Stylus is on vacation today, but we won't be taking President's day off. See you Monday!

The Beatles
Let It Be…Naked

Capitol
2003
C+



ike many Beatle fans, I never much dug on Let It Be. With the exception of McCartney’s efforts, the compositions, as well as the performances, are just weak. And you know the accompanying movie is a yawn when the best part is a little tiff between Paul and George. Most know the story behind the “Get Back” sessions, the internal struggles of the band; Yoko Ono’s unwanted presence; how the Beatles shelved the project and how it was later “fixed” by super-producer, Phil Spector. It’s funny how almost every Beatles project in the late 1960s is noted for the band “breaking up” during its making. First there are the stories of the Beatles ”breaking up” during The White Album, then they were “breaking up” again during the “Get Back” sessions; finally, they were really breaking-up during Abbey Road. The media often present the “Get Back” sessions as the final recordings of the Beatles, simply because it was their last performances to be filmed. But regardless of release dates, Abbey Road was the last Beatle project and a big step up from the sluggish “Get Back” material, so maybe all that “breaking up” revitalized the band. Of course, after recording Abbey Road, the band did break-up and “Get Back” was salvaged and released as Let It Be in 1970: a mediocre swan-song and anti-climax after the closing Abbey Road suite.

Phil Spector was an amazing producer for his own projects, but for the Beatles he plain sucked. His only contribution was ruining one of the few good compositions on the album: McCartney’s “The Long & Winding Road”. Unlike the acute classical orchestration George Martin used to provide for the Beatles, Spector dumped syrupy orchestration over the song like it was some hackneyed theme for a love movie. McCartney, a man with very sensitive ears, could tell good orchestration from bad orchestration and hated what Spector did to the song. Paul also knew that the whole point of the “Get Back” session was to have the band record stripped-back and live; that’s why they had Billy Preston playing organ; so there wouldn’t be a need to fill up the sound with over-dubs. Even though McCartney is viewed as the squarest Beatle, he was the only one who protested the release of Let It Be (despite the story him and Ringo are selling now) on grounds that the album was uneven and Spector’s production work was schmaltzy. On the other hand, Lennon and Harrison—viewed as the hipper Beatles—were so pleased with the schmaltz, they both enlisted Spector to over-produce their first solo albums. Hell, Lennon even had Spector over-produce two more records after that! At the time, Paul was the only Beatle who actually kept it real by producing his own music and with his first solo effort, McCartney, he offered a warm, simple production with strong material that put most of the Let It Be album to shame (and put the rest of the band to shame, because Paul could play all their parts—Beatle-esque drum rolls and guitar solos galore—without them). To further enrage the other Beatles, he decided to release McCartney at the same time as Let It Be. In a desperate attempt to keep Paul from releasing his album, Ringo was sent to Paul’s house in Scotland in the hope that he could persuade Paul with the power of his lovable Ringo charm to postpone the release of McCartney. Paul, being a badass motherfucker, wasn’t having this. According to Ringo, Paul went ape-shit! “He shouted at me,” whimpered Ringo, “prodding his fingers towards my face and said: ‘I’ll finish you now!’ and ‘You’ll pay!’” Paul did make the others Beatles pay. First, he released McCartney when he damn well wanted to and now, thirty-three years later, he’s releasing Let It Be the way he thought it should have been released to begin with. Outliving Lennon and Harrison has given Paul the last maniacal laugh (with no other option, Ringo’s naturally on his side now). So, is the album better “naked”—stripped back and without the sugarcoated Spector strings? Stupid question; of course it’s better the way it was originally imagined. This isn’t like someone coming in decades later and adding shit; this isn’t a Special Edition al la George Lucas. This is simply taking away shit that never had business being there in the first place. And since the other Beatles weren’t practicing democracy in 1970 when they decided to release Let It Be against Paul’s wishes, McCartney is justified in releasing it naked in 2003 without Lennon or Harrison’s say. It’s not instant, but it’s karma, baby!

Fanfare aside, even though the naked version is an improvement, Let It Be remains the Beatles’ worst album. It’s a tighter record with the omission of unmissed tracks “Dig It” and “Maggie May”, the inclusion of one stellar B-Side, “Don’t Let Me Down” (though available on Past Masters II) and it has a better running order, but some of the weaker compositions still bog the album down. Harrison’s two tracks “For You Blue” and “I Me Mine” are especially bland; I don’t know what was wrong with George because he wrote great pop songs on The White Album and Abbey Road; maybe bluesy rock just wasn’t his bag at this point. Though a notch above the Harrison tunes, Lennon’s efforts are well below his usual Beatle standards; “Dig A Poney” isn’t even the stepchild of “Come Together” and “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”. His collaborations with McCartney, “Two Of Us”, “Get Back”, and “I’ve Got A Feeling” are good, but one could credit the McCartney input for that and the naked versions aren’t noticeably different from the originally released versions. The only place where Lennon shines brighter than before is the vastly superior version of “Across The Universe”; this song not once, but twice was jinxed by bad production; there was a B-Side version with annoying children and bird noises (on Past Masters II) and the original Let It Be version with syrupy Spector strings and choral. Finally, we can hear this great Lennon song without the muck. Although, since he recorded the song in early 1968 (before The White Album sessions), one can’t cite “Across The Universe” as proof of Lennon being on top of his game during the “Get Back” sessions. Let’s face it; during the time of this project, McCartney was carrying the band on his back. Lennon and Harrison were listless and uninspired; only McCartney cared about the Beatles and maintaining the high quality expected from the band. The other Beatles saw McCartney as a tyrant because of this; well, you don’t achieve greatness by being a lazy hippie, that’s for sure! The title-cut is a stirring piece of pop brilliance and it has supported the album for over three decades; however, like most of the good tracks, the single version of “Let It Be” is also available on Past Masters II and the naked version isn’t much different. The most significant change is perhaps the sole reason for the naked endeavor and one of the few reasons to pick-up the album. “The Long & Winding Road” has been rendered bare and now stands as a surprisingly beautiful gem. No wonder Paul was so pissed over the Spector version; there was another great McCartney song beneath the schmaltz. Vindication—it must be sweet for that damn tyrant.


Reviewed by: Edwin Faust

Reviewed on: 2003-11-25

Recent Reviews By This Author

2002 Year End Thoughts - Edwin Faust


Comments
Log In to Post Comments
No comments posted.
all content copyright 2004 stylusmagazine.com