The Beatles: Let It Be…Naked
The Beatles: Let It Be…Naked
[Apple/EMI CDP 7243 5 9571324]
The sum of the tracks recorded during The Beatles’ ill-fated Get Back sessions in January of ’69 are the Rodney Dangerfield of the timeless group’s oeuvre, doomed to disrespect and mistreatment that it has received throughout the course of the past 35 years.
A quick overview for the uninitiated: the general goal behind these sessions was to bring The Beatles back to their roots as a rock & roll quartet, devoid of the magisterial studio flourishes that are the hallmark of Sgt. Pepper and The Beatles, a.k.a. The White Album. Accomplished music biz director Michael Lindsay-Hogg filmed the group as it first rehearsed the new material in the cold, unfamiliar confines of Twickenham Studios before the Cantankerous Four high-tailed it back to familiar digs at Abbey Road.
Though the film was to culminate in a massive live performance of these mostly new songs – the band’s first concert since it quit the road in 1966 – their inability to agree on an appropriate venue combined with general disappointment with the session tapes led to the album, tentatively titled Get Back, being placed on a shelf where it was to remain for a year. It was during this time that The Beatles recorded the production-heavy but ultimately more successful career finale, Abbey Road.
Legend has it that once this grand masterwork appeared on the shelves, John Lennon handed the original Get Back tapes to master producer Phil Spector, who, in true Spector fashion, added substantial strings and background vocals to two songs that enjoyed their respective spotlights at Number 1, here and in the U.K.; “The Long And Winding Road” and “Let It Be.” The latter of the two, chosen as the title of both the film and album because of its post-breakup significance, easily ranks among the most memorable Beatles singles.
But don’t tell that to Paul McCartney, who for years lobbied for a stripped-down, Spector-free “Let It Be,” even though that vision had already been realized in the pre-Phil Get Back album that was rejected by The Beatles before the original project was pushed to the side. Originally designed as a sort-of parody of the group’s first album, complete with a rip-off of the debut’s cover concept, Get Back has been available for years as a bootleg, pirate of a bootleg, expanded bootleg, and a dozen or more variations that can still be found in dimly lit record emporiums the world over.
Jumping back to the modern era, McCartney was finally granted his wish when EMI presented the tapes to Paul Hicks who, along with Allan Rouse and Guy Massey, recreated most of the album’s lineup from the original multi-channel reels, rather than any of the previously completed masters.
The result is not so much a stripped down version of Let It Be or even a cleaned upGet Back, but an entirely new edition. Gone are the strings and choruses that haunt the 1970 release, instead replaced with many new mixes that arguably represent yet another variation of an album that still falls short of offering a satisfying experience. Similar to its predecessors, however, Let It Be … Naked contains several brilliant tracks that warrant a listen, preferably by way of a borrowed copy.
The most intriguing aspect of the new disc is the master, not the mix. Hicks and Rouse were part of the team that spiffed up the more familiar mixes that landed on 1 and Yellow Submarine soundtrack, two albums that, to my ears, sound a million times better than the muddy CDs that have permeated the market since the mid-eighties. Both of those albums are as rich and full-bodied as your favorite cup of java, and almost as invigorating. Bass lines resonate in a way that can only be otherwise heard on The Beatles’ seventies-era Parlophone vinyl prints.
The new album’s sonics may be similar, but unlike the other modern era releases, Let It Be…Naked falls short when compared to the more familiar collection. In what appears to be a conscious attempt to create an entirely new set from the former’s parts, the engineering team instead altered the sequence to reflect neither the initial blueprint nor the official 1970 release. Eliminating the earlier versions’ fades and chatter, such as the reprise at the end of the “Get Back” single or banter that follows the Spector mix, shortened several tracks. Here, the song’s ending feels premature.
One of the more disturbing elements is the new take on, “The Long and Winding Road,” the bane of McCartney’s existence that is supposed to be presented as the artist intended. That may or may not be true, but this version comes across as a rightly rejected alternate take, with the vocal mixed too low, appearing on a sonic par with the band, not the front-and-center position it so rightly deserves. Billy Preston’s organ accompaniment is as sweet as the version that adorns The Beatles Anthology, though it sounds a bit muted, leaving a little too much white space in the mix. Similarly, Preston’s piano no longer adds commentary to “One After 909,” now mixed way down behind the band. The absence is notable.
Only “Across the Universe” benefits from the recent overhaul. This is one of Lennon’s most affecting songs, slowed down as Spector intended, minus the strings and chorus that overwhelms and ultimately smothers the 1970 mix, yet without the ridiculous sound effects and unnecessary adolescent backing vocals that marred an earlier take that ended up on a multi-artist charity LP. Here, two guitars support the mostly clean vocal, with an almost organic resonance that is missing from any previous version.
Like all pre-breakup releases, Let It Be … Naked clocks in at less than 30 minutes, leading me to wonder why EMI included the Fly-on-the-Wall 22-minute jumble as a separate disc. Perhaps it is because this rambling pastiche of conversation and clipped rehearsals will appeal to only the most diehard Beatles fanatics; the rest of us can use it as a coaster. It may have been considered a treasure in the pre-Anthology days; now it is merely an incoherent artifact that could easily have been tacked on to the end of the disc as an extended bonus track for those who have free time to spare. I guess EMI had to find a way to justify the $20+ SRP, though I would have preferred to hear a few of the complete, extended jams that are only hinted at in the film.
What am I saying? Leftover jam sessions and as-yet-untinkered-with alternate takes leave ample room for Let It Be … Somewhat Clothed. As demonstrated by the ever-expanding Beatles catalogue, there’s money in that there franchise.
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