Let It Be

The Beatles

Apple Records, 1970

http://www.thebeatles.com

REVIEW BY: Dan Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/29/1999

The Beatles retired from live performance in 1966, after a three-year period of whirlwind global tours. For the remainder of their career, they would focus their creativity in the studio, and produce a series of LPs so wide in scope, songwriting skill, and musical craft that the five full records produced - Sgt. Pepper's, Magical Mystery Tour, the "White Album", Abbey Road and Let It Be - are all among the pantheon of truly classic pop albums.

(Diehard Beatles fans can skip the next couple paragraphs, which will briefly chronicle the tumultuous days at Twickenham that produced this album and began the breaking-up process of the group)

In 1969, the Beatles reconvened with two goals in mind - perform live and document the preparations for said concerts in film. Paul McCartney, the originator and organizer of the project, put all his energies into putting this plan into action. Unfortunately, the other members of the group began to have second thoughts. McCartney and John Lennon's friendship was being tested already by Lennon's obsession with "avant-garde" "artist" Yoko Ono, and Lennon's drug-addled ambivalence to the project as a whole didn't improve matters. George Harrison entered the sessions after an eye-opening period of jamming with Bob Dylan and the Band, determined to have more songwriting input on the new album. The rejection of material like "All Things Must Pass" and "For You Blue" early in the sessions frustrated him to the point that Harrison actually left the group for a period during January.

Finally, it became clear to the group that the live concert appearance was simply not feasible. The group remained interested in the idea of a "live in the studio" approach, free of the George Martin studio pyrotechnics that so colored Sgt. Pepper's and the "White Album". A decision was finally made to haul the group's equipment to the roof of the Apple Records building, plug in the amps, and fire away. The Beatles (joined by keyboardist Billy Preston) played a brief set before being shut down by the police. They returned to the studio, but internal turmoil and financial issues caused an abandonment of the Get Back project. The rehearsal tapes were handed to engineer Glyn Johns to put into a releaseable form. The results were rather dire. Finally, after the Abbey Road sessions in mid-1969, producer Phil Spector surveyed the wreckage and produced the controversial mix of Let It Be that was released in May 1970 - the last Beatles LP.

Let It Be is probably the most underappreciated Beatles album (if such a thing is possible) - eclipsed by the immensity of the "White Album" and the inspired genius of Abbey Road. It is an eclectic ten-song collection (the other two tracks are short excerpts from the rooftop concert tapes) that runs the gamut from hard-nosed rock to pretty ballads to playful romps. Some of it is live, some very studio-ized. Although perhaps not up to the consistent excellence of Abbey Road and the "White Album," Let It Be is a tight, energetic album that captures the Beatles' power even during the depths of their intraband conflicts.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opening with a brief (and relatively hilarious in a British way) spoken word segment, "Two Of Us" kicks off the album - a pretty McCartney track featuring the standard vocal harmonies, plodding rhythm section, and thoughtful lyrics. The theme is "going home", perhaps a reference to the group's return to its roots, or perhaps to their impending breakup. "I Dig A Pony" is next, a Lennon bluesy number with mainly nonsensical lyrics with a very catchy chorus. Preston's organ beefs up the sound, and the electric guitar solo (presumably by Harrison) is quite effective. Two very good tracks to open up the album - both classic Beatles cuts that have been sadly underrated.

Next comes Lennon's sublime ballad "Across The Universe," another largely forgotten track that to my mind is the outstanding piece on the album. Much like his masterpiece "Because" on Abbey Road, "Across The Universe" is backed by incredible harmonies and a simple, understated acoustic theme. A wierdly disembodied choir swells during the choruses and adds to the musical tension. A piece of sublime beauty that is definitely one of my ten favorite Beatles cuts.

The first of Harrison's two contributions to Let It Be, the strangely Russian-flavored "I Me Mine," follows - a rather nasty attack on what Harrison perceived as the egotism of the dominant Lennon-McCartney axis of the band. While far from his Abbey Road masterpieces, "I Me Mine" showcases Harrison's ability to create a catchy melody around an almost menacing electric guitar riff. Preston's organ vamps during the bridge are very notable. Next comes "Dig It", another funny section of the live show, a 45-second excerpt from a longer jam that basically consists of Lennon yelling out random things over a funky, crunchy organ lick.

"Let It Be" is next, and probably needs no introduction. One of the most famous songs of all time, it is McCartney at his best as a songwriter and lyricist. Harrison's immense guitar solo and the pounding orchestral crescendo pull this song to its end. Side one ends with "Maggie Mae", another 40-second excerpt, this one of a song about a Liverpool prostitute.

Side two begins with "I've Got A Feeling", one of the last real Lennon-McCartney joint compositions. Another upbeat rocker recorded live, it is pleasant but falls short of the mark set on the first side. "The One After 909," ironically one of the first songs ever written by the two, in the late '50s, is resuscitated here, and basically sounds like it logically should - an early bluesy Beatles song augmented by Preston on electric piano.

George Martin, who did much of the pre-production on Let It Be, often described the record as having been "produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector." McCartney voiced similar complaints after the album's release. Most of this criticism has been aimed at this version of "The Long And Winding Road." Another pretty understated McCartney vocal ballad was beefed up by massive orchestral and choral tracks - although, allegedly, this was necessary due to the utterly half-assed bassline Lennon had offered for the tune. Frankly, I think it is overdone a bit, although I wouldn't honor the more venomous attacks ("Muzak") that have been leveled at it in the past. Then again, I'm not real fond of the song anyway...

"For You Blue" is the other Harrison song, and isn't really all that noteworthy, although Lennon's slide guitar is kind of neat. The album closes with the one-time title track, "Get Back". Those familiar with the single version of this will be moderately surprised by the album version - a live take from the rooftop session - which is substantially shorter and rocks harder than the earlier version. An outstanding song, it begs the question of what the finished product of a really concerted Get Back project would have been.

This is another Beatles classic record. While probably the hardest of the post-touring LPs to "get into", Let It Be is enjoyable if a bit odd in its jumps from live to studio, jams to carefully arranged tunes, and sparse to lush production. Recommended, but only after cutting your teeth on Abbey Road, the "White Album," and some sort of collection of the other mid-60s material ("Strawberry Fields Forever", "Penny Lane", "Hey Jude", "Revolution" etc.) Let It Be may lack the ethereal aura of genius and magic that surrounds much of Abbey Road, but it is an enjoyable album, well worth having or hauling out for a play now and again. Oh, and yes, John, you did pass the audition with this one.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B


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© 1999 Dan Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Apple Records, and is used for informational purposes only.