Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Let It Be

Let It Be is the twelfth and final studio album by the English rock band The Beatles. It was released on 8 May 1970 by the band's Apple Records label shortly after the group's announced breakup.

Most of Let It Be was recorded in January 1969, before the recording and release of the album Abbey Road. For this reason, some critics and fans, such as Mark Lewisohn, argue that Abbey Road should really be considered the group's final album and Let It Be the penultimate. Let It Be was originally intended to be released prior to Abbey Road at some point during mid-1969 under the title Get Back but the Beatles were unhappy with this version of the album, which was mixed and compiled by Glyn Johns, and it was temporarily shelved. A new version of the album was created from the studio tapes by Phil Spector in 1970 and then finally released as Let It Be. The album acts as a soundtrack album for the 1970 motion picture of the same name, which is a documentary film of the band rehearsing and recording the album. While two songs from the sessions were released as singles prior to this album's release, "Get Back" and "Let It Be", the songs were remixed by Spector for release on this album.

The rehearsals and recording sessions for the album did not run smoothly due to the increasing level of acrimony between the four Beatles. The group bickered and argued throughout the album's production. George Harrison, at one point during the rehearsals, walked out and quit the group after severely arguing with both Paul McCartney and John Lennon, only to be coaxed back some days later. The film version is famous for showcasing a number of conflicts between the group members and has frequently been referred to as a documentary intended to show the making of an album but instead showing "the break-up of a band."

Critical and fan reaction to the album on its release was fairly negative. Opinion on the album today is largely divided, though most critics appear to regard Let it Be as weaker than most of the Beatles' previous works. Despite receiving a largely negative review from Rolling Stone magazine at the time of its release, the album was later ranked number 86 in the magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time in 2003.

McCartney oversaw the release of Let it Be...Naked in 2003, an alternative version of the album where McCartney's personal vision replaces that of Spector.

Recording sessions

By late 1968, Paul McCartney was eager for the Beatles to perform live again, more than two years after they gave up touring. At the time, there was a great deal of tension among the Beatles, who had been pursuing a number of personal projects over the course of the previous six months. The sessions for the previous year's White Album had been badly affected by a number of serious arguments and a decline in relations between the group members.

McCartney believed that years of not touring and using the studio not to record ensemble performances but to make increasingly multi-layered and complex recordings (made up of numerous instrumental parts played individually by each Beatle as overdubs rather than as a group) had resulted in the Beatles growing apart and no longer having the same collective group spirit that they had once had—this, he felt, was one of the root causes of their problems. McCartney believed that the best way to improve band relations and revive enthusiasm was to get the group back into rehearsal as quickly as possible (the White Album sessions having only been concluded in October 1968) and begin work on a new album that made little or no use of studio artifice or multiple overdubbing, allowing the group to 'get back' to their roots by playing as a true ensemble, or even go as far as recording some or all of the new album during a one-off live concert or full concert tour.

This idea mirrored the 'back to basics' attitude being taken by a number of rock musicians at this time, particularly in the U.S., as a reaction against the psychedelic and progressive music dominant in the previous two years which made extensive use of studio trickery and complexity, and McCartney could well have been influenced by this development (McCartney at this time was a big fan of Canned Heat, a group which was associated with this emerging philosophy). McCartney believed that a return to live performance would reinstall the same sort of ensemble spirit and sense of togetherness that they had in their early years together.

Additionally, McCartney suggested that the new project could be turned into a multimedia extravaganza, comprising a live concert (or tour), album and motion picture, the latter to take the form of a documentary film recording the making of the album right from the first rehearsals to the proposed live performances (this aspect of the project would also have the handy side effect of fulfilling the group's contractual obligation to United Artists to produce a third motion picture, dating back to the original deal signed with the company in 1963 which had thus far produced A Hard Day's Night and Help! - the original third Beatles feature film, which should have been filmed in 1966, was abandoned and Yellow Submarine did not fulfill the obligation as it was an animation feature). McCartney proposed that Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had recently worked with the Rolling Stones, direct the film.

McCartney also decided to invite renowned producer/engineer Glyn Johns to contribute to the recording. However his proposed role was apparently not clearly defined and McCartney also wished to retain the services of George Martin, meaning that Johns was not entirely sure as to whether he was supposed to be producing (or co-producing) the album or merely engineering it, with Martin having no clear idea of where he stood either.

The other three Beatles were however less than wholly enthusiastic about McCartney's proposals – not only had they only just completed work on their previous album, but they were sceptical about the realistic prospects of returning to live performance. Harrison in particular was very opposed to the idea of touring, having taken the strongest dislike of any of the group members to the grueling tours of the Beatlemania era. However he had recently enjoyed a series of jam sessions with Bob Dylan and Delaney and Bonnie in the U.S., rediscovering his liking for straightforward ensemble playing, and he was attracted to the idea of the 'back to basics' approach. The same approach greatly appealed to Lennon, who had grown increasingly wary of what he regarded as the excessive technical artifice used on their recordings since Revolver and had also made a recent return to no-frills ensemble playing in the shape of an appearance on the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus. In addition, all the group members had greatly enjoyed the recording of the song 'Happiness is a Warm Gun' during the recent White Album sessions which, due to its multiple sections and myriad time signature changes, had required all four members of the group to sharply focus and revive their ensemble playing skills to lay down a coherent basic rhythm track before any overdubbing could be applied. In the end, the group agreed to convene for rehearsals immediately following New Years Day to begin work, even though no suitable conclusion or even firm direction for the new project had been agreed.

Since all the rehearsals were to be filmed by Lindsay-Hogg and his film crew, the decision was made to use a film studio for rehearsals and the sound stage at Twickenham Studios was chosen. The group began rehearsals there on 2 January 1969. This transpired to be a mistake since Twickenham was quickly discovered to be a fairly uninspiring environment (coloured lighting was set up by the film crew to try and improve the aesthetic appeal of the studio but the lights simply succeeding in annoying Lennon) and worse, the large studio proved to be freezing cold in the winter mornings. Additionally, due to the requirements of the film crew, sessions could not take place during the evenings as the group preferred, but had to be booked to start at 8 a.m. in the morning. As Lennon later observed, "no one wants to make music at that hour". Lennon also found the continuous presence of the film crew to be highly intrusive and the other Beatles had similar feelings about the attendance of Lennon's girlfriend Yoko Ono.

No professional multi-track recordings were made of these sessions at Twickenham, as the Beatles were simply rehearsing for a proposed live performance rather than attempting to record releasable versions of any songs, although Phil Spector later used a snippet of dialogue from one of these rehearsals (Lennon announcing "Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI members") to introduce 'For You Blue' on the finished album, sourced from the film crew's monophonic soundtrack recordings. Numerous bootleg records taken from the many hours of these soundtrack recordings are in wide circulation and various bits of music and dialogue from the same source was eventually used on the second disc of the 2003 release Let It Be...Naked.

The group spent their time at Twickenham running through a number of new original compositions by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison as well as jamming various covers of rock 'n' roll numbers and standards from other genres, as well as some instrumentals and even versions of some old Beatles songs. A number of possible locations for the proposed live show were discussed during the rehearsals, with the leading candidates being The Roundhouse in London, a Roman amphitheatre in North Africa (where the Beatles would allow the audience to slowly fill the amphitheatre during the day before eventually performing either at dusk or dawn) or a cruise ship. McCartney also proposed a unusual concert tour in which the Beatles would turn up unannounced at university halls and small clubs around England to perform, an idea that Lennon apparently regarded as preposterous but was later carried out by McCartney with his post-Beatles band Wings. At one point, John Lennon jokingly suggested that he was "warming to the idea of doing it (the concert) in an asylum."

Unsurprisingly given the conditions at Twickenham and the group members' personal differences, the rehearsals quickly disintegrated into acrimony. By the third day, the group openly discussed whether they should simply break up. Lennon was in the throes of heroin addiction and had all but withdrawn creatively from the Beatles, seldom contributing even to the arrangements of his own songs. George Harrison was increasingly resentful — while he was treated respectfully by musical colleagues such as Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, within the Beatles he felt that his songs were either derided or ignored (at one point during the rehearsals, Lennon responded to Harrison demonstrating his new song 'I Me Mine' to him by stating "We're a rock and roll band – run along, boy" and later chose to waltz with Ono, behaviour possibly intended to be a form of mockery, rather than contribute while the other three Beatles attempted to arrange and rehearse the song). With the band seemingly unable to generate much enthusiasm or focus their attention, their playing was largely ragged and unprofessional, not helped by the fact that they were severely out of practice at playing as a live ensemble. McCartney tried to impose some form of order and encourage his bandmates, but his attempts to hold the band together and rally spirits were seen by the others as controlling and patronizing. The constant presence of Lennon's companion and artistic partner Yoko Ono—who often spoke in Lennon's place as he sat silently by and frequently distracted him by whispering in his ear when he was trying to concentrate on playing—was a major source of tension. The intrusive film cameras and the uncomfortable settings of Twickenham Studios also contributed to ill feelings.

Finally, matters came to a head on January 10 when Harrison had a heated argument with McCartney over what he perceived to be the bassist's patronizing and bossy instructions on how to play his lead guitar part on 'I've Got a Feeling', which later became one of the most famous sequences in the Let It Be movie. What is not shown in the film is another, allegedly much more severe argument Harrison had with Lennon immediately following his argument with McCartney. Harrison had become fed up with Lennon's creative and communicative disengagement from the band and the two had a blazing row which, according to some sources, descended into violence with Harrison and Lennon allegedly throwing punches at each other (if true, this would apparently be the sole occasion in their adult lives that any members of the Beatles are known to have resorted to violence against each other). After lunch, Harrison announced that he was "leaving the band now" and told the others "see you round the clubs". He promptly walked out, getting in his car and instead of returning home to his wife Pattie at his Esher home Kinfauns, he drove several hundred miles north straight to his parents home in Speke, Liverpool.

After Harrison's departure that afternoon, the three remaining Beatles attempted to continue with their rehearsal. A smiling Yoko, seemingly oblivious to how her behaviour might be perceived by McCartney and Starr, responded to the situation by sitting herself down on Harrison's empty chair, an action which appeared highly symbolic even if it were highly unlikely to be intended as such. Yoko promptly took over the rehearsal, leading an avant-garde jam featuring her trademark wailing vocalizations, while Lennon and McCartney derived shrieking feedback from their amplifiers and Starr thrashed about on his drum kit. As a practical solution to the problem of Harrison's absence, Lennon suggested hiring Eric Clapton to replace Harrison, possibly as a full time member of the Beatles if Harrison stuck with his decision to quit the band permanently. McCartney and Starr vetoed this suggestion, with the former arguing that the group could not truly be considered as the Beatles without all four traditional members of the band.

A week later the band agreed to Harrison's terms for returning to the group, which included abandoning the cold and cavernous soundstage at Twickenham. Sessions resumed on 22 January when the group moved to Apple Studios and multi-track recording began which continued until 31 January. Harrison brought in keyboardist Billy Preston to ease tensions and supplement the band for the live performances. Preston worked with the Beatles throughout their stay at Apple Studios.

The live concert idea culminated with the Beatles and Preston performing 30 January on the rooftop of the Beatles' Apple Building at 3 Savile Row before a small audience of friends and employees. The performance was cut short by the police after complaints about noise. The complete concert has circulated among bootleg collectors for many years. Three numbers recorded at the rooftop concert, namely "Dig a Pony", "I've Got a Feeling", and "One After 909", do appear on the album, while several spoken parts of the concert appear between tracks that were recorded in studio.

The band played hundreds of songs during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. Aside from original songs ultimately released on the Let It Be album were early versions of almost all of the songs that appeared on Abbey Road, including "Mean Mr. Mustard", "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window", "Sun King", "Polythene Pam", "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight", "Something", "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", "Oh! Darling", "Octopus's Garden", and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". Still others would eventually end up on Beatles solo albums, including Lennon's "Jealous Guy" (called "Child of Nature" at the time and originally written and rehearsed for the White Album) and "Gimme Some Truth", Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" and "Hear Me Lord", and McCartney's "Teddy Boy" and "Junk" (originally written for the White Album). Much of the band's attention was focused on extended jams on 12-bar blues as well as a broad range of covers. These included classical pieces such as Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings", jazz standards such as "Ain't She Sweet", and an encyclopaedic array of songs from the early rock and roll era such as "Stand By Me", "Words of Love", "Lonely Sea", "Bésame Mucho" by Mexican composer Consuelo Velázquez (a song that was part of The Beatles repertoire in the early days) and "Blue Suede Shoes". Only a handful of these were complete performances; the vast majority were fragmentary renditions with a verse or two of misremembered lyrics. The rehearsals and recording sessions were filmed and formed the basis of the Beatles' film of the same name.

The Get Back albums

After increasing use of overdubs and multi-layered recordings on recent albums, there was at first a consensus to record the new album live. In keeping with the back-to-roots concept, the cover artwork was planned to be an update of the cover of their first album, Please Please Me, with the band looking down the stairwell of EMI's headquarters office block in Manchester Square, London. The photograph was later used on the compilation album 1967–1970 (aka The Blue Album).

Engineer Glyn Johns put together a rough version of Get Back on acetate in March 1969, which included many of the same songs that made the final cut, plus McCartney's "Teddy Boy". Johns played the acetate for the Beatles, who were not really interested in the project any longer. At least one copy of the acetate made its way to America and was aired on local radio stations in Buffalo, New York, and Boston in September.

In March 1969, Lennon and McCartney called Glyn Johns to EMI and offered him free rein to produce an album from the Get Back recordings. Johns booked time at Olympic Studios between 3 April and 28 May to mix the album and presented the final banded master tape to the group on 28 May. Only one track, "One After 909", was taken from the rooftop concert, with "I've Got a Feeling" and "Dig a Pony" being studio recordings instead. Johns also favored earlier, rougher versions of "Two of Us" and "Let It Be" over the more polished performances from the final 31 January session (which were eventually chosen for the Let It Be album). It also included a jam called "Rocker", and a brief rendition of The Drifters' "Save The Last Dance For Me."

The Get Back album was intended for release in July 1969, but its release was pushed back to September to coincide with the planned television special and the theatrical film about the making of the album. In September, the album's release was pushed back to December because the Beatles had just recorded Abbey Road and wanted to release that album instead. By December the album had been shelved.

On 15 December, The Beatles again approached Glyn Johns to produce an album from the 'Get Back' tapes but this time with the instruction that the songs must match those included in the as yet unreleased Get Back film. Between 15 December 1969 and 8 January 1970, new mixes were prepared. Johns' new mix omitted "Teddy Boy" as the song did not appear in the film (and possibly because McCartney had indicated to Johns that he had re-recorded the song for his upcoming McCartney album). It also added "Across the Universe" (a remix of the 1968 studio version, as the January 1969 rehearsals of the song were judged unsatisfactory) and "I Me Mine," on which only McCartney, Harrison and Ringo Starr performed (Lennon had left the band by that time). "I Me Mine" was newly recorded, as it appeared in the film and no multi-track recording had yet been made. The Beatles once again rejected the album.

Completion and release

In March 1970 the session tapes were given to American producer Phil Spector. Spector worked on the tracks and compiled the eventually released album—by now entitled Let It Be. The album and the film with the same name were released on 8 May 1970; the Beatles had already broken up by that time. The movie captured on film the critical tensions within the band, and also included footage from the rooftop concert. The rooftop performance closed with the song "Get Back", and afterwards Lennon said, "I'd like to say 'thank you' on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition." The joke was added to the studio version of the song that appeared on the album.

Several songs from the recording sessions have been released officially in versions different from those on the Let It Be album. "Get Back"/"Don't Let Me Down" and "Let It Be" were released as singles in 1969 and 1970, respectively. "Across the Universe", a Lennon composition recorded in February 1968, was added to pad out his sparse contributions to the album, having previously been released as part of the World Wildlife Fund charity album No One's Gonna Change Our World. Neither version was at the originally recorded speed (the No One's Gonna Change Our World version being sped up and the Let It Be version being slowed down). The track appeared for the first time at its original speed on the Let It Be… Naked album in 2003. The Glyn Johns version of "The Long and Winding Road" was released in 1996 on The Beatles Anthology 3.

Six tracks were live performances, in accordance with the original album concept: "I've Got a Feeling", "One After 909", and "Dig a Pony" from the rooftop performance, and "Two of Us", "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae" from studio sessions. However, the album versions of "For You Blue", "I Me Mine", "Let It Be", "The Long and Winding Road" and "Get Back" featured editing, splicing, and overdubs. The twelfth track on the album was a slowed-down version of the original 1968 recording of "Across the Universe", which had only been rehearsed at Twickenham and not professionally recorded on multi-track tape during the January 1969 sessions.

McCartney was deeply dissatisfied with Spector's treatment of some songs, particularly "The Long and Winding Road". McCartney had conceived of the song as a simple piano ballad, but Spector dubbed in orchestral and choral accompaniment. McCartney unsuccessfully attempted to halt release of Spector's version of the song. He was fine with the orchestra, but the choir and harp he wanted to be removed. Despite the criticisms levelled at Spector over the years for his handling of the material, Lennon defended him in his famous Playboy interview 10 years later, saying, "He was given the shittiest load of badly-recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something of it."
The original box set packaging of Let It Be. It contained a 160 page booklet with photos and quotes from the film.

In the UK, the album was originally issued by Apple (and distributed by EMI) in a lavish boxed set that also included a book featuring stills from the Let It Be film. Several months later, the album was reissued in Great Britain in a standard LP jacket, sans book. In the United States, the Let It Be album was issued in a standard jacket, without the book. The American release was also originally issued by Apple Records, but because United Artists distributed the film, United Artists also held the rights to distribute the record in America. (EMI subsidiary Capitol, which held the Beatles' US contract, had simultaneous rights to the music on the album, and could distribute the songs on various singles and compilation albums. Capitol, however, did not have the rights to release or distribute the actual album.) To indicate that Let It Be was not distributed by Capitol, the original record label in America sported a red apple, rather than the Beatles' usual green Granny Smith apple. In early 1976, when the Beatles' Apple Record contract expired, most of the group's catalogue in the United States transferred from Apple to Capitol; Let It Be, however, went out-of-print in America for three years. Then in 1979, Capitol/EMI acquired United Artists Records. With this acquisition, Capitol acquired the rights to two Beatles albums previously distributed in the United States by United Artists, Let It Be and the soundtrack album A Hard Day's Night. (As A Hard Day's Night had never been issued by Apple in the United States, it remained in print in America under the United Artists label when the Apple contract expired in 1976.) Shortly after acquiring United Artists Records, Capitol re-issued both UA distributed Beatles albums on the Capitol label.

The Beatles would ultimately win the Academy Award for the Best Original Song Score in 1970 for the songs in the movie.

Let It Be... Naked

At the same time the film's re-release was announced, McCartney announced plans to release a new version of the album that is closer to what he had originally intended for the project. The new collection, Let It Be... Naked, was released on 17 November 2003 in a two-disc format—the second disc contained fly-on-the-wall recordings of the band chit-chatting during the Get Back Sessions. As of 2009, the film had not yet been re-released.


The album was met with mixed reviews at the time of its release. NME critic Alan Smith wrote "If the new Beatles soundtrack is to be their last then it will stand as a cheapskate epitaph, a cardboard tombstone, a sad and tatty end to a musical fusion which wiped clean and drew again the face of pop". Rolling Stone magazine was also critical of the album, citing Spector's production embellishments as a sore point: "Musically, boys, you passed the audition. In terms of having the judgment to avoid either over-producing yourselves or casting the fate of your get-back statement to the most notorious of all over-producers, you didn't...".

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Lennon/McCartney, except where noted.
Side one
# Title Lead vocals Length
1. "Two of Us" McCartney and Lennon 3:33
2. "Dig a Pony" Lennon 3:52
3. "Across the Universe" Lennon 3:47
4. "I Me Mine" (George Harrison) Harrison 2:25
5. "Dig It" (Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey) Lennon 0:49
6. "Let It Be" McCartney 4:01
7. "Maggie Mae" (traditional, arr. by Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey) Lennon and McCartney 0:41
Side two
# Title Lead vocals Length
1. "I've Got a Feeling" McCartney and Lennon 3:37
2. "One After 909" Lennon and McCartney 2:52
3. "The Long and Winding Road" McCartney 3:37
4. "For You Blue" (Harrison) Harrison 2:32
5. "Get Back" McCartney 3:07


The Beatles

* John Lennon – vocals, rhythm guitar, lead guitar ("Get Back"), lap steel guitar ("For You Blue"), acoustic guitar ("Two of Us", "Across the Universe" and "Maggie Mae"), six-string bass guitar ("Dig It", "Let It Be" and "The Long and Winding Road")
* Paul McCartney – vocals, bass guitar, piano ("For You Blue", "Dig It", "Let It Be" and "The Long and Winding Road"), acoustic guitar ("Two of Us" and "Maggie Mae"), Hammond organ ("I Me Mine"), electric piano ("I Me Mine")
* George Harrison – vocals, lead and rhythm guitars, acoustic guitar ("For You Blue" and "I Me Mine"), tamboura ("Across the Universe"), six-string bass guitar ("Two of Us" and "Maggie Mae")
* Ringo Starr – drums and maracas

Additional musicians

* Richard Anthony Hewson – string, choir and brass arrangements ("Across the Universe", "I Me Mine" and "The Long and Winding Road")
* George Martin – producer, string and brass arrangements ("Let It Be"), maracas ("Dig It")
* Linda McCartney – backing vocals ("Let It Be" - uncredited on album sleeve)
* Billy Preston – electric piano ("I've Got a Feeling", "One After 909", "Get Back") and Hammond organ ("Dig It", "Let It Be", "The Long and Winding Road").


* Glyn Johns – engineer, mixing
* Phil Spector – producer (final overdubs), final mixing

Released: 8 May 1970
Recorded: February 1968, January 1970, and March–April 1970; Abbey Road Studios, London, United Kingdom; January 1969, Apple Studios, Savile Row
Genre: Rock
Length: 35:13
Language: English
Label: Apple
Producer: Phil Spector

Singles from Let It Be

1. "Get Back"
Released: 11 April 1969
2. "Let It Be"
Released: 6 March 1970
3. "The Long and Winding Road"
Released: 11 May 1970


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