[VIDEO] The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ at 45: ‘Get Back’ Live Rooftop Concert Footage, 1969Posted: May 8, 2015
Billboard’s Track-by-Track Album Review
Kenneth Partridge writes: Over the course of 16 months beginning in early 1969, an ambitious project that was titled Get Back and intended to document the back-to-basics rebirth of the Beatles devolved into Let It Be, a heavily fussed-over hodgepodge of live and studio cuts finally issued a month after the band had broken up. It’s a messy end to the Fab Four story, though in some ways, it’s not an ending at all.
Released 45 years ago today, on May 8, 1970, Let It Be isn’t really the final Beatles studio album. It was recorded almost entirely in January 1969, shortly before the lads regrouped, worked their magic one last time, and cut the vastly superior Abbey Road, which dropped in September ‘69.
Whereas Abbey Road came together somewhat naturally—in a proper studio, with longtime producer George Martin at the helm—Let It Be (and its accompanying film) was completely forced. Its uncharacteristic spottiness has much to do with the wrongheaded approach.
From the beginning, Let It Be was Paul McCartney’s baby. He’d been leading the band since manager Brian Epstein’s death in 1967, and as relationships grew strained, and the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time started to splinter, Paul seemed the least willing to, you know, let it be.
Somehow, he convinced John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr that the best way forward was to hire a film crew and make a movie about the band’s efforts to rehearse for a live performance (or series of live performances) that would help wipe away the acrimony and make everything fab once again. As any reality-TV alum can attest, the presence of cameras rarely makes life easier, and it didn’t help that a completely checked-out John insisted on bringing then-girlfriend Yoko Ono to the sessions.
Not that she was the problem. Harrison was the first to snap, and he quit the band about a week into the sessions. He agreed to return, but only if they moved from the Twickenham soundstage where they’d been working to the basement studio at their own Apple Corps headquarters in London. It was there that the group hunkered down for the remainder of the month, amassing hours and hours of music Lennon described in a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone as “the shittiest load of badly recorded shit—and with a lousy feeling to it.”
That line is part of a longer quote wherein Lennon defends Phil Spector, who came on to mix the album after the group twice rejected versions put together by engineer Glyn Johns. Known for his bombastic “Wall of Sound” aesthetic, Spector tarted up several of the tracks with orchestral overdubs, and while Lennon was pleased with the results, Paul was incensed.
McCartney was particularly cheesed off about Spector’s cheesed-up “The Long and Winding Road,” a tune Paul would radically strip down for 2003’s Let It Be… Naked, a revisionist-history lesson that involved tearing down the Wall of Sound and presenting the songs as he felt they should be heard.
However fans feel about Spector’s contributions, he’s not the villain of this story. No one is. Let It Be is the sound of four grown men with shared histories and diverging futures trying to squeeze blood from stones. The album contains a few moments of brilliance (“Two of Us,” the title track, the freewheeling country-rock finale “Get Back”) amid silly jams and a trio of wonderfully ragged performances recorded on January 30, 1969, when the Beatles took to the roof of Apple HQ and gave their final live show.
To be certain, Abbey Road is the neater Beatle conclusion—it even ends with “The End.” But if the saga must wrap with Let It Be, the record is a reminder that no one is infallible, you can’t force inspiration, and nothing lasts forever. Also: The Beatles at their worst were still pretty great.
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