Let It Be
1970, Apple Records. Producer: Phil Spector.
Purchased CD, Approx. 1992.
IN A NUTSHELL: Let It Be is a collection of fantastic songs, many of them unfamiliar to the casual listener. The songs and performances by the band are wonderful, but the producer overlaid them with orchestras and choirs that very often muffle the music and at times completely obscure the band’s efforts. But there are a number of Lennon-McCartney songs that find the pair harmonizing like the old days, and the entire band performs brilliantly.
NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.
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I’ve written many times about growing up in my little town in Pennsylvania, being raised in a culture that was rather closed and homogenous, where there was an aversion to anything new and different. But there’s an aspect of my 70s rural PA childhood that I don’t think I’ve touched on yet[ref]Look, I’ve written about 120 of these posts, and if you think I’m going to go back and read all of them to see if I’ve done this angle before, well, you’re nuts.[/ref]. And that is the expectation, deeply held there among the people, that everyone should just “deal with it.” Whatever “it” may be. The solution is to “deal.”
Did you get the wrong order at a restaurant? “Deal with it.” Did the kid who cheated get a better grade than you? “Deal with it.” Did you get mercilessly teased and beaten because you’re gay or chubby or not white or a woman or bad at sports or too poor for cool clothes or part of a different religion? “Deal with it.”
Of course, one way to deal with a wrong order is to send it back; a good way to deal with cheaters is to let someone know; a way to deal with abusive systemic power structures is to work to change them. But this is NOT what the term “Deal with it” meant. What “Deal with it” meant is “keep your mouth shut and don’t upset anyone.”
(Somehow, though, to many of these steely, set-jaw, denizens of my region, if the “problem” was changing demographics and an influx of Spanish-speaking people, then “deal with it” apparently meant to yell insults and threats, and to urge for English-speaking standards, despite the fact that in generations past in this community nobody spoke English, and everyone spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. But I digress …)
This “deal with it” attitude was a hindrance to my development as a happy human being, and it’s something I continue to work on (with great success, I believe) so as to NOT pass it onto my children. But it can be difficult for me to advocate for myself.
For example, let’s say I helped make an album with a band I was in, and none of us really liked the final product, and there were bad feelings around the recording experience and lots of tension among my bandmates and me, and so everyone just left the record sit on a shelf for months. And let’s say that after a few months some folks went, essentially, behind my back to hire a famous producer to make changes to the album, and that when it was released I thought it sounded horrible and stunk to high-heaven, especially the songs that I’d written, and that I was – frankly – embarrassed by the record, no matter how commercially successful it eventually became. Imagine me in that situation, and I’ll tell you I probably NEVER would have thought to remix the entire thing and re-release it. But that’s what Paul McCartney did with Let It Be.
In 2003, McCartney oversaw the remix and re-release of the 1970 Beatles album Let It Be, my 9th-favorite Beatles album. He called it Let It Be… Naked[ref]The remix cover art used negative images of the photos on the original album, except for Harrison. His wide grin on the original looked like a bunch of ugly, black teeth when seen as a negative, so they chose a different photo.[/ref], a reflection of the stripped-down content of the songs.
Of course it was Dr. Dave who first introduced me to the original Let It Be. Our band, JB and The So-Called Cells, played lots of Beatles songs, and Let It Be has a bunch of songs that are fun to play – several of which are rather obscure to the casual music fan. Most people know “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Hey Jude,” but how many people really know where you can syndicate any boat you row? I dove into the album, and I loved it, and I never really considered how much extra stuff, like choirs and orchestras, had been added.
Now that I’m older, I still think it’s a great album, one of my favorites. But I like Let It Be… Naked so much more. It sounds like it’s a direct expression of the band, whereas the original seems like an interpretation. If I want to listen to the songs on Let It Be, I’ll listen to Let It Be… Naked. I’m rating the original release, because I’m following my rules, and it lands at #9. However, Let It Be… Naked would be higher.
But as I said: Let It Be is great!! It starts out with one of the coolest Lennon-McCartney pieces I know, the acoustic ode to friendship, “Two of Us.”
I like to imagine it’s about Lennon and McCartney’s friendship, but in fact Paul wrote the song and lyrics about his new (at the time) girlfriend, Linda. Paul plays a nifty, simple riff to start each line, then he and John strum acoustic guitars, while Harrison picks out a bass line on an electric guitar. The instrumentation gives the song a folksy, campfire feel that enhances the chummy lyrics, as does the whistling, by John, to end the song. The … Naked version of the song isn’t much different, although it leaves out the funny spoken intro by John.
Next up is a song that is SO MUCH FUN TO PLAY on guitar and bass that it’s hard for me to give an assessment of the sound. All I think about is how much I love to play it! It’s the nonsensical, John Lennon-penned “Dig a Pony,” and it’s a staple of any JB and The So-Called Cells performance.
After an aborted intro (Ringo didn’t have his drumsticks ready and stops things after one note) the entire band plays the waltzing main riff, which is an astounding four bars long, ranges nearly two octaves and sounds unlike any other riff in rock. Lennon’s lyrics are bizarre, but Paul’s harmonies are terrific, and Harrison’s guitar playing is among his best. And let’s not forget – it’s a difficult song to drum, but Ringo, as always, is up to the challenge. The … Naked version removes the false start (one of the few changes on the album that I dislike) and cleans up a couple mistakes. It’s a cool, weird song, and most non-Beatle fans are unfamiliar with it.
“Across the Universe” is up next, and as much as I love John Lennon (he’s probably my favorite Beatle), this is a song that’s never done much for me. The lyrics have some nice stuff (“pools of sorrow/waves of joy”), but they’re mostly just self-affirmations. The orchestration is quite over the top, and the … Naked version strips all that away. The next song is full of too much orchestra, as well: Harrison’s “I Me Mine.”
Harrison’s guitar really makes this song, both the electric and the acoustic. I like dual lead guitar at the beginning, over Paul’s organ, and the little squawks he throws in. It’s another waltz, a beat Ringo excels at, until the “I Me Me Mine” chorus, where the band rocks out a bit, and Harrison gets to blaze away on electric. When the orchestra is removed on … Naked, you can really hear Ringo’s terrific drumming as the pre-chorus builds (1:12 – 1:20). The orchestra also obscures Harrison’s guitar work from 1:48 – 2:03. “I Me Mine” is a song I like on Let It Be, but that I LOVE on Let It Be… Naked.
The latter album also removes “Dig It,” one of 2 songs ever credited to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starkey, the other being “Flying,” from Magical Mystery Tour. It’s a 50-second goofball song with nonsense lyrics, the kind of song I find interesting because I love the Beatles, but about which I expect most people scratch their heads. However, it does lead into one of the greats, “Let It Be.”
There’s not much to be written about a song as well-known and popular as this song. I like Billy Preston’s organ throughout, and I really like Harrison’s solo, about 1:58, and all his subsequent electric guitar riffs he plays. Also not to be overlooked are Paul’s bass guitar, starting at 1:06, and Ringo’s drums, which were augmented on the original release by Spector, but are clearer on … Naked. The lyrics are inspirational to many, and it’s one of the band’s most popular songs. I think it’s a great song, certainly better than “Maggie Mae,” 40 seconds of an old Liverpudlian street song the band recorded in jest, that was left off … Naked. And certainly not nearly as good as one of my favorite all-time songs, “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
As with “Two of Us,” I love this song partly because it supports my idealized version of the Lennon-McCartney partnership, in which they’re lifelong pals and companions, a songwriting sum that is greater than its parts, driving each other to produce the best possible songs. This version of the pair was probably finished by 1966, but “I’ve Got a Feeling” rejuvenates the idea. It’s actually two different song parts contributed by both and they fit together perfectly, not unlike “A Day in the Life.” So much is happening that it takes multiple listens to truly appreciate. Paul starts off with the main melody, supported by Harrison’s mighty guitar. After his “Oh no,” at 0:29, when the band kicks in, the feeling and sound are heavenly. I love Harrison’s ascending guitar run throughout (example at 0:33), and Lennon’s harmonies on the second verse. Paul and Ringo are locked in, and at 1:15, when Paul really lets lose, the intensity is bumped up a notch, ending with Harrison’s terrific 2-bar wail, at 1:27[ref]The movie Let It Be, which is, frankly, boring, has a great part where Paul tries to teach George how to play this brief part, and it’s a great insight into the pair’s personalities and how they dealt with one another. In short, George gets a bit testy – and probably rightfully so.[/ref], which lets the air out.
Next is Lennon’s half, and it’s the perfect complement to Paul’s. The song has a terrific ending. It’s a perfect Lennon/McCartney song, and even … Naked couldn’t improve it much. The band follows it up with another gem the pair wrote together, one of the first songs they’d ever written, but one that hadn’t been previously released. It’s the 50’s Rock and Roll of “One After 909.”
The band actually recorded it in 1963, but didn’t release it, and the Let It Be version is much better than the original. It’s a fun number with Lennon on lead vocals and McCartney on harmony singing about arriving at the wrong track to pick up a girlfriend. Billy Preston, the “fifth Beatle,” who George tried to bring into the band to ease tensions in 1969, plays a great electric piano, and Harrison does his amazing guitar work throughout. The song was, as heard on Let It Be, recorded live during the band’s famous “rooftop concert” in 1969 (as were “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Dig a Pony.”) The … Naked version is simply remixed from the original.
The songs recorded on the rooftop show what the band was capable as a live act, even after 3 years away from touring[ref]The Beatles famously stopped playing live shows after their August, 1966, performance at Candlestick Park, in San Francisco.[/ref]. “The Long and Winding Road” shows what too much orchestration and choral accompaniment can do to a decent song. The … Naked version shows it’s not a bad song, a little lyrically schmaltzy, perhaps, but breakups can elicit the schmaltz, so that’s okay. But nowadays I find the original Let It Be version almost unlistenable.
“For You Blue” is a bluesy love song from George that the band jams on, with Lennon on lap steel guitar and Paul on the piano. The band is clearly having fun, trading solos, including a cool, simple, descending scale on piano, by Paul. The … Naked version isn’t much different. The album ends on the cool-rockin’, slow-burning groove of “Get Back,” a song that’s been played a lot but that never sounds old.
The band once again sounds like they’re having fun, with McCartney and Lennon harmonizing on lyrics about traveling. The lead guitar throughout really carries things, and it’s actually played by Lennon this time, relegating Harrison to rhythm guitar. His solo at 1:00 is pure fun. Billy Preston plays an electric piano solo next, at 1:33, then around 2:20 Lennon repeats his solo. It’s a fun song, which includes band banter throughout. The … Naked version leaves off the banter.
One other item about Let It Be … Naked: it includes “Don’t Let Me Down,” a song that should have been on the original album. The Beatles played it on the rooftop, and I think it’s one of their best songs ever. It was released as the B-side to the “Get Back” single. McCartney’s bass is great, Harrison’s guitar is great, Starr’s drums are great, Lennon’s vocals are great … I guess what I’m saying is “The Beatles are great!!” Their music stands out, even when it’s partially obscured by extraneous orchestral and choral arrangements. But I’m glad Paul showed an example of how to “deal with” a situation: he made a change!
“Two Of Us”
“Dig a Pony”
“Across the Universe”
“I Me Mine”
“Let It Be”
“I’ve Got a Feeling”
“One After 909”
“The Long and Winding Road”
“For You Blue”