Let It Be
The last studio album of the Beatles (in order of release date) was their twelfth, Let It Be, which finally went on sale on May 8, 1970. This was just a few days after the public announcement that the group was disbanding. The record was produced by Phil Spector on the Apple Records label. Three months earlier the Beatles had released Abbey Road, which represented their most recent work. Though Let It Be followed Abbey Road, almost all of the tracks and dubs had been created earlier in 1969.
In January of 1969 the group assembled at Abbey Road for a new project. They had just come out of the exhausting process for The Beatles (The White Album), which had laid bare many personal rifts and creative conflicts amongst members of the group and staff. The new project was dubbed "Get Back," a bit of sloganeering by Paul McCartney, designed to recapture the unity and collaborative spirit that the team had lost. McCartney in particular felt that the Beatles had started to unravel because they had stopped touring, and were producing records with many tracks and overdubs instead of playing music together. The idea of "Get Back" was to go back to basic values, including live performances.
Rehearsals began on January 2, 1969 at the Twickenham Studios. This was because the studio had a sound stage, which could simulate a performance. But it was cold and grim. Other than McCartney, the band members were not enthralled with the idea of going back to concert tours. In fact, the rehearsals at Twickenham Studios in the first ten days of 1969 proved more divisive and trying than the previous recording sessions, resulting in more sensitive nerves and frayed tempers. Lennon's heroine problem, his detachment from the band, and his obsession with Yoko Ono (who became a fixture at all rehearsals) became a serious point of contention with the others. George Harrison quit the band on January 10. The trigger was McCartney's zeal to help him improve his lead guitar lines, which George felt was presumptive, belittling and imperious. Two weeks later, George agreed to return if the group would go back to the Abbey Road studios for the remainder of the project, and he added a few other conditions. When recording commenced on January 22, keyboard player Billy Preston was in attendance.
On January 30, the concert performance idea was realized with a rooftop performance atop the Apple building at 3 Savile Row. A few friends and Apple staff were present. The police ended the concert early because of noise complaints. Three songs from that performance eventually found their way onto the Let It Be album: Dig a Pony, I've Got a Feeling, and One After 909.
Ironically, the "Get Back" project included a film concept, to show how the world's premiere pop group put an album together. Takes from the sessions show more conflict than harmony, documenting more the disintegration of a band than the construction of a record. Though many songs were rehearsed and recorded during the "Get Back" sessions, the results, put together by experienced producer Glyn Johns, disappointed the Beatles, and the project was ultimately abandoned. Johns constructed two different versions of the record over the course of the year, before "Get Back" was officially rejected by the Beatles and abandoned by Johns in January of 1970. In April of 1969, McCartney approached George Martin to begin a new project, which was to become Abbey Road.
In March, 1970, when it had become evident that the Beatles were about to disband, Phil Spector was brought in to work on the takes created during the "Get Back" sessions and to produce a final, posthumous Beatles album from the materials that could be salvaged. Spector had earlier been an influence on the Beatles during their early period, when they developed their close harmonies. They appreciated the harmonic style of the Teddy Bears, a group headed by Spector in the early 1960's (famous for To Know Him is to Love Him).
The Let It Be film was also put in final form in the second quarter of 1970, mainly to complete the Beatles' contract with United Artists, which called for three films. A Hard Day's Night and Help! were the first two. (Yellow Submarine, being an animation, did not count towards the quota.) The film included takes from the rooftop concert on January 30, 1969 and scenes from the (tense) recording sessions. A famous tag line in the film comes at the end, when Lennon jokes, "I'd like to say 'thank you' on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition." This ironic comment was added to the end of Get Back as it was produced in the album.
Following McCartney's live concert concept for "Get Back," six of the songs on Let It Be were recorded as live performances, rather than as elaborately produced studio tracks. Three of these came from the rooftop concert: I've Got a Feeling, One After 909 and Dig a Pony. Three came from studio performances: Two of Us, Dig It and Maggie Mae. Five songs – For You Blue, I Me Mine, Let It Be, The Long and Winding Road and Get Back – followed the Beatles' standard approach of laying down a base track, which was then overdubbed, edited down, spliced and reworked. A 1968 recording of Across the Universe was added to complete the album's twelve track total. This song was barely rehearsed at Twickenham and then totally omitted from the recording sessions at Abbey Road later in January of 1969. Two of the songs, Let It Be and Get Back, had already come out as singles; Spector, however, was not satisfied with them. He remixed them a second time from the original tapes, largely changing the feeling and tone of the songs.
Spector's handling of several of the songs on Let It Be troubled members of the group, who had become accustomed to considerable artistic control over the processes of orchestration and remixing. Spector did not consult with the artists as he completed his work. Paul McCartney in particular was enraged by how Spector handled his songs, especially The Long and Winding Road, which had been transmogrified from a simple ballad into some sort of Hollywood Bowl production complete with orchestra, harp and a female choir. McCartney threatened law suits and pulled whatever strings he could to stop the production of Let It Be as Spector had produced it. He was not successful.
A decade later, Lennon defended Spector's work in the Playboy interview, saying that the raw material he had to work with was a "load of badly recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it" and the man was able to "make something of it."
Thirty-three years later, with the assent of the surviving band members, Let It Be…Naked was released, in which the remixes were recreated more in the traditional style of the Beatles and more to Paul McCartney's liking.
Let It Be sailed to the top of the pop music charts in the US and the UK. Singles of Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road also made number one in the US.
Nevertheless, critics did not uniformly rave about this final album of the Beatles. Most thought it an unfitting epitaph for the greatest popular music group of all time. Several objected to Spector's influence, calling it the clumsy work of a notorious "over-producer." After the dust had settled around the release of Let It Be and the nearly simultaneous announcement of the band's dissolution, the record was treated more kindly. In that same year, the Beatles were awarded an Oscar for Best Original Song Score. In 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine placed it at 86 in its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
|Side A||Lead Vocals||Written by||Length|
|Two of Us||McCartney and Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||3:33|
|Dig a Pony||Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||3:52|
|Across the Universe||Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||3:47|
|I Me Mine||Harrison||George Harrison||2:25|
|Let It Be||McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||4:04|
|Maggie Mae||Lennon and McCartney||Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey||0:41|
|I've Got a Feeling||McCartney and Lennon||Lennon/McCartney||3:37|
|One After 909||Lennon and McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||2:52|
|The Long and Winding Road||McCartney||Lennon/McCartney||3:37|
|For You Blue||Harrison||George Harrison||2:32|