By late 1968, the Beatles found themselves at a crossroads. The sessions for the "white album" in mid to late 1968 had proven to be trying times, and the album ended up being, as rock critic Lester Bangs once called it, "the first rock album made by four solo artists in one band." Even Ringo Starr--the "lukewarm water" of the group--had walked out for a brief period. After the release of the "white album," the Beatles brainstormed on what to do next. By most accounts, it was Paul's idea to "get back" to their roots and get reacquainted with their core audience. The band would do a series of rehearsals and subsequent recordings to be filmed for a potential television special. The rehearsals would culminate in a concert or series of concerts in a major venue, perhaps a Greek amphitheatre, with the concert ending up being their next album. A few dates were even booked at the Roundhouse in London. The other three Beatles were reluctant. John felt they should just throw in the towel. Both George and John were completely opposed to going back out on the road, though George agreed to the film idea. Ringo's opinion was not known.
Rehearsals and filming commenced at Twickenham Studios in London on January 2nd, 1969. From the start, tensions were high. The Beatles, accustomed to late-night-into-early-morning recording sessions, were now setting up shop at 10 a.m. every day, in a cold room with colored lights and cameras. Ideas for songs were few and far between. Paul, having unofficially steered the group since the death of Brian Epstein in 1967, came across as bossy and domineering, and the other three resented him for it. John was far more consumed by his new girlfriend, Yoko Ono, who even attended the sessions and insisted on remaining by his side at all times. The band seemed to have little or no inspiration, mostly jamming on old standards and their own previous hits. Tensions ran so high that only eight days later, one row between Paul and George--over George's playing--compelled George to leave the band, stating drily "see you around the clubs." George did return a few days later, but the ideas for the television show and concert were subsequently scrapped.
After two weeks at Twickenham, filming and rehearsals were moved to the Beatles' own brand new Apple basement studio. The attitude generally was more positive, but there was still tension. George Harrison cajoled then unknown keyboardist Billy Preston--whom they had first met in Hamburg as part of Little Richard's backing band--to sit in with the band for a few numbers. In the next few days, they nailed down brilliant live-in-the-studio takes of what would become both sides of their next single: "Get Back" b/w "Don't Let Me Down." On January 30th, the Beatles--with Preston--ventured up onto the rooftop of Apple for their legendary rooftop concert, the last time the band would perform in public together. The next day, they recorded the so-called "Apple Studio Performance," taping the gentler numbers that had been unsuitable for the live concert--"Two Of Us," "The Long And Winding Road" and "Let It Be"--in the basement at Apple. By early February, the band had already discarded the "live in the studio" ethic and began working on another as of yet untitled album, which would end up being "Abbey Road."
Engineer Glyn Johns--who'd been tape operator and unofficial producer of the "Get Back" sessions--was then given the unenviable task of sorting through the dozens of hours of rehearsals and recordings and making them into a coherent album. He was instructed to maintain the "warts and all" nature of the recordings and even include snatches of dialogue from the sessions. His first attempt, submitted in May of 1969, was soundly rejected by all four members of the band. In January of 1970, four months after the release of "Abbey Road," George, Paul and Ringo (John was in Denmark) reconvened one last time to tape George's song "I Me Mine," since it was to appear in the forthcoming "Let It Be" film. It was at this time that Glyn Johns compiled yet another master which was again rejected outright by the band.
By March 1970, the four Beatles were going in different directions and had essentially parted ways...at least for the time being. John and George recruited the help of star producer Phil Spector to come in and help clean up the old "Get Back" tapes for release to tie in with the forthcoming film. (Some say this was at the insistence of Allen Klein, who maintained that the "Get Back" master hadn't been "commercial enough.") Phil worked like clockwork for a solid week, selecting some new takes, remixing everything and even orchestrating three tunes: "The Long And Winding Road," the already two year old "Across The Universe" and "I Me Mine." Ringo was even present for some of these overdub sessions, playing guide drums for the orchestra.
Paul had been in conflict with the other three Beatles for quite some time over who would manage Apple's finances. By March 1970, he was putting finishing touches on his first solo album, "McCartney," at the same time Phil Spector was working on the "Let It Be" tapes. (In fact, documentation proves that the two were even working in adjacent studios at EMI.) Since February, McCartney had demanded that his first solo album be released before "Let It Be." On March 5th, Lennon wrote Paul a letter--as seen in the "Anthology" book--explaining that it made no sense for two big albums to come out at the same time, and that they were pushing the release of "McCartney" to June 6th, which would have been well over a month after the proposed release date of "Let It Be" (April 24th). A few weeks later, Paul composed a fake press release with questions provided by Peter Bown and included it with promotional copies of his new album. In it, Paul indirectly announced that he was leaving the band due to "personal differences, creative differences"...something John had wanted to do a year earlier but was kept silent. On April 4, the story made headlines: the Beatles were finished.
At some point within ten days of that press release, Paul must have first heard what would become the piez de resistance of the "Let It Be" debacle: Phil Spector's orchestration of his ballad "The Long And Winding Road." The common misconception is that Paul had no knowledge of Spector's involvement with "Let It Be" until after the album's release on May 8th, 1970. However, the "Anthology" book shows a letter from Paul to Phil Spector dated April 14th in which Paul demands that all orchestration added to "The Long And Winding Road" be "reduced in volume" and all instrumentation and vocals by the Beatles be brought up in volume. It would appear, then, that Paul attempted to block the release of the "Let It Be" album but was unsuccessful. At any rate, on December 31st, 1970, Paul would file suit against the Beatles and Phil Spector for "intolerable interference with his work."
A few years ago, Paul began mentioning in interviews his plan to eventually release a "nude version" of the "Get Back"/"Let It Be" tapes, without the lavish overdubs and orchestrations laid on by producer Phil Spector. The idea came about when Paul ran into "Let It Be" director Michael Lindsay-Hogg on an airline flight in February 2002 and the two started talking about the potential re-release of the film on DVD. When the story first hit last year, it was a rather exciting prospect. Surely it seemed that Paul meant one of the two original "Get Back" masters that had been assembled by Glyn Johns, which had been widely bootlegged for decades. The same tapes McCartney had claimed were "fantastic" in an off-the-cuff mid-'80s interview. Some of these unadorned tracks, including the raw take of "The Long And Winding Road" much championed by McCartney, had already been released on the "Anthology 3" compilation in 1996.
in September of 2003, the official Apple press release for this new "nude
version" of "Let It Be" finally made the rounds. It was to be titled--laughably--"Let
It Be...Naked," at the suggestion of Ringo, famous for his off-the-cuff
"Ringoisms" (among them "a hard day's night" and "tomorrow never knows").
The press release was as follows:
last revealed - The Beatles album that has taken more than 30 years to
finish, Let It Be�Naked, just the bare sound of the band inside The Beatles.
Let It Be�Naked is the no frills, back-to-basics album that The Beatles first set out to make back in 1969 - but which was never released as they intended, the band back to the bone.
Now, through the smart digital technology of Abbey Road studios, the never-heard band�s take of the original sessions will be finally released worldwide by EMI Records in November.
Naked is Let It Be brought right up to now for the �1 Generation�, de-mixed and re-mixed, un-dubbed of orchestration, choirs and effects and stripped-back to the raw to reveal The Beatles simply as what they were very best at being � just a great band.
�If we�d have had today�s technology back then, it would sound like this because this is the noise we made in the studio�, said Paul McCartney �It�s all exactly as it was in the room. You�re right there now�.
�When I first heard it, it was really uplifting. It took you back again to the times when we were this band, the Beatle band�, said Ringo Starr.
When The Beatles first set out to make the album in 1969, they intended to record an album that would be a return to live performance of just the bare necessities of the band, no studio effects or overdubbing of voices or instruments would be allowed. However, caught in the turmoil of the break-up of the band, the album was re-produced by Phil Spector and never released as The Beatles had originally meant it to sound. Until now.
Let It Be�Naked�s track listing differs from the 1970 release; background dialogue, �Dig It� and �Maggie Mae� have been taken off the album and �Don�t Let Me Down� has been added to the running order, which now is as follows: Get Back, Dig A Pony, For You Blue, The Long And Winding Road, Two Of Us, I�ve Got A Feeling, One After 909, Don�t Let Me Down, I Me Mine, Across The Universe, Let It Be.
Let It Be�Naked will be issued together with a bonus fly-on-the-wall disc that features extracts from tapes of The Beatles at the time of first making the Let It Be album and movie in the Sixties.
The 20-minute bonus disc is a unique insight into of The Beatles at work in rehearsal and in the studios in January 1969.
Let It Be�Naked will also come with a booklet that features historic photography of the recording sessions and extracts of band dialogue from the original booklet that first accompanied early copies of the 1970 album.
Released worldwide from November 17th, Let It Be�Naked is the sound of The Beatles as nature intended; raw and rocking.
�The music always surpassed any bullshit we were going through; once the count-in happened we turned back into those brothers and musicians�. RINGO STARR
�It�s just us playing and singing, in our best voices, it�s very honest�. GEORGE HARRISON
�For all our success The Beatles were always a great little band. When we sat down to play, we played good�. PAUL McCARTNEY
�In spite of all things, The Beatles could really play music together�. JOHN LENNON
Now I'm usually a purist when it comes to music, but I'm all for special Beatles releases...when they're done right. For instance, I thought the "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" was an exquisite collection in both sound and presentation. It gathered all the songs used in the film and remixed them, presenting them in a breathtaking, exciting new manner. Other than the remixing, which some objected to, there was nothing historically revisionist about it. It was never meant to replace the old "Yellow Submarine" soundtrack...only to serve as a supplement. None of the Beatles' music was deleted and no parts were added or deleted from the original recordings.
There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there concerning the original "Get Back" sessions and the subsequent "Let It Be" LP. The Apple spin doctors, as well as Paul McCartney and a number of the fans, keep maintaining that "Let It Be...Naked" is the album "the Beatles wanted you to hear" and the way it was "originally intended." As we stated at the top of this article, engineer Glyn Johns had prepared two different masters of the album--in May 1969 and January 1970--and both were soundly rejected by all four Beatles. These "Get Back" masters were much more live in nature (though not completely live) than what we eventually got in May of 1970. They were rejected outright by the band. If they were indeed the way the Beatles originally intended, why were they rejected time and again?
The presumption one is led to by these carefully worded press releases is that "Let It Be...Naked" is the long lost Beatles album that was somehow suppressed from being released by an evil corporate hand. However, it was the Beatles themselves that rejected those initial versions of the songs...not once, but twice. It's also worth noting that it was the Beatles themselves who first betrayed the "live in the studio" rubric by adding overdubs to the tapes in April 1969 and January 1970. Spector is vilified for "puking all over" the original "no frills" concept, but the Beatles had already beat him to it.
that note, I think it's important to actually take a look at what exactly
Phil Spector did to the original "Get Back" tapes:
|TWO OF US||Take 12. January 31, 1969.||Spector mixed this "as is," but the dialogue at the beginning was recorded during the Twickenham sessions and was tacked on.|
|DIG A PONY||Rooftop version. January 30, 1969.||Spector edited out the "all I want is..." lines in the intro and outro. Otherwise, mixed "as is," including intro chatter and a false start, as well as more chatter at the end.|
|ACROSS THE UNIVERSE||Take
7. February 4, 1968.
Overdub - same session (Gayleen Pease/Lizzie Bravo backing vocals).
Overdub - February 8 (tone pedal guitar, maracas, piano, Beatle backing vocals).
Spector Overdub - April 1, 1970 (brass, strings, choir).
|This had already been released in December 1969 on "No One's Gonna Change Our World," a World Wildlife Fund charity album. So Spector slowed the tape down a whole step, mixed out all backing vocals and overdubbed a choir and orchestra.|
|I ME MINE||Take
16. January 3, 1970. (NOTE: John Lennon was absent).
Overdub - same session (electric piano, electric guitar, all vocals, organ, 2nd acoustic guitar).
Spector Overdub - April 1 (brass, strings, choir).
|The song was only a minute and a half and two verses long, so Spector did an artificial extension by spooling back to the end of the first verse after the line "flowing more freely than wine." He also overdubbed brass, strings and a choir.|
|DIG IT||No take number. January 26, 1969.||Spector only included 43 seconds of this 12 minute jam. He mixed out Paul's backing vocals and crossfaded the end with some studio chatter from January 24.|
|LET IT BE||Take
27A. January 31, 1969.
Overdub - January 4, 1970 (background vocals, brass, drums, maracas, cellos, unused lead guitar).
Overdub - date unknown (bass guitar).
|Spector mixed this "as is," opting for all the overdubs from January 4, which were all supervised by George Martin. This was the first release that included George's second, more rocking lead guitar solo, which had been intended for the single version but was not used.|
|MAGGIE MAE||No take number. January 24, 1969.||Mixed "as is."|
|I'VE GOT A FEELING||Rooftop version #1. January 30, 1969.||Mixed "as is," including chatter at end.|
|ONE AFTER 909||Rooftop version. January 30, 1969.||Mixed "as is," including chatter at end.|
|THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD||Take
1. January 26, 1969.
Spector Overdub - April 1, 1970 (brass, strings, choir, drums).
|Spector overdubbed brass, strings, choir and drums (played by Ringo) and mixed out Paul's spoken words in the bridge and his piano run at the end.|
|FOR YOU BLUE||Take
6. January 25, 1969.
Overdub - January 8, 1970 (lead vocal).
|Spector kept the lead vocal overdub from January 1970 but--aside from the intro--bizarrely mixed George's acoustic guitar completely out. He also added some barely audible session chatter from Twickenham at the beginning.|
|GET BACK||No take number. January 27, 1969.||Spector included session chatter from January 27 at the beginning and crossfaded the ending with dialogue from the January 30 rooftop concert, falsely intimating that this was the rooftop version.|
In fairness to Spector, he pretty much chose the most polished studio versions of the songs that he possibly could. Glyn Johns' "Get Back" albums--while remaining much more faithful to the "live in the studio" concept--were full of false starts, idle chatter, lethargic jams, unresolved endings and even flubbed words and chords. Though one may surely fault Spector for his overindulgence and overproduction on some of the tracks (as well as many other character traits we won't get into here), it's hard to ignore the overwhelming amount of evidence that, with one exception ("The Long And Winding Road"), Spector opted for the most complete, professional takes of all the songs available to him. Although it's still a mystery as to why he did not choose Lennon's impassioned "Don't Let Me Down" for inclusion. It was featured in the original film and was Lennon's strongest song to come out of the sessions...it should have been included on the original album.
Now we have "Let It Be...Naked." One would think that an album with such a loaded title would live up to its titular exectations. After all, the press release claims this album is "no frills," "back to basics," "bare," "raw" and "honest."
Unfortunately, as the old song goes, it ain't necessarily so.
last year, Abbey Road engineers Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Allan Rouse
were handed all of the "Get Back" tapes--33 reels in all--and were told
to assemble a new "Let It Be" album. But most egregiously, contrary
to the very nature of this project, many of the songs feature multiple
edits and overdubs:
|GET BACK||No take number. January 27, 1969.||Identical to Spector take, but with no chatter in the intro or outro. Retains Spector's excising of the reprise coda (as heard in the single version), which was recorded the following day.|
|DIG A PONY||Rooftop version. January 30, 1969.||Identical to Spector take, but with no intro or outro chatter. Also retains Spector's "all I want is..." edits. Finally, an errant note sung by John (his second "because") was digitally pitch-corrected.|
|FOR YOU BLUE||Take
6. January 25, 1969.
Overdub - January 8, 1970 (lead vocal).
|Identical to Spector take, including George's overdubbed lead vocal. However, George's acoustic guitar is mixed back in.|
|THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD||Take 19. January 31, 1969.||Different than Spector take. This is the version that appears in the film. Paul's scatting in the bridge has been mixed out. No brass, strings or choir.|
|TWO OF US||Take 12. January 31, 1969.||Identical to Spector take, but with no intro chatter and an early fade.|
|I'VE GOT A FEELING||Composite of rooftop versions #1 and #2. January 30, 1969.||Different than Spector take. The bulk of it is now the second rooftop version, with some Lennon vocals near the end of the song flown in from the first version.|
|ONE AFTER 909||Rooftop version. January 30, 1969.||Identical to Spector take, but with no outro chatter.|
|DON'T LET ME DOWN||Composite of rooftop versions #1 and #2. January 30, 1969.||Spector did not include the song on "Let It Be." The bulk of this is the first rooftop version (as seen in the film), with some Lennon vocals in the last verse flown in from the second version. Thus, Lennon's vocal flub has been fixed.|
|I ME MINE||Take
16. January 3, 1970.
Overdub - same session (electric piano, electric guitar, all vocals, organ, 2nd acoustic guitar).
|Identical to the Spector take, but with a slightly different artificial extended edit. The tape is spooled back after the line "all through your life." No brass, strings or choir.|
|ACROSS THE UNIVERSE||Take
7. February 4, 1968.
Overdub - February 8, 1968 (lead vocal, 2nd guitar).
|Identical to Spector take, but mixed at correct speed and lacking most overdubs (except the lead vocal and a guitar in the last chorus). No brass, strings or choir.|
|LET IT BE||Composite
of takes 27A and B. January 31, 1969.
Overdub - January 4, 1970 (background vocals).
Overdub - date unknown (bass guitar).
|Identical to Spector take, but with pieces of take 27B (the version used in the film) flown in. The fly-ins are (1) the second half of the last verse (note the wrong piano chord in the final verse that appeared in every released version of the song is now gone) and (2) the guitar solo. No brass, choir or strings.|
In addition, many of these "naked" mixes above--"For You Blue," "Two Of Us," "One After 909," "Get Back" and "Dig A Pony"--simply aren't that different than the Spector mixes. Two songs--"I Me Mine" and "Dig A Pony"--even feature edits akin to the ones Spector did: "I Me Mine" is stripped of orchestration but maintains Phil Spector's idea of artificially lengthening the song and "Dig A Pony" again excises the infamous "all I want is..." lines that many thought would be reinstated. (Yoko Ono stated in an interview that one of John's songs "sounded terrible" and that she had to go in and fix it herself. Could this be the one?) And only two takes--"Don't Let Me Down" and "The Long And Winding Road"--differ from the ones Spector chose. Hicks, Massey and Rouse claim they didn't even use the original album as a guide...but after wading through 30 hours of tapes, we have an album that isn't that drastically different from what Phil Spector came up with. However, placement of instruments and voices *do* vary from the original (vocals are always center now, for instance) and it seems like they strived to mix every song on this album in a pretty consistent, more modern manner.
Moreover, the producers "arranged" some of the songs by introducing elements from the recordings one by one. "In other words, if we felt it needed a build we wouldn't necessarily have everything in from the beginning," says Allan Rouse. "'Across The Universe' is probably the best example." Does this kind of sonic tinkering really constitute "nakedness"? If you're not hearing every aspect of the "sound [they] made in the studio," is it really "raw"?
"Let It Be...Naked" certainly isn't naked. In fact, it's as naked as an eskimo in a snowstorm.
Perhaps this is why the marketing accompanying this album is so maddening and downright sickening. From the info above, we know the album is not exactly "stripped back to the raw." It's certainly--for the most part--"de-Spectorized," but it's not exactly "as it was in the room" either. Not only that, the sticker advertises this as being "the band's cut of the albums' final sessions," when in fact Lennon had no input whatsoever in this version, seeing as how he's no longer with us.
Now perhaps the editing, re-editing, re-mixing, re-everything nature of "Let It Be...Naked" (and the "Anthologies" before it) is an attempt by Apple to give the public something it couldn't come up with on its own. The editing on some of these tracks is so complicated (with vocal "fly ins" and mixed takes) that no home recording enthusiast or bootlegger could possibly emulate them. That would have been somewhat tolerable, had the album not been subtitled "Naked" and had the accompanying press releases not continued to emphasize the "raw" nature of these recordings.
Perhaps the most accurate assessment of the project came from Matt Hurwitz of Beatlefan magazine. "'Let It Be ... Naked' is the finished album. It's the album we would have heard had they finished it like any other Beatle album with George Martin producing. No chatter, no flubs, no count-ins. It's just the songs, like you hear on any other record. ... I think the original album should be called 'Let It Be Naked,' as it's more a fly on the wall."
Granted "Let It Be...Naked" certainly does improve on the old version in some ways. Sonically, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the tapes breathe in a way that they haven't before. The remixing is in some ways akin to the "Yellow Submarine Songtrack," with a warm, punchy sound throughout. "There are certain things on the tracks where if they're not playing, they're making noises and stuff," says co-producer Paul Hicks. "So one of the first things we did was to go through it all track by track and just clean it up; clean up the little pops or when they're moving around between the takes you can hear on the original. We basically made every track completely clear." Having said that, there are elements of the mixes that sound simply *too* pristine. If one compares the new mixes of the rockier tracks with the Spector mixes, there's a certain rawness and grittiness missing from the guitars now. In songs like "I've Got A Feeling," one senses that things have been a little neutered.
There are other small nuances of the old mixes that feel woefully absent. Some of the dialogue on the original gave some color, life and humor to the proceedings. Also, some of the songs on "Naked" fade out all too quickly because of ad-libs that appeared on the original recordings. The most puzzling fade, though, is probably on "I Me Mine," which clips off the resolved chord of the organ. On the other hand, two of these mixes--"For You Blue" and "Across The Universe"--might be the absolute definitive mixes of those songs. And "The Long And Winding Road"--if that's your cup of tea--does sound pretty nice this way (and really is naked).
And of course there's the questionable omission of two tracks: "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae." Granted these are arguably the two weakest tracks on the original album...but they're also largely innocuous and, most importantly, appear in the film. And what is the point of stripping all the verite dialogue from the album, when the original concept for "Get Back"/"Let It Be"was to maintain a "warts and all" feel?
Rolling Stone writer David Fricke--who was part of the round table discussion following the album's debut radio broadcast--put it best when he said that some of the old albums' best elements are missing here. (For instance, Lennon's "Hope we passed the audition".) He said that you can't really have this version without the Spector version, adding "it should have been a double album."
Sooner or later, we are going to have to end up calling a spade a spade. More and more critics are finally calling this project exactly what it is: "McCartney's Revenge."
"Let It Be...Naked" may have been compiled by three Abbey Road engineers, but when you get down to it, it is the way Paul McCartney wants you to hear it. No matter how much of a McCartney defender you might be, you have to admit that--at McCartney's own admission--this project was his idea from the getgo and that he is the one who pushed for its release.
Having said all this, in my eyes, this album is definitely not "the way the Beatles originally intended it," for a couple of reasons:
Now that Phil Spector is accused of murder (or will be) it's the perfect time to vilify him and try and rectify the "evil" that he wreaked upon the Beatles. Even though Paul has been wanting to put a "nude" version of "Let It Be" out for quite some time, the cynical side of me wonders if this project would have come to fruition in such a speedy manner if Spector had not screwed up so royally at the beginning of the year with one Lana Clarkson. Paul and the rest of the group had their chance to release the original tapes "as originally intended" in 1969 and 1970...but they rejected them. It seems Paul only changed his mind after hearing what Spector had done to his "The Long And Winding Road." And then he waits 33 years to rectify it. Why now?
Let us compare and contrast:
Perhaps a more fitting title for the album, then, would have been "Let It Be...Revisited."
"Let It Be...Naked" is, according to the Apple press release, "The Beatles album that has taken more than 30 years to finish." Hasn't the entertainment world learned from George Lucas that constantly tampering with a work of art diminishes its impact and takes the charm out of the original creation?
So what conclusion can we come to about "Naked"? There are no great revelations here: the album has its good points and bad points and still isn't definitive. And it certainly isn't as "naked" as it purports to be. I'm just baffled at how they could spend 18 months going through 33 reels of tape and come out with an album that's so close to the original. Maybe Spector knew what he was doing after all.
All in all, I smell a rotten apple.
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