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Let It Be – Released May 8, 1970
It’s one of rock music’s greatest ironies that the movie Let It Be was intended to showcase The Beatles’ creative process but ended up depicting their turmoil and eventual breakup instead. This schizophrenic process extended to the movie’s soundtrack album. After hundreds of hours of musical sessions lay untouched for months, the entire debacle was handed over to legendary music producer Phil Spector to process.
Paul was the most vocal about Spector having overdone his assignment (see our entry about The Long and Winding Road below). But, as Beatles biographer Nicholas Schaffner pointed out, the real problem with the soundtrack is that Spector only goes halfway with it; he should either have gone all-out with his famed Wall of Sound on every song, or he should have left each song unadorned (which was The Beatles’ original intention anyway). All of that said, the album is most listenable as a symbol for what it could have been.
(Postscript: Three decades later, Paul used his legendary clout at Capitol Records to put out Let It Be…Naked, an alternate version of the soundtrack that left all of the songs as is, with no fancy strings or heightened production. However, Paul didn’t have enough clout to have the original Let It Be album removed from The Beatles’ catalog; both are available for a side-by-side comparison.)
Two of Us: With this song and One After 909, Paul was definitely trying to light the fire of nostalgia under the hindquarters of his ever-estranged partner John. It obviously didn’t work, but it made for some nicely wistful music. Let It Be (the album) is a very in-and-out affair musically, but this number works wonderfully.
Dig a Pony: You can celebrate anything you want, but this song isn’t quite an occasion for dancing in the streets. Another of John Lennon’s free-associational lyrics a la Come Together, but here the musicianship doesn’t cover the cracks in the writing as well as the other did. Nice guitar work, sloppy verbalization.
Across the Universe: Everyone knocks Phil Spector’s over-production of this album, but he deserves a bouquet for his perfect complementing of John Lennon’s dreamy lyrics in this song. The alternate version of the song (found on Past Masters and Anthology 2) is far less oblique, with fluttery wings at the start and falsetto accompaniment on the chorus that nearly makes one gag.
I Me Mine: George in a Taxman-like mood. Amazing how the same guy who preached love like a tub-thumping evangelist could indulge his more hostile modes with equal fervor. Still, this song is far more successful in conveying a sense of blues than For You Blue was. (Freudian note: George named his 1978 autobiography after this song, not Give Me Love [Give Me Peace on Earth].)
Dig It: Talk about filling a hole where the rain got in! Beatles jamming at its worst, with a lot of supposedly funny wordplay thrown in (though Doris Day was no doubt thrilled to be mentioned in a Beatles song). The bootleg version of this song is even worse, going on forever and sounding like the ramblings of a mud-drenched stoner at Woodstock. When John Lennon said he wanted to release Let It Be with no frills in order for Beatles fans to see them “with their pants down,” this song is just the kind of mooning he was referring to.
I’ve Got a Feeling: A not-bad Paul rocker, though one could live without more of John’s free-associating in the middle. (The movie is surely the only G-rated film to make a reference [John’s] to a “wet dream.”)
One After 909: An early Lennon/McCartney chestnut that Paul brought out of storage in order to spark some nostalgia in John for the old L/Mc partnership. It obviously didn’t work, but it sure added some spark to the movie’s rooftop-concert sequence. The really early version of the song appears on Anthology 1, but stick with the version that John ends with a snatch of “Danny Boy.”
The Long and Winding Road: When you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned, and if you’re Paul McCartney handing over one of his most bathetic recordings to Phil Spector, you’re gonna get a cathedral’s worth of production on the final product (see below). Paul complained for years about Spector going overboard on this one, but with that song, what did Paul expect? Actually, the unadorned version on Anthology 3, obviously closer to Paul’s vision of the song, plays far less schmaltzy than this album version, but neither version is exactly modest in its sense of sentimentality.
For You Blue: The song’s working title (“George’s Blues”) says it all. The bluesy musical approach doesn’t gibe well with the sunny Something/Here Comes the Sun-type lyrics, but at least it sounds interesting.
Get Back: Another of those Beatles numbers where the performance saves all. Get Back, of course, was the intended title of what became Let It Be (the movie, album, and break-up), but the lyrics don’t support that thought very well. (What is it with that Sweet Loretta Martin, anyway? She doesn’t sound like she’s ready to get back to anything.) But The Beatles’ pounding guitars, helped along by Billy Preston’s keyboard, get the idea across quite effectively. (Footnote: Preston later performed the song himself in 1978’s abominable Sgt. Pepper movie and was suitably embarrassing, as was most of the movie.)
What do you think of Let It Be and/or any of its songs (or the movie, for that matter)? Share your opinion with us in the “Comments” section below. Tomorrow: We wrap up our Beatles tribute by digging deep into the Fab Four’s singles catalog with the two-CD compilation set Past Masters.)