Let It Be re-constructed for generations old and new
The beginning of friction between The Beatles may have begun around the time of The White Album, however it was during recording sessions for Let It Be that bitter hostilities between all four members had reached boiling point. John Lennon, with Yoko Ono firmly by his side, was already contemplating a post-Beatles world, while George Harrison and Ringo Starr had grown increasingly tired of all the bickering and infighting that was taking place. Even for Paul McCartney, despite wanting to keep the group together, eventually realised that The Beatles could no longer function as one harmonious unit, even if they’d wanted to. Yes the dream was over.
But not entirely. As a final gesture to their adoring fans, a final album, originally titled as ‘Get Back’, was assembled. Much to McCartney’s disapprobation, Phil Spector, at the behest of Lennon, was hired to do what then seemed like an impossible task, namely that of turning pig iron into gold.
McCartney ever since has made no secret of his dislike of how the tapes were mixed and handled, and so, more than thirty years later, both he and Harrison thought it would be a good idea to revisit The Beatles final project, sift through the many hours of multi-track tape, and hopefully compile the best performances of those original unhappy sessions back in early 1969.
Issued in 2003, Let It Be… Naked was the result. Clearly the studio boffins had done their homework, and thanks to the help of modern technology, managed to improve on what was a considerably flawed document (albeit one not without its moments).
The work necessary to complete the album was as meticulous as it is academic. First, none of Spector’s mixes and orchestral overdubs were retained. Also, two tracks, “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It,” which appeared on the original LP, were left off in favour of “Get Back” and Lennon’s superb “Don’t Let Me Down,” recorded live on the rooftop of Apple Records. Many songs were spliced together using previously unheard takes, including some speed and tuning corrections were applied. So overall, just as it had been in 1970, Let It Be would still prove to be an arduous, painstaking task.
If anything, it is the crisp clarity of the material that impresses the most. Both “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” bristle with renewed vigour, as does John’s cosmic mantra “Across The Universe,” here speed corrected and in much less adorned form.
Spector’s over-inflated orchestration that graced McCartney’s “The Long And Winding Road” (something which Paul hated) has been returned to its former plaintive glory, just the way McCartney had originally intended. For Naked, another take was selected, something which fans will no doubt notice on first listen.
Other cuts, such as “Two Of Us,” “One After 909” (a song John wrote when he was 17), and Harrison’s “I Me Mine” greatly benefit from more than thirty years hindsight, while the title track, despite some minor refinements, has lost none of its previous emotional impact.
Which begs the question: which version of Let It Be is better? Naturally the answer depends on the listener. Certainly each has its virtues and should be appreciated on their own merits. Now that we live in an age when directors are allowed to ‘re-imagine,’ i.e. re-edit and enhance their movies, it should come as no surprise that McCartney would want to go back and mend what he considered to be something of an old wound.
From a historical perspective, the original is essential, as it documents the lives of four young men who were rapidly falling out of favour with each other (or, more likely, falling out of favour with Paul). However Let It Be… Naked is in no sense disrespectful, just another way of revisiting, and re-experiencing the most famous pop-rock group the world has ever known.