Monday, February 21, 2011

The Beatles-Let It Be

Originally Written and Posted at on 1/25/10.

From 1962-1967, the Beatles were indeed the most popular band in the world as they released countless albums all of which were hits critically and commercially. The release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 was the Beatles hitting their peak as the band were having plans for much bigger things. Unfortunately, something happened with the death of their manager Brian Epstein in August of 1967 of an accidental drug overdose. Epstein's death would mark the beginning of the end as the band's plans to create their own business corporation known as Apple Corps would only create a lot of financial trouble for the band.

Without a manager to handle business things and several of the band's personnel being unaware of how to handle things. Trouble was brewing as the 1968 sessions for The White Album was fraught with tension as the Beatles were coming apart. With 1968 giving way to 1969, tension was at an all-time high as Paul McCartney had a plan to hopefully ease things while making something creative that would hopefully get the back to performing live. The project was entitled Get Back in which it would be a multi-media project with an album, a TV concert special, and a film. At the same time, the music would be a back-to-basics approach with no overdubs or multi-layered recordings as it would involve no studio trickery. All of which seemed like a good idea but once the band got started on the project. Everything however, went wrong.

Joining in the session to oversee things was the band's longtime producer George Martin along with another renowned producer in Glyn Johns. Yet, neither Martin nor Johns had any idea of what role they were playing as the tension between the whole band was becoming toxic. Even the presence of John Lennon's new companion in Yoko Ono only made things worse. Rehearsing at a sound stage in Twickenham Studios was an atmosphere that was unpleasant with the cold weather surrounding the band along with a film crew headed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg documenting all that is happening.

The personal tension within the band came ahead when George Harrison briefly quit following a spat with McCartney along with the feeling of being treated with disrespect by Lennon and McCartney. Following Harrison's brief departure, the band left Twickenham studios to go to the Apple studios due to Harrison's suggestion as he also brought in famed gospel musician Billy Preston for the sessions. Preston's presence eased things where the band played what would become their last live performance on January 30, 1969 on the rooftop of Apple studios with Preston as it would later spawn the single release of Get Back/Don't Let Me Down in April of that year.

Though the live performance was a hit with the band despite being stopped by the police over noise complaints. The sessions for Get Back however, was a miserable experience as the band shelved the project while handing the recordings to Glyn Johns to oversee things. Though it was planned for a July release, problems were continuing within the band over business issues that would later see the loss of the band's Northern Songs publishing though George Harrison and Ringo Starr both made their own publishing for songs they made from 1968 and so on that they've managed to keep. At the same time, the planned TV concert special was scrapped while the documentary was in delay. The album was pushed back from September and later to December as the band's last studio album Abbey Road was released in late September.

By late 1969/early 1970, John Lennon had already left the band though it wasn't revealed publicly while the rest tried to help Glyn Johns in another attempt to mix the Get Back album. McCartney and Starr were also helping Harrison finish recordings on a song as the results for the second version of the album was unsatisfactory. With Johns out of the project, a new producer was brought into the fold in renowned American producer Phil Spector. Spector, who had created numerous hit singles with his Wall of Sound production style in the early 1960s, had just worked with John Lennon on the single Instant Karma! as the band's manager Allen Klein asked Spector to go to England. Though Lennon and Harrison were enthused by the idea of Spector overseeing the material that had been largely recorded in January of 1969. Yet, the final results of the album would end up playing a large part into the band's break-up as it would be entitled Let It Be.

Let It Be is an album in which the Beatles attempt to go back to basics with just a guitar, bass, and drums along with some keyboards provided by Billy Preston. While a large part of the material features a simple rock n' roll sound which includes covers and fragmented material that was made during those sessions. The album is largely remixed by producer Phil Spector who would add overdubbed strings and choir arrangements. While the band's longtime producer George Martin along with Glyn Johns provide some production work on a few tracks. The result is a fascinating yet stellar release from the Beatles but not a worthy epitaph that lives up to the band's legendary stature.

Opening the album is Two Of Us, a plaintive folk-style track with John Lennon and Paul McCartney singing together with acoustic guitars about the relationship of two people in a playful manner. With Ringo Starr's simple, thumping back beat and George Harrison's soothing bass line played on a guitar, it is a highlight of the album as it is a wonderful duet between Lennon and McCartney, the latter of which sings a solo section in the track. Dig A Pony is a mid-tempo rocker with driving guitar riffs from Lennon and Harrison along with Starr's rumbling, pulsating drum fill. Lennon sings the track with lyrics filled with his devotion to Yoko Ono as McCartney plays a smooth bass line that features Harrison's flourishing, bluesy guitar track and a wonderful drum fill from Starr.

The ballad Across The Universe, which is presented in a re-recorded fashion from its original 1968 recording that was released as part of a compilation in 1969, has Lennon singing imagery-laden lyrics with spiritual chants as he plays a washy acoustic guitar track. Featuring Harrison's flourishes of sitar and tambura with Starr's performance on the maracas, the track also includes lush arrangements of choir and strings by Phil Spector that adds an atmospheric texture to the track. Harrison's I Me Mine is led by McCartney's wailing organ and Harrison's bluesy guitar solo as it starts off as a swooning ballad that features Spector's overdubbed yet soothing string arrangements. Harrison sings the song filled with harrowing lyrics of neglect. The song's tempo picks up a bit for a raucous jam with Starr's pulsating drums and Harrison's swirling guitar as it returns to its soothing tempo as it one of Harrison's stellar songs. Dig It is a short, fifty-one second track written by the band which is an excerpt of a jam as it is written by the band. The track features Preston playing a wailing organ with Starr's thumping drum and Lennon singing nonsensical lyrics with McCartney on piano and Harrison on a driving guitar track.

The album's title track is a piano ballad that is presented in a very different version than its original 1970 single version that was produced by George Martin and Chris Thomas. Though the main, somber piano melody with McCartney's lyrics inspired by McCartney's late mother remain intact. The song features some overblown string and horn arrangements by Phil Spector that really loses the simplicity of the song while Harrison's guitar solo is more heroic with Starr's drums having a more delayed feel in its performance during Harrison's solo. Maggie Mae is a traditional folk song arranged by the band as they jam through the track with Lennon and McCartney on swift acoustic guitars as they sing the track filled with playful lyrics as Harrison plays a driving guitar with Starr's bouncy drums.

I've Got A Feeling is a bluesy rocker with swirling, arpeggio guitar riffs from Harrison that is accompanied by Preston's melodic organ track. McCartney sings the song with growling vocals as it intensifies in its performance with swanky guitars and Starr's thumping drum tracks. With McCartney singing soulful lyrics about love, Lennon would sing a part in the song filled with more cynical lyrics in a playful manner as the song is one of the band's standout cuts. One After 909 is an old song Lennon and McCartney wrote back in 1957 as it is led by a bouncy, melodic electric piano solo from Billy Preston with thumping beats from Starr. A song about a freight train, it is a playful number with Harrison's driving guitar as Lennon and McCartney sing the fun song with Lennon leading the way as it is one of the band's most fun tracks.

The band's final single in The Long & Winding Road is a piano ballad sung by McCartney as he plays it with a piano with somber lyrics. While it's a fantastic ballad, what keeps it from being great is Phil Spector's overblown string and horn arrangements along with choir arrangements that makes the song sound very sappy that forces Billy Preston's organ performance to be barely heard. While the song in its original recording by George Martin that appears in the Anthology and Let It Be... Naked versions are superior in what McCartney wanted, the final version by Spector is without a doubt one of the worst additions to any track.

Harrison's For You Blue is an upbeat blues song that has Harrison playing a washy acoustic track with Lennon on a soothing lap steel guitar. With Starr's bouncy drum and McCartney's flourishing piano, it's a song that works with Harrison's playful lyrics to a girl as it shows a great enthusiasm to the jam that is happening throughout. The album closer is a live performance of Get Back that is remixed by Phil Spector. With the band talking before the performance and Starr's rollicking drum fill with a back beat rhythm and Lennon's sliding guitar. It's a playful ditty that is a bit different from the famed single version as it still includes Preston's playful electric piano solo as it a fantastic song that closes with Lennon saying that he hopes the band had passed the audition.

When the album was completed in April of 1970, the result was mixed with Paul McCartney being very unhappy about what Phil Spector had done on several tracks, notably The Long & Winding Road. This would force McCartney to publicly announce that he's leaving the Beatles as the news of the break-up emerged where by the end of the year, McCartney was suing the band as a legal dissolution would go on for a few years. The album was released on May 8, 1970 to mixed reviews with critics divided over the album and its content. Many of the criticism was leveled at Phil Spector's production and remixing on several tracks. While the album would top the charts in the U.S. and U.K., the album also divided fans who were also critical of Spector's work as the album was re-released as Let It Be... Naked in 2003 with Glyn Johns' work of the album without Spector's work to mixed reviews.

The 2009 remastered version of the album that appears in the stereo box set and as an individual album does feature some of the best remastering that is available. The studio chatter is heard much better along with some of the instrumentation that isn't overshadowed by Spector's production. While the simple sounds of tracks are heard in a much clear form, the stuff with Spector's remixing and production does work as they're remembered but will probably still be hated by Beatles purists. Still, the remastering of the album is overall superb in what recreating what it sounded like back in 1970.

Let It Be is an excellent album from the Beatles but one that is quite flawed. Despite an amazing amount of material and songs that the band created along with studio chatter. It's a record that never felt complete. The one negative aspect that isn't new to anyone is the work of Phil Spector. While he is without a doubt an amazing producer, the work he does for this album for the most part isn't very good though his remix of Across The Universe is phenomenal. In the end despite some flaws, Let It Be is a fine album that is fun to listen to but hardly the great epitaph that lives up to the legend of the Beatles.

The Beatles Reviews: Please Please Me - With the Beatles - A Hard Day's Night - Beatles for Sale - Help! - Rubber Soul - Revolver - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Magical Mystery Tour - The White Album - Yellow Submarine OST - Abbey Road - (1962-1966) - (1967-1970) - Past Masters - (Live at the BBC) - (Anthology 1) - (Anthology 2) - (Anthology 3) - (Let It Be... Naked) - (Love)

(C) thevoid99 2011

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