Let It Be (1970)

LIB

Title: It’s named for Paul’s song about his mother coming to him in a stress dream and calming him down. The LP is essentially a soundtrack album for the documentary film Let It Be.

Cover: Each Beatle photographed separately – a deliberate nod to the fact the group had split up, maybe?

Best song: I’ve Got A Feeling, the last collaborative Lennon/McCartney. They combined two song ideas – positive from Paul, reflective from John – into a united whole, which works really well when both halves are sung at the same time. The performance is terrific too, especially when you consider they were playing live on a London rooftop in a cold January wind.

Honourable mentions:

* Paul’s Two Of Us is a jaunty acoustic tune, well sung by him and John. (It sounds a bit Crosby, Stills & Nash to me. This is a good thing.)

* John’s Across The Universe had been recorded a year earlier than the rest of the album and released on a various-artists charity LP with some awful backing vocals from two Beatles fans. Its lyrics might be naff, but they suit the metre of the music nicely. Because the film Let It Be included the band busking the song, the raw take was dug out for use on this album. Sadly, producer Phil Spector ignored the stark tenderness of the original, slowed it down and swamped it with an orchestra.

* Paul’s title track is a classically beautiful piano ballad, which has a gospel feel – my only niggle with it is the tiresomely repetitive lyrics. Give him his due, Spector’s work here actually enhances what is already a tremendous song.

Worst song: Aside from the inclusion of 50 seconds of improvised jam Dig It? Or 40 seconds of traditional folk shanty Maggie Mae? (These two bits of detritus are either side of the title song in the album’s running order, a move assumed to be a slight against Paul.) Of the rest, John’s Dig A Pony is the most, um, pony.

Notable outside contributions: Keyboardist Billy Preston was brought in by Harrison to help record the album ‘as live’ with no overdubs. He plays on seven of the 12 tracks and is essentially a fifth member of the band.

Alternate version: The original plan was to rehearse some new material while being filmed for a fly-on-the-wall TV special – then record it live in front of an audience. The band gathered for rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios in January 1969, but little serious work was achieved and tensions were high. The film crew captured Paul and George having a tiff, but missed a blazing row between George and John that resulted in George quitting the band. He agreed to return only if they abandoned Twickenham and moved into the studio. So the group continued to record (and be filmed) in their own facility at 3 Savile Row. Losing enthusiasm for a concert, they decided simply to go up to the building’s roof and play until the police ordered them to stop. For the next few months, various versions of the album were compiled from the mass of available material, but no one was ever happy. Finally, in March 1970 – behind his colleagues’ backs – Lennon brought in famed producer Phil Spector. He ignored the project’s ‘no overdubs’ principle, added orchestras and choirs, and the album was finally released in May. By this point, the TV special had morphed into a theatrical movie, the Beatles had recorded and released an entire other album (see previous review), and Paul had tersely announced the band’s break-up. Famously unhappy with the final product, McCartney got his chance to re-edit the album in 2003. Let It Be… Naked strips away Phil Spector’s overdubs, jettisons the silly pieces of filler, adds contemporary B-side Don’t Let Me Down, and rearranges the running order. It’s a *much* more entertaining listen. (It has a bonus disc: a 22-minute sound collage of song snippets and banter from the January 1969 rehearsals.)

Review: The weakest full-length Beatles album. There are a few good songs, but the slipshod way they were recorded results in a pretty tatty end product. The film, by the way, is hard to track down but worth seeing if you get the chance. Despite punches being pulled, there are some fantastic insights, both positive and negative, into the Beatles of January 1969. The climax is the entertaining rooftop gig, which is intercut with footage of crowds – disgruntled men in suits, young woman in miniskirts, bemused policemen – gathering on the street below as the sound of the Beatles wafts across Mayfair…

Five words of wisdom out of 10.

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