"Let It Be" Is a Mixed Bag Reissue
Most accounts have Paul as the instigator of a live to tape record but George Martin recalls John approaching him about it and saying derisively that it should be done without Martin's usual production gimmickry. The problem, according to Martin, was that the Beatles never got it right live.
Martin recounts in a tone of "how could they?" betrayal how John and George grabbed the unfinished tapes from the vaults and gave them to Phil Spector to turn into something useable, much apparently to Paul's displeasure.
By the way, you can read Part 1 of a two part 1998 interview I conducted with Sir George Martin here: George Martin Interview, Part 1
And Part 2 here: George Martin Interview, Part 2
So Phil did his thing and the album came out and flopped, though that's a relative term. It still did pretty well and over time it's become better appreciated. It does include some great tunes and no real clunkers. Ringo is especially great here. And charges that Phil Spector "overproduced" are kind of tiresome. Perhaps it didn't sell all that well because it was, after all, a movie soundtrack and after the magical Abbey Road it was just a collection of tunes. The absolutely lame back jacket copy didn't help. What the hell is a "new phase Beatles album?"
And who wrote and punctuated this?: "...essential to the content of the film, LET IT BE was that they performed live for many of the tracks; in comes the warmth and the freshness of a live performance; as reproduced for disc by Phil Spector."
The original U.K. edition included a 60 page full color laminated paper book of session shots, a few of which are including in the original American gatefold. I was working at Minuteman Records in Harvard Square when the record was released in the U.K. We brought in about 100 copies at considerable expense and I remember the next fall the store owner tried clearing them out for $5.00 each and still he had trouble doing so. I remember them piled up gathering dust under the bins. I bought one copy to play that I still have. Today those albums with the book go for hundreds.
The album was recorded at Apple Studios, with three tracks taken from the famous rooftop outdoor performance that's the basis of the film. Those three are "I've Got A Feeling", "Dig a Pony" and "One After 909. Those have an appropriately "outdoor" sound, but then so do the others, perhaps the result of decisions made by the studio engineer or by Phil Spector in his application of reverb in his final mastering.
Side one opens with the joyous "Two of Us", followed by Lennon's nonsensically charming "Dig a Pony" that he reportedly declared a "piece of garbage" and which probably was influenced by Dylan. First American pressings mislabeled the song "I Dig a Pony."
Lennon's "Across the Universe" is among his most beautiful, both melodically and lyrically. It first appeared in a differently mixed version than here on a multi-artist charity album for the World Wildlife Fund called No One's Gonna Change Our World issued around Christmas, 1969. That very different sounding mix, with bird wing flapping sound effects and other notable differences can be heard on the Rarities album, among other places.
George Martin's friend, the comedian Spike Milligan, had stopped by to say hello during the February 1968 recording session. Minuteman Records had a copy but I couldn't bring myself to spend the money to get one Beatles song. I bet that record is collectible. Of course I also failed to buy Bowie's Space Oddity album on Philips for some stupid reason. Listen: all of the great records being issued now will not be around forever, so get them while you can! Sell the car! The wife! Whatever. Get the records so you don't live later with regrets! Or at least with regrets about records you should have bought. Oh, for you young Beatles fans reading this, there will be other regrets, trust me!
George's lovely anti-greed and self-absorption waltz "I Me Mine" demonstrates yet again his increasing confidence as a song-writer. Lennon mentions both the CIA and the FBI in his "Dig It" rap. Did he already know he had a file? And then there's Paul's title track masterpiece greatly aided by Billy Preston's keyboards, followed by a bit of Lennon "Maggie Mae" silliness. It's a damn nice side don't you think?
Side two's opener "I've Got a Feeling" supposedly combines a few unfinished tunes: "I've Got a Feeling" by McCartney and two by Lennon, "Everybody Had a Hard Year" and "Watching Rainbows." The song contrasts McCartney's sunny disposition and Lennon's darker side, though the previous year was tough for him: a drug arrest and a divorce among his "hard year."
The roots rocker "One After 909", written in the late 1950's was a Lennon song that was among the first to have input from McCartney shortly after the two first met. McCartney's "Long and Winding Road," written as a soulful metaphor for his time with the Beatles, got a Phil Spectorized treatment with a few dozen strings, brass and a female chorus that so incensed Sir Paul that it was made part of his court case to dissolve the Beatles' legal organization. Apparently the inclusion of a harp was the stringed instrument that broke the camel's back. However, I bet at the time, many fans dug it. In retrospect, Spector's mix insultingly and grotesquely buries McCartney's vocals. One can only imagine his reaction upon first listen!
George's basic twelve bar blues "For You Blue" rolls along nicely and the album, The Beatles' official last, ends appropriately with "Get Back."
Arguably the original American pressing mastered at Bell Sound with the lead out groove area inscribed "Phil and Ronnie" is the original pressing of record. I compared that one with the original U.K. and stopped there. Interestingly, these tracks were individually mastered for this reissue and not as the compiled songs ran on the original tape, so perhaps that explains the unusual but inconsistent variations between the originals and the reissue.
Overall this is a successful mastering job. Side one begins well, (though the opening Lennon announcement is notably drier) and compares favorably with the originals (both of which sound similar tonally). Yes, Ringo' snare and cymbals are somewhat darker and exhibit less snap, but not as badly as on The Beatles. But at "I Me Mine" the dullness heard on The Beatles returns and continues through "Let It Be" and "Maggie Mae." Too bad for "Let It Be."
Side two on the other hand is uniformly good: yes it's dimensionally flatter, but the EQ has improved the bass, the orchestration on "Long and Winding Road" gets clarified (though on a flatter stage) and McCartney's hated harp is more easily heard above the orchestral din. "For You Blue" exhibits great detail on the right channel's guitar parts but clearly that's in part because of some dynamic compression.
The reissue is drier and less spacious and the top end doesn't shimmer as well as on either the American or UK original, but the bass EQ and yes, even the compression, make the album rock better than some of the tracks on the originals.
Not sure why the red apple on the back of the UK and American originals has been turned green.