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Let It Be, released on May 8, 1970, is somewhat of a Beatles anomaly. The project had an original working title of Get Back, and was planned as a sort of film and record documentary of their work in the studio, and musically they hoped to capture the essence of their early musical influences. During the period of time that the group was recording for this album, the legal and personality problems between the members were beginning to surface, so it's not surprising that the original idea got a little sidetracked.
Somehow, Phil Spector was brought in to produce the album. I've never made any bones about it--I don't like his style, and his reputation for the "wall of sound" and having a heavy hand on the control knobs is well-known. In spite of Spector's tendency to overproduce, I believe that the musical ideas that the Beatles were trying to project still survived, even though the Spector influence is overt on a track or two. Much of the album was recorded live, and I think this accounts for the intended raw feel that survived much of Spector's officious meddling.
The tracks, and my comments about each, are as follows:
1. Two Of Us--In spite of the tangible dissension which was evident between John and Paul, you can tell that they worked together on this song. It has a warmth that has been missing from their work for a long time, and their duet is so good that you can't tell which line is the melody. John starts it off with some studio prattle that's pretty funny, and the song begins with an acoustic guitar lick that's repeated throughout the song. Paul plays a galloping bass line, and the percussion is at a minimum, with Ringo using mostly his kick drum, and a snare rave-up before the bridges. The lyrics are nostalgic, and you can tell that John and Paul are singing about themselves, in happier times. To add to the "real" feel of the song, the musicians fade out by gradually lowering their volume--this isn't done at the controls.
2. Dig A Pony--A doubled guitar-bass riff starts this one out, and it's a pretty raw, primal offering. John sings the lead, nicely complimented by Paul's high harmonies. The lyrics sound somewhat nonsensical, but there are some gems there--"I pick a moondog" is a reference to one of the earliest Beatles' incarnations--Johnny and The Moondogs (as a matter of fact, the first tune may have been about another Beatles' incarnation, The Nurk Twins). George's solo is simple and elegant, and shows just far he has come since the early days. John's line "I go to glory" may have been a premonition of his premature and tragic death.
3. Across The Universe--One of the prettiest John Lennon songs. His voice is child-like, as if in wonder of the images he's describing. The heavy hand of Spector is here--I've heard demos of this tune that I like better that used just John and his acoustic guitar. The song works, in spite of Spector--it's such a masterpiece that even his overproduction couldn't ruin it. The mantra that John intones in the song posits the idea of music as a form of meditation.
4. I Me Mine--This is a George Harrison composition, and it bitterly describes the petty jealousies and greed that he perceived were at work between the members of the band. The song is really brooding before breaking out into a rock n' roll riff, and then returns to the droning monotony of the verses. Spector again adds too much, and this song really doesn't withstand his overproduction assault.
5. Dig It--This song has a fade-in and features John in a rap mode, spouting lyrics in a completely offhanded fashion. It's very brief and raw, and captures the Beatles in a really improvised moment. It ends with John, in a falsetto, introducing Let It Be, by Paul, as "Hark The Angels Come", with a little barely concealed derision.
6. Let It Be--I call this one Paul's "southern gospel" song, and it does have that sort of feel to it. Some critics have said that it's about his mother; I don't know about that. I tend to think of it a simply a song about the comforts that religion can offer us. Paul's voice and his piano are beatiful in their simplicity. Billy Preston does some chruch organ work and George's guitar solo is simply superb, providing a nice contrast to the polish of the rest of the song. Spector's horn section actually works in this song.
7. Maggie Mae--This song must have been a Liverpool pub standard--it's about a prostitute, and whether it was intentionally placed following Paul's religious tune, I don't know. The tune is brief, totally unrehearsed and off the cuff. It's over before your know it.
8. I've Got A Feeling--A fine guitar riff moves this song, and it's apparent that it's tune that John and Paul each contributed a distinct part to. What's interesting is that the roles each play in the song are atypical--Paul is expressing his angst, and John is somewhat the disembodied lyricist--a complete reversal of their styles. Spector added a neat trick in the last verse where each singer is singing his part and both tracks are played simultaneously against each other--one of his few good touches on the album.
9. One After 909--Parts of this song was written as far back as 1957, but never completed because of dissatisfaction with the lyrics. There's nothing complicated about this song--it's just the good old rock n' roll that this band cut their teeth on. The warmth of their playing clearly shows us how much the Beatles loved the rock n' roll form.
10. The Long And Winding Road--Phil Spector really mucked this one up. I've heard demos with very sparse instrumentation, and I can tell you, those versions are much, much better than this atrocity. It's schmaltzy, overblown, and in direct contrast to Paul's simple, direct tone. I think if George Martin had been at the controls, this song could have been every bit as big as Hey, Jude. Spector's orchestra simply overwhelms and overpowers what could have been a beautiful, simple ballad.
11. For You Blue--This is the second George Harrison composition on the album. It's a exercise in the shuffle beat, and about the only thing that saves it is some excellent slide guitar work by John Lennon. The acoustic guitar intro promises some big things, but the song pretty much falls flat after that, save the slide guitar work.
12. Get Back--One of their most popular songs, and one of my least favorites. I think it's a pretty unremarkable tune, except for the Billy Preston keyboards. John's low harmonies are good, and as always, they compliment Paul's voice perfectly.
In spite of the crimes that Phil Spector committed, this is a good album--heck, I think any album by the Beatles is good, in some way or another. Perhaps the most glaring thing about this album is what's missing--George Martin. Let It Be demonstrates the value of this man to the Beatles, and his absence is very noticeable. Even Spector couldn't kill the original concept of the project, although it did get diluted a little bit.
Sorry I disagree on two points. One I do like Spectors wall of sound right from first hearing it with the Ronnettes, and second I love get back. There you go, all down to taste..Baz
Johnsie 02.08.2002 02:22
greatly detailed enjoyable op again...nice one...
Kirsty1 31.07.2002 17:59
This is a very interesting and informative op - thank you. I always enjoy opinions that have a logical but personal viewpoint and your argument about Phil Spector (although news to me) was really put across well. Kirsty
The Beatles: George Harrison, John Lennon (vocals, guitar); Paul McCartney (vocals, bass, guitar, piano); Ringo Starr (drums). Additional personnel: Billy Preston (keyboards). The last Beatles' release of new material (although it was recorded before ABBEY ROAD) features songs recorded live in the studio and at the famous "rooftop session." On the back of the sleeve is the ironic note: 'This is a new phase Beatles album'. The new phase being, here are four maturing men growing apart and desperately needing a break from each other. The accompanying film is too painful to watch, as tempers fray and tension is in the air. In addition to the title track, only 'Get Back' and maybe 'Long And Winding Road' rate as great Beatles songs. The others are all brief entertainments and scraps of tunes. Lennon and Harrison had already moved on in their heads and McCartney was left to paste it together. The overwhelming feeling of this album is one of incredible sadness.
Rolling Stone - Ranked #86 in Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums Of All Time" - "...Some of the strongest rockers and most poignant ballads in their entire canon..." Entertainment Weekly - Ranked #45 in EW's "100 Best Movie Soundtracks" - "...Beautifully explores a nostalgia for simpler times - theirs 'and' ours..." Entertainment Weekly (10/12/01, p.36) - Ranked #45 in EW's "100 Best Movie Soundtracks" - "...Beautifully explores a nostalgia for simpler times - theirs 'and' ours..."