Well, I'm surprised to have to admit, I don't like it
very much. Sure, it's best thought of as a different document altogether, a different take on the same events, but all the same, much has been lost.
It's obvious I was wrong, but I thought I'd be hearing more or less the same record, give or take a few tracks, remastered, remixed, and with post facto overdubs removed. Actually, several of the tracks sound different not just because of any remixing or mastering, but because they're different takes, different vocals, different guitar parts. Different, you understand, but not better.
"Get Back" starts it off and sounds more or less exactly the same. To my ears, on my car stereo. Louder, yes, following the current trend for louder CDs, but not appreciably different. I imagine that unless you are Bob Hi Fi with virgin ears from Hi Fi Town, you're going to be pushed to spot the difference. With the rumbling of a diesel engine, road noise, and all the other traffic, "Get Back" sounds the same. Except. As advertised, all the chatter and background comments have been excised.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that the ethos of Let it Be
, as Mother Mary intended, was to sound more "live," with no fancy pants overdubs, just raw Beatles. Part of what made the original record was the very aliveness of the between-song moments. All cleverly edited in, which is maybe the objection, but at the same time, cleverly edited in so as to give the illusion of liveness. And it worked. I can't hear certain songs without also hearing, "Oh, my soul... oh, it's so hard..." And, "The picker, picks with his fingers..." And complaints about the cold, and a snatch of Danny Boy, and, of course, the falsetto "Ooooh," to close "Get Back," followed by, "I'd like to thank you all on behalf of the group..."
It's all gone, and it is missed. Because it worked beautifully, not just to create that Live Illusion, but because it was quintessentially The Beatles. It was the sort of thing they did.
"Dig a Pony" sounds pretty much the same. I'm not going to get all trainspotterish about whether it's different takes edited together. Why does it follow "Get Back"? Because it's a John song to follow a Paul song. One of the problems (for Lennon) of Let it Be
is that he was reserving his own songs (already) for his solo album. Interesting to read on the sleeve notes almost exactly the same statements (on different days) from George and John about possible solo projects. For George, it's an opportunity to clear his backlog, because he could fill Beatles albums for ten years with his "quota". So All Things Must Pass
makes perfect sense in that context.
But then when John parrots George and says almost exactly the same thing, it's for a different reason: because he wants to hear what his songs sound like next to each other - as opposed to taking turns with Paul.
"For You Blue" starts off sounding the same, and then becomes, well, shambolic. You can hear too much, it's too clear. Whereas with Country musicians hearing everything they do is part of the pleasure, the pleasure of the best rock lies with what you can't quite hear. It's the fadeout solo, or the almost-below-perception thing. The beauty of analogue tape was its ability to mush things together in a blend of sounds that was better, really, than being able to hear every squeak and rattle.
Then we have "The Long and Winding Road," which I never liked before, and still don't like. It's a de-Spectorised version now, but it's still naff.
Probably the best-sounding song on the record is "Two of Us," which sounds more lively and upfront. So they've actually done a good job on that one. But we're halfway through the record before you really get a positive. And I'd still prefer it to begin, "I dig a pygmy..."
All the same, I was mostly enjoying the experience... until it came to "I've Got a Feeling."
We're back now to what's wrong with this overall, it's lack of aliveness. The true beauty of "I've Got a Feeling" was that it sounded incredibly spontaneous and improvised, because John got one of the lines wrong on his countermelody. But, after moving his mouth away from the microphone for a second, he brazens it out and carries on. And that one moment, more than anything, when the singer backs off from the mic and makes his voice fade away, made it sound live, quick and dirty, spontaneous.
But on this new version they use a totally different vocal, and it sounds wrong. And my good cheer starts to crumble, because I can see now who I'm dealing with. It's a funny thing, but the anal retentiveness of audio engineers often runs counter to those things that make music good. Like the slightly bum note, the not-quite-there solo, the forgotten lines. When Lennon laughs at himself on Live at the Hollywood Bowl
, during "Help," when he sings the lines wrong (as usual), it's superb.
But we're dealing here with the kind of people who think that a wrong line is better corrected.
Skip towards the end. "Across the Universe" is better in this version, because it's more up-tempo, and it rattles along at a decent pace. Which brings us to "Let it Be" itself, which starts off sounding as if it's more or less the same, but then they choose to use a different guitar part. This may be more in keeping with what George was doing at the time, playing through a Leslie
, and I like that roto mod sound, as you know. But now they're using a solo that sounds more like the one on the single, and the slightly gritty one that was on the album is banished. There may be reasons for this. Was it overdubbed later, under Spector's supervision? Whatever, not everything Spector did was bad (like the snippets of "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae" and the banter - I liked all that), and I especially liked the guitar on the title track. It's probably my favourite guitar part on any Beatles song, give or take "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party."
This Leslied solo is not as good, and it goes away and doesn't come back in under the vocal like the original did. And it's just not as good.
Now, this bloke
tried desperately in the Guardian yesterday to be provocative and controversial, and he certainly provoked a response. But I'd have predicted he would get a lot of support. Back in the 70s, when I was at school, I was one of two people I knew who really liked the Beatles. Everyone else was into what kids are always into: what was in the charts, and what their friends liked. This would be Slade, yes, and later the Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned.
Sure, they've become a money-making machine since they split, but I suspect that was only really because they never made much money back in the 60s (these things are relative, of course - they still made more than my old man). They pissed it all away, as pop stars tend to do, and only Macca had a sustained and successful solo career (Lennon's lasted 5 years and then he came back to it and died quite quickly). Anyway, the point I'm making is that this Simpson geezer is not a voice crying in the wilderness, but the voice of most people, most of the time. Even now, sitting here, I can think of only one person in the whole office who is slightly interested in Let it Be... Naked
. Really. Sure, they're going to sell a few million around the world, but the population of the world is twice what it was in 1963.
Even in the sixties, there were always plenty of nay sayers who were waiting (and waiting) for the bubble to burst. A lot of what the Beatles did has to be seen in the context of intense competition and criticism. People like Simpson, the kind who think shouting, "Bum!" in the school assembly makes him a unique Johnny Rebel (here comes Johnny Rebel), always object that everybody's parents
liked the Beatles, but that was only true to an extent. I think they probably preferred them to the Stones, but then went off them when, around the end of 1965, they went "all funny."
Post "Help!", post weed Beatles were a different breed, and everything they did after "Help!" is a kind of reaction to it. At the same time, their career was a series of what-have-we-got-ourselves-into-now moments, whether it was psychedelia era projects that never happened, boutiques, record labels, trips to India, or high-concept film-the-rehearsals television specials, there was always something they wished they hadn't started, something they had to extricate themselves from with grace and style.
They survived the sixties, and all the carping, and all the cock-ups, and the NME asking every few weeks if they'd lost it, and here comes the next Big Thing, because they had that grace and style. Because they could turn a quickie rooftop concert, (more of a "happening" than a concert), into a crowning glory, a farewell to the sixties, and provide closure to a Bad Vibe.
What I like about Let it Be
, the film, is that they're clearly uncomfortable, and awkward, and maybe going a little bit mad due to the isolation and the pressure they've put themselves under. And then they do the rooftop concert, and there are people standing around on the roof looking bored, and there's a bloke with a flat cap, and George and John are wearing fur coats (real fur?), and Ringo is wearing a raincoat, and it's January and everyone is cold. And there's a bloke in the background with a flat cap (did I mention that?). For me, that symbolises the end of the sixties. Here we have one of the biggest news stories of the 20th Century (not the rooftop concert, the Beatles themselves and their achievements), and there we have four long haired rock stars, some of them - allegedly - hooked on smack, who were hated
by the establishment (this is the era of all the arrests and harassments), and they're creating a stir, as usual, in the middle of London, hip as you like, but there are people down on the street, in this era, still wearing pinstripe suits and bowler hats. In fact, hat wearing was still a thing. Flat caps and bowler hats, and the Beatles, beautiful, singing "Get Back," and "Don't Let Me Down" in fur coats, and getting some of the words wrong.