is…” portions of the chorus have been excised, suggesting that maybe some of Spector’s trims have been looked at more favourably than others. It’s still a brilliant power-rock classic, suggesting ironic similarities between itself and Joe Cocker’s backing chorus is his cover of With A Little Help From My Friends.
George’s For You Blue, a love ballad about wife Patti, is a bottle-slide guitar blues number that despite feeling stripped down and very raw feels like a filler that slows up the pace of the album. You can forgive the ballad cuts that were good enough to be released as singles, but For You Blue would struggle to warrant inclusion on Harrison’s own All Things Must Pass, let alone a Beatles record.
Listening finally to how Paul wants us to hear The Long And Winding Road, it’s hard not to agree with him. His voice, bathed in sweetly toned reverb, suggests that his tender ballads are the best in the world, and this stripped down studio version, with just the four Beatles and Billy Preston’s keyboard layerings recorded, deliver the song as straight as was initially intended. Incidentally, this version is still different, particularly in the last verse, to the Anthology 3 version, and is by far the most superior version of the song ever released.
Excluding the “I Dig A Pygmy” announcement by John on the original, you’ll agree that Two Of Us sounds virtually identical to the previous Let It Be opening track. The acoustic dual-vocal effort by John & Paul is a pleasant positioned song at track five, but you really want to move swiftly to I’ve Got A Feeling.
I’ve Got A Feeling sounds as if it’s a nice fusion between the rooftop performances (two takes were made) and the Anthology 3 studio version. Sadly, the original Let It Be version was much better and a highlight on the album, whereas here the mixed-take version slows the pace a touch. As one of the few songs John & Paul co-wrote despite the God-like Lennon/McCartney partnership they formed, it stands as their last released songwriting collaboration whilst still part of The Beatles, and the freshness of the vocals sounds more alive than most contemporary performances.
One After 909 is simply a remixed version of the rooftop cut from the original album, and sounds all the bluesier for it, with George’s amazing guitar work given the chance to shine for once, contrasted by Billy Preston’s frantic keyboarding on the other side of the mix, it’s a brilliant support act for the next track.
Don’t Let Me Down, possibly the greatest b-side of all time, is finally given an airing on a proper album, and it’s an unreleased performance, fresh from the rooftop concert, and it’s the stand out track on Let It Be…Naked. Previously, it was the only song performed on the roof never to be officially released, and if you’re used to hissy mono bootlegs as reference, be prepared to throw away those expensive car-boot sale buys for good as this remastered mix is a stunning example of five people in perfect musical synch with one another. George’s lead guitar riffing over Paul’s fluctuating bass, in tandem with Ringo’s funky drum fills and John’s rhythm guitar (audible for once in contrast to the studio mix) suggests that this is the song that each member of the band has ultimate faith in. Billy Preston’s solo keyboarding is world-class, and he rightly warranted credit (and a place in history) when this was released as a single with Get Back. Don’t Let Me Down sends shivers down your spine, to the point where you’ll actually feel the chill of walking down Saville Row peering up to witness musical history. The only critical point to make is that John’s vocal nonsense has been removed from the second verse and replaced with a line from another take, which could stick out like a sore thumb for many die-hard fans.
George’s I Me Mine has been stripped of the orchestra and other erroneous overdubs, but has still been extended past its initial minute-and-a-half runtime. It’s a decent song, but compared to Abbey Road George left his best songs for that project. Something and Here Comes The Sun are in a masterclass all in their own compared to For You Blue and I Me Mine.
Across The Universe sounds far too slow and badly-pitched on the original Let It Be album, and has refreshingly been restored to its original tempo, and stripped of its mystical ambiance on …Naked. It’s a very popular John song and widely covered, and there have now been four different official versions released by The Beatles.
Let It Be is one of the few tracks that pale in comparison to Phil Spector’s version. On Spector’s, the drums were so prominent that they almost overshadowed the rest of the instrumentation, bar George’s brilliant, albeit tacked-on guitar solo. That version was better than George Martin’s single edit, and easily surpasses this new version on …Naked, even if this naked album rightly leaves Let It Be as the last track off the album.
Let It Be…Naked is a dazzling second draft of an album that clearly had the potential to be one of the greatest ever. Some of the tracks have been tidied, some of have been left virtually the same, and some have been completely invigorated. It’s almost the perfect Beatles record, in that it splits people right down the middle in terms of championing it or slating it. Producers Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Alan Rourke have done a thoroughly good job in bringing The Beatles' rock aesthetic to the immediate forefront of the mix, and tease us with the possibility that the band could still play live with the best of them, with Let It Be…Naked proving to be a dazzling thirty-five minute example. Whereas the bonus disc displays twenty minutes of band chatter further highlighting the increasing disharmony, the first disc suggested that on their day The Beatles were unbeatable. Maybe Paul should have let it lie, but if this is his way of exorcising his demons, then he certainly has earned it, as it’s finally a fitting epitaph for the greatest band of all time.