Released just after Paul McCartney announced the Beatles had broken up, the bulk of Let It Be had been abandoned in early 1969, after recording sessions for the proposed Get Back album proved so acrimonious that George Martin gave up on his boys and the boys began to give up on themselves (cf. the Let It Be film). Regrouping with renewed purpose, the Beatles (and a reassured Mr. Martin) recorded Abbey Road, their apex album.
Capital vitality momentarily restored, a decision was reached to revisit Get Back, the band entrusted Glyn Johns with piecing together a proper album. (Two songs–“I Me Mine” and “Across the Universe”–required further studio time.) No one was happy with Johns’ handiwork, however, so John Lennon and George Harrison went behind the backs of Paul McCartney and George Martin to enlist the services of one Phil Spector, the producer legendary for his “Wall of Sound” recording technique, which consisted of many guitarists playing identical parts in unison in an echo chamber, producing pure reverb reaction. But what’s good for the “Be My Baby” might not be so good for “Let It Be,” right? Some people thought so, but I’ll save that for the end.
A fantastic addition to the shebang was key-tickler extraordinaire Billy Preston, who the fellas knew from the Hamburg salad days and who just happened to be in London doing sessions for Ray Charles when George Harrison plucked him up and brought him to the rest of the band like, “Do any of you freaks here ever remember Billy?” “Straight on!”
I can’t imagine how depressing it must have been for Beatle-heads to get this album and just stare at that cover of broken blocks, and listen to the songs, realizing their beloved group was now splintered off. I wonder how many people thought reunion was imminent.
The film version is worth a look for its glance at a once-vigorous linchpin of the culture on junebug legs. The rooftop concert is momentous and melancholy. The Beatles nabbed an Oscar for the score, beating out A Boy Named Charlie Brown. At a pre-awards show gathering honoring all the nominees, Charlie Brown producer Lee Mendelsohn was approached by Paul McCartney and congratulated on a certain victory. When Mendelsohn expressed shock, Paul insisted, “No, no doubt about it, it’s ‘Charlie Brown.'”
“Two of Us”–Paul wrote this for Linda, sure, but John’s in there too. In a way this is the ultimate anthem for the J & P Show, who were at critical junctures as individual men–both were with the women who would prove to be their great loves but both were severing from the other when it came to their shared great love, music. Where John heard irreversible sonic stasis, Paul saw ample opportunity in continuing on, with easily applicable solutions available to all troublesome situations.
Both guys were wrong, but that’s all right. For the entirety of this duet, they shine like the hubcaps on a top-dropped Caddy, feet bumping a rhythm against the dashboard, smiling faces glancing at the expanse of forever on either side and giddily wondering how the soul can feel so alive when there’s no sign of another one around.
“You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.”
Two old friends, driving on a road that will only seem one day to end.
“Dig A Pony”–John wrote this for Yoko, but she should’ve given it back. Ba-zing. Oh it’s a laugh a line with the free association of Lennon! The intro is the pinnacle, an engrossing tangle of axes and hacksaws that settles into a loping drawl. References and recalls abound (Rolling Stones, Johnny and the Moondogs) over some nicely trashed guitar tones. Lennon explains his lyrics thusly–“I was just having fun with words.” Dare I say there is no greater fun to be had.
“Across the Universe”–A melody so obstinate it drove Lennon out of his bed one night, this spiritual/mystical meditation suffers from poor mixing and lackluster vocals. The rushed and clipped nature of the lines can work, but the used vocal take is the definition of demo. It’s further devalued by Paul’s decision to recruit a couple Apple Scruffs from outside the studio to sing backup, although for Lizzie Bravo and Gaylen Pease, they had a couple hours that’ll last forever, so who cares what I think.
The lyrics themselves are by and large wonderful, imagery that aims not to splatter the walls with its colors but rather to streak the sky. I wonder how many brains Lennon scrambled when he threw the Sanskrit in there. (Jai guru deva, om roughly translated as “I praise the god divine.”)
“Nothing’s gonna change my world.” Is that such a good thing? Isn’t that kind of closed minded? Or just the level of devotion you need to further the soul? It’s a ponder. For all its flaws, innate and otherwise, I can’t ignore that “Across the Universe” is one of the wisest songs the Beatles ever did.
“I Me Mine”–More spirit desire from God’s Man Till the End himself. The Buddhist doctrine of “No Ego” seeks the death of the untrue self, as it is that self, forever craving and thus unfulfilled and eternal, that keeps the believer from attaining awareness. It is not a philosophy, but a profound religious practice that separates the worms from the corn very quickly.
This is a very good song, making it the bizarro “Within You and Without You.” How it shifts from mournful weeping to chafing to back is jarring and a bit fun.
“Dig It”–It took all four of them to write this song? It’s 51 seconds long. Dig It, A Pony. Fixing to Dig a Hole For a Pony. FBI, CIA, BBC, this one was DOA but they just wouldn’t put the heart paddles away.
“Let It Be“–Paul’s mother Mary passed when her son was fourteen years old, but for well or ill, our mothers are always with us. As the song says, she visited her son in a dream to provide reassurance, encouragement, and most of all love, which while not all we need, is so important that only our souls understand. His mother is my mother, is your mother, and so on.
It starts off just Paul, his plaintive words, and a piano rumbling desultorily. He is joined in turn by the rest of the band, as well as Billy Preston (whose brief break here is phenomenal), Linda on backing vocals and some unfortunate Spector hounds. None of them are as strong a presence as mother Mary. Her advice is simple, and just what her son needed to hear from the person he needed to hear it from. Moms make sense. Listen when they talk. They do not traffic in double-speak. They offer up wisdom and counsel common among those who know what it is to put someone else above themselves and keep them there forever.
It’s easy, and popular, for folks so inclined to hear religious overtones in “Let It Be,” and Paul has never said or done anything to disabuse anyone of that notion. This interpretive leg-room assures that the song remains timeless.
“Maggie Mae”–Sweet Christ on a cracker, did Paul get an Apple Scruff to sequence this album too? A traditional Liverpool folk number about a thieving whore. A mere skirmish on the outskirts, a meandering retread that despite its infinite disposability is still leagues better than Rod Stewart’s projectile vomit spew bucket of the same name. “Wake up Maggie, I think I got somethin‘ to say to you/Why do hot women sleep with me even though I’m uglier than an alcoholic’s liver?”
“I’ve Got a Feeling”–Ah, but are you hooked on it?
A combination of a Paul song (the titular offering) with a John one (“Everybody Had a Hard Year,” especially the Mighty Quinn, eh John?) and that’s a virtual certificate of authenticity with sharp corners, suitable for framing, but not every frame is suitable for it!
Well, this is a good ‘un. Coulda used thicker bottom end, but (insert joke about white women’s butts here). Singers always got the feeling and they got it deep inside, and they are unable to hide it. Why can’t one fucking time they have the feeling at the surface and they are able to conceal it quite well. That’s impressive. And a bit sociopathic.
“One After 909”–One of the very first songs John Lennon ever wrote, and it has that glorious road-dog stench all over it. Pure rock and roll, it had to hearten them all to some degree that despite the many years, experiments, disagreements and disillusionment, they could still replicate that early, gleeful vibe.
“The Long and Winding Road”–A heart-squeezer absolutely ruined by PHIL SPECTOR’S UNSTOPPABLE GENIUS. Motherfucker produced this song like Michael Bay directs movies. THAT ASTEROID IS GOING TO KILL US ALL. WHY END A LINE OF DIALOGUE WITH ONE EXCLAMATION POINT WHEN THERE’S THREE OR MORE TO BE HAD. Can you feel the emotion in Paul’s words? Of course you can’t, you poor simple! MORE VIOLA! Voila! Now you’re affected! In saccharine we trust!
Paul notoriously despised Spector’s treatment of “The Long and Winding Road.” I’m right there with him, except for his complaint that “I would never have female voices on a Beatles record.” Not because it’s sexist, but because…
“Across the Universe” features two female vocalists, as invited by Paul.
It is important to remember that Paul McCartney has smoked a planet’s worth of weed before passing judgment.
“For You Blue”–This is from George to wife Patti, but I always imagined it was about a dog. Sorry Patti. Please blame Nickelodeon. And really, I’d rather continue interpreting it as such. When’s the last time you heard of a man divorcing his dog?
In keeping with the album’s general lack of electricity, this is an acoustic rollicker with John’s lap steel keeping pace alongside, Ringo waiting at the finish line with checkered flags and a shit-munching grin on his hirsute gob. The Elmore James adlib is one of two moments in a Beatles song that makes me laugh into the air whenever I hear it. (For the other, read my White Album review.)
“Get Back”–Immigration was a heated topic in England ’round this time, and a bootleg version of this song features Paul addressing the issue in a less-than accepting tone. Possibly more offensive than the content of the lyrics is the refusal to make anything rhyme.
In the version that made the album, gone is the prickish polemic, and in its place a tale of some confused, wayward souls that need a reboot. Always a smart idea, and I’m glad Paul took his own advice here.
“Get Back” is marvelously contained, the sum of all its low-key parts. John’s solo work is tentative but perfect, and the same can be said for Preston’s keyboard solo as well. That’s some well-deserved claps at the end (taken from the rooftop gig), topped off with John’s send-off: “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and myself and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”
In 2003, Let It Be…Naked was released. At Paul’s behest, the original session tapes were mixed from scratch by Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Allan Rouse, with some buffing through ProTools. The aim was to release a version of the album closer to what the band intended: not some flowery, syrupy soundtrack fit to win a major award, but a stripped-down rock record. “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It” were excised, and replaced with “Don’t Let Me Down,” a song which had first appeared on “Past Masters Volume Two” (albeit a different take) and which I will cover when reviewing that particular record.
The differences are myriad and major. The album begins with “Get Back,” shunting “Two of Us” to the middle of the pack and placing the title track at the end. This “Get Back” features no pause/fade-out or rooftop yak. Extraneous yak is also cut from “Dig A Pony,” and the vocal take used sounds fuller. If you liked John’s introductory blather in “Two of Us,” that’s gone too. “For You Blue” emphasizes the acoustic pricks and jabs in both channels, and suffers mildly for it.
The question of whether or not Let It Be should have had its nudie pictures leaked to the public is answered when you consider the flab-free versions of the title track, “Across the Universe,” and “The Long and Winding Road.” Each song sounds rescued and refreshed, now freed from suffocating pomp. “Let It Be” has a different guitar solo and drum work (which to me personally is inferior to Ringo’s work on the original); “Across the Universe” reaches its potential, crisper and more confident, as John no longer sounds afraid to bare his soul.
“The Long and Winding Road,” really, what can one say? It’s like when a baby is born, and they got that crap all over ’em, and you’re like EWW and then the nurses clean the baby up, and AWW! How refreshing to not be ambushed by Phil Spector and his Orchestral Maneuvers of Doom. Now we can hear Paul’s song for what it is, a heart-crackling plea to his bandmates to somehow repair their disintegrating situation. If you leave me, we’ll all regret it more than is possible to know at this moment.
In the end, it was Paul who walked away.