While I’ve been immersed in the Beatles’ box set Let It Be (Super Deluxe) for about a week now, having spent much of 2021 listening to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary Edition and other music from 1971 LP anniversaries, I feel like I’ve been immersed the entire year in a groovy, hippy, Beatles’ haze. I really should have invested in that leather, fringe jacket the Rock Chick talked me out of. I don’t think there’s an LP more divisive in the entire Beatles’ canon than Let It Be. It truly had a difficult birth. When I was in college back in the 80s the board game Trivial Pursuit took the world by storm. There were a bunch of knock off versions of the game as well. A guy I knew had a Rock N Roll Trivial Pursuit game that we used to use as a drinking game before went out to the bars to… well, drink more. There were various categories in Rock N Roll Trivia, but the Beatles were special enough they had a category unto themselves. There was a vaguely worded question, “What was the last Beatles’ LP?” The correct answer of course is Abbey Road which was recorded after Let It Be. Unfortunately for my sobriety, the answer on the Trivia card was Let It Be. I finally scratched out the wrong answer and wrote in Abbey Road since despite being released before Let It Be, it was again, recorded afterwards. Stupid game…
The dye was perhaps cast for the Beatles the day they decided to retire from the road. They’d already started to become “studio wizards” on Revolver but after the August 1966 tour they stopped playing together as a unit live. In the studio they would lay down a basic track and then record different parts of the songs piece by piece. I think its safe to say that the thing that creates “chemistry” within in a band is standing on a stage or in a room together, playing your instruments while you look the other guys in the eyes. After manager Brian Epstein died McCartney tried to take over as “the leader.” The rest of the band responded like my stepdaughter when I first met her with a collective, “you’re not the boss of me.” Lennon met Yoko which is fine but then he started bringing her into the inner sanctum, the studio, where no wife or girlfriend was allowed prior. That strained things. I don’t blame Yoko, I blame John on that. Doesn’t matter how whipped you are, certain things are sacrosanct. When they all came home from their ill-fated trip to India – Ringo had come home early because he hated the food which makes me love him even more – there was quite a bit of camaraderie. They gathered at George’s house in Esher and recorded demos which were included in The White Album Super Deluxe Edition. It sounds like they were in a really good place at that point. Sadly, that goodwill quickly dissipated in the studio. John was foisting Yoko on the rest of the band, as mentioned bringing her into the studio… and she had “suggestions.” John and Yoko had been dabbing in heroin which is never positive. Paul drove everybody into the ground doing dozens and dozens of takes on filler like “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” that Lennon derisively described as “granny music.” People say Let It Be was the sound of a band breaking up… I disagree. The White Album is the sound of four guys headed in different directions, growing apart and, to quote Neil Young, “headed for a heartbreak.”
One of the few advances during the recording of The White Album was that they actually did start playing the tracks as a band again vs building a song piece by piece. For their next LP, it was McCartney’s idea that they should “Get Back” to playing live. He saw a documentary on Picasso where they filmed the painter starting with a blank canvas and followed his progress until the painting was done. How cool is it that Picasso and the Beatles existed on this earth at the same time and could influence each other…but I’m getting off topic. He wanted to film the rehearsals for a TV special and then record the new songs they’d developed live in front of an audience of select fans. Different venues were tossed around including a cruise ship or an ancient Greek theater. The recording at Twickenham, the TV sound studio, were disastrous. Harrison quit for three days. His conditions to return to the band were a) no live concert, the idea terrified him and b) they would return to the Apple Studios and ditch the cavernous sound studio. They wrapped up the sessions with the famous Rooftop concert. They set up the gear on the roof of the Apple Studios and surprised the West End of London by jamming over lunch one Thursday in January. It was their last public show.
Since the intention was to record all of this stuff live, George Martin’s role was greatly reduced in these sessions. There was to be no overdubs. Engineer and producer Glyn Johns had a lot more production responsibilities than he’s given credit for. Things had gone so badly during what were called the “Get Back” sessions, they sorta shelved the tapes. Eventually as they were splitting up after Abbey Road came out, they gave the tapes to Phil Spector to pull together another album that Capitol was demanding. I like what George Martin said about Spector’s role in the project. Martin felt the credits should read, “Produced by George Martin, overproduced by Phil Spector.” McCartney wasn’t even consulted with the final mixes and was livid that Spector added a bunch of strings and a harp to “The Long And Winding Road.” You have a project that you want to call “Get Back” to symbolize playing live, unvarnished music and you then turn it over to Phil Spector? Critics roasted them for that. When the LP was released, now named Let It Be it received the worst reviews of the Beatles’ history.
I remember when I was in junior high and high school the local mall had Midnight Movies. A bunch of drunk and stoned people hanging out at the mall while a movie played was basically how it worked. I’m astounded I could talk my parents into letting me actually attend the Midnight Movies. I saw Zeppelin’s ‘The Song Remains The Same,’ the animated film ‘Heavy Metal’ and yes, I saw the original movie ‘Let It Be.’ I remember thinking, “why aren’t they playing their hits.” I thought it was supposed to be a live concert thing. I remember it seemed like they bickered a lot… but I really don’t recall a lot about seeing the flick. I seem to remember we’d somehow smuggled a 12-pack of beer into the theater… so there’s that. The Beatles took all of the footage of the Let It Be leftover footage and gave it to famed director Peter Jackson (‘Lord of the Rings’), and he’s putting out a six hour mini-series from the footage… restored to glorious condition apparently. It comes out in November. To coincide with that, the Beatles have now released a Super Deluxe edition of Let It Be, much like they did for Abbey Road a few years ago. I personally didn’t think the Abbey Road Super Deluxe was worth owning… I’ve never liked that record, the second side medley drives me crazy as it did Lennon. The question is, is the Let It Be Super Deluxe worth it? I’d have to give you a qualified yes.
I was not a Beatles fanatic. There are Beatles fans who can discern different takes of songs and tell you the day and time the take was recorded. I’m not like that. I’m not that obsessive… well about the Beatles anyway. I bought Let It Be at the used record store on Metcalf when I was in college. I came at it without all the baggage that Beatles fans brought to it. I always thought the Beatles were too polished and safe as a band. I loved Let It Be precisely for the reasons that the critics didn’t – it was raw and kind of sloppy. Maybe its because I’m a Stones guy and they were always a little more raw and that helped me with this LP. Let It Be has the classics “Across The Universe,” the title track and “The Long And Winding Road,” which are all essential Beatles’ songs. “Get Back” is one of their greatest rock songs. But it was the less famous stuff that I absolutely loved. “The Two of Us” which shows a heavy Everly Brothers influence is one of my all time favs. I always thought the song was McCartney writing about Lennon but he was writing about Linda. “I’ve Got A Feeling” is a great, underrated song. Harrison’s two contributions are just great: “For You Blue” is a rare blues tune from them (that I included on my “Rockers Playing Blues” playlist) and “I Me Mine” is played with a rocking vigor. They dusted off one of their oldest Lennon/McCartney tracks, that they’d never recorded, “One After 909” and its a rollicking good time. Disc 1 of the new Let It Be box is the original LP remastered in all its glory. If you’ve never heard Let It Be, this is the way to experience it.
During the tumultuous recording sessions, producer Glyn Johns took the raw tapes and put together an acetate of what he thought the Get Back (as it was still being called) album could be. It was just meant to be a starting place, an idea. He burned four copies and gave them to each of the band members. They weren’t impressed. It was too loose for their tastes. Well, naturally Get Back has been widely bootlegged over the years. I had never heard the bootleg version. Disc 4 in this box is that original, Glyn Johns’ take on Get Back. Again, this is another reason I think this box set is worth it. Get Back is a lot less polished than the version of Let It Be that got released (if that’s possible?). More importantly he kept “Don’t Let Me Down” perhaps my all time favorite Beatles’ song on the LP instead of just releasing it as a B-side. He doesn’t screw with “The Long And Winding Road” by adding strings and harp and yes Paul, its’ better. He also includes a version of “Teddy Boy” which ended up not being released by the Beatles. It became a solo McCartney tune. I really like this version of the album.
Disc 2 and 3 are outtakes and jams from the Let It Be sessions. I have to be honest, while there’s some cool stuff here I was slightly underwhelmed. I’ve been reading forever about all the stuff they recorded. Supposedly there are a ton of older cover songs they jammed on. None of that is really here. Its the knowledge that there is so much more out there – and yes, widely bootlegged – that didn’t make it onto this box that left me a little disappointed. There is some cool stuff – early versions of songs that ended up being solo tracks on the post-break up LPs: Harrison coaxing the band to play “All Things Must Pass,” and Lennon’s “Give Me Some Truth.” There’s a lot more studio chatter on Disc 2 and 3 and its cool to hear these guys interact. There are a lot of the songs that would eventually end up on Abbey Road. Early versions of “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” “Polythene Pam,” and a sketch of “Something” are all here. Hearing Ringo play “Octopus’s Garden” on piano with George encouraging him is interesting. I like the version of “Oh Darling!” here, it’s more of a jam. There are outtakes that ended up on Anthology 3 that were more fully realized that I would have liked to see included here but alas they are not. Even I have to admit, Disc 2 and 3 are probably for completists only. All of that said though – it is great to listen to these guys rediscover each other as a band to lock into that priceless chemistry they had.
This is a great sounding, fantastic tribute to one of rock n roll’s greatest bands most overlooked and underrated LPs. Is it worth it? At the end of the day I have to say yes based on a) the strength of the remaster of the original LP, especially if you don’t have it, and b) the inclusion of the Get Back album. While I dig the outtakes and studio jams, they might not be for everyone except fanatics like me. It does feel like you’re a fly on the wall. Personally I can’t wait to see what Peter Jackson does with the film… I’m sure I’ll share my reaction with you here…
“You and I have memories that stretches out ahead…” Cheers!