"Let It Be" Is a Mixed Bag Reissue

This album stiffed when first released in the Spring of 1970. While it was hyped as the "last Beatles album" everyone knew it was recorded before Abbey Road, even if they didn't know the messy history behind it. And by the time the album was released the Beatles had broken up.

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.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Share | |
COMMENTS
AQ Shane's picture

"Produced by George Martin, Overproduced by Phil Spector." Ha!

Goochified1's picture

I was just reading those liner notes on Let It Be myself and thought the same thing. But as I continued reading your review, I saw that you, as well, make mistakes like forgetting the second comma in a sentence like "that you, as well, make mistakes..." There is also a period missing in the 4th to last paragraph (after "...as badly as on The Beatles"), as well as a song mistakenly titled "My Me Mine."

I guess the "plus" for you is that your review's punctuation mistakes can be fixed (and then you can delete my comment) and we can pretend this never happened. But that Let It Be album's mistakes are there on your copy forever and on future copies until someone fixes the film (or digital InDesign files) and presses the record again.

Still, love your reviews—including all the personal details!

Michael Fremer's picture

Yes, like all writers, I do make mistakes but all writers, even the best, have copy editors to fix them—all writers except for website writers. I post what I write without a copy editor's aid.

Since you were looking and the best you could find were a few omitted commas, a period and an incorrectly listed song, I'd say not bad for "raw copy."

Of course I'll fix the mistakes but I'll also leave this comment.

And please, feel free to send corrections as noted. Unlike CDs, I don't claim perfection!

mward's picture

Really, no real clunkers? I've always thought that the album was about half filler: "Dig It", and "Maggie Mae" I find disposable; the version of "909" here is perfunctory, although I think the version on "Anthology" works fine as an early Beatles tune. Both of Harrison's contributions are slight, although I have a soft spot for "Blue", especially the ukelele bits.

 

Maybe not half filler, but it's a short album to begin with, which always made me feel it lacked the meat of "real" Beatles albums. Some essential songs, some good but not essential stuff, some mediocre stuff, and some filler—in terms of its composition, it strikes me as similar to Magical Mystery Tour, or the White Album (although the White Album's sheer volume overcomes its "mixed bag" aspects). It comes out ahead of Yellow Submarine, at least.

Michael Fremer's picture

I never considered "Dig it" or "Maggie Mae" songs, per se, just "color." Yes it is a short album, but you are a tough customer if you put "Let it Be" and the "White Album" in the same category!

mward's picture

That's fair enough to not consider them songs, I suppose. 

As to my White Album comment, I'd have to do the math, but I think the hit to miss ratio (according to my subjective assessment) on White and Let it Be are comparable. Don't get me wrong, I love the White Album (and I have some affection for Let it Be as well), and I think it's vastly superior—even if the hit to miss ratio is the same, given its length, that gives White lots of excellent songs that I would not want to be without (I think Dear Prudence is an underrecognized gem in the catalog. There's just more room for error on a longer album (as long as you don't completely bore the listener), I think—but that strikes me as an interesting topic that's open to debate. 

vinyldaze's picture

A friendly, respectful FYI-There is no ukulele present on "For You Blue." George is playing an acoustic capoed at the 5th fret, John is playing a lap steel with a lighter...

Michael Fremer's picture

Where in Arthur Godfrey did I say there was a ukulele???? Seriously.

BillM's picture

He was referring to the previous comment.

vinyldaze's picture

Mikey-my ukulele comment was not meant for you, but was a reply properly placed in response to mward and his claim that he somehow hears a uke on "For You Blue." Read on. Seriously indeed!  

mward's picture

Ah, my bad, and apologies to Mikey for the misunderstanding that resulted in his think he was falsely accused. 

I've been thinking for 15 years or so that there was a ukelele on that track—based on what you say, I'm probably hearing George's acoustic, but I need to revisit the track to tell for sure. Pretty sure it wasn't the lap steel I was thinking of. 

I stand by my other comments, though :-)

torturegarden's picture

I just checked my 1995 US vinyl to see if the Dig a Pony typo was still there. Indeed it is. It's listed as "I Dig a Pony" on the back cover and "Dig a Pony" on the label, which has a green apple.

RRR's picture

You mentioned side1 seemed to lean toward more dullness after the first few songs.

It seems TWA also does this for me, as side 1 also starts out OK, but then progressively becomes darker and like you say, dull.

In the EU box, not all records seem to do this, but I wonder if this is not a mastering issue, rather plate/stamper or whatever issues.

Michael Fremer's picture

Once I found out RTI didn't plate these lacquers it put another variable in play. That's why I hope to get an EU box to compare. Also I'll check with some mastering, plating and pressing guys to get their take on this....

wao62's picture

We might have a new or revised set of reviews for the EU box!!!   I hope the folks who produced this set are reading this blog & improve the production of the mono set.

jpg r's picture

it is essential that you do get the eu pressed box.  not only will you be pleased with the sound & quiet pressings, but the jackets are nicer too.  for me at least, it was well worth the extra expense to acquire the eu box. the cost was $442... and that was with express int. ups shipping...it only took 2 days to reach me from the uk. i am in los angeles.

Rayman's picture

because thats exactly what most Beatles fans did. Never touched that one.

The magic was gone. And the album is a sad and sorry epitaph to the greatest musical group of all time. 

AnalogJ's picture

Can't comment on the new one, but I have had three different copies of the album (aside from the Naked one) -- (1) A US red label original I had since I got it the first day of release, (2) a Japanese copy from the Blue Box set, and (3)a UK 2nd press (no book, etc.).

 

By FAR and away, the 2nd press UK is the best sounding of the three.  In no way does my US original (which I doubt I have played more than 20 times) compete with the UK 2nd press.

My US original is brash, lacking in bass extension and low end presence.  The Japanese issue is muddy with horribly bloated bass.  These were the first two copies of the album I had ever heard. 

While I didn't want to afford a 1st press UK (How many knew you could get one at Minuteman Records for $5! -- the priciest shop in Hahvard Square), 2nd press copies were quite reasonable on EBay.  My UK copy is open, extended, dynamic, full-bodied and very natural.  It's one of the best sounding Beatles albums I have when it comes to the studio recordings (such as Two Of Us).  After hearing my US copy for so long, where the bass drum on that opening cut practically sounds like the skin being hit is made of paper, on the UK you can feel the impact of the drum, but it's tight.  The midrange sounds so natural, with voices and acoustic guitars sounding right there.  And whereas the Let It Be Naked sounds dry, my UK original sounds beautifully balanced.

 

Is it the best record The Beatles ever put out?  No, but some of the music is right up there.  Let It Be, I Me Mine, Across The Universe, I Dig A Pony (this one in the John Lennon "Yer Blues" category) and I've Got a Feeling were always my favorite cuts on the record and they're up there with their best songs, in my opinion.  One After 909 is a throwback and Get Back has always been merely okay for me.

 

If anyone has heard what is now a classic bootleg, the Get Back album, it was planned before this one came out.  I remember a friend of the family coming over with an advanced press they got from a radio station, long before the Let It Be album actually came out.  It had the songs Teddy Boy and Don't Let Me Down on it, and no orchestra or chorus.  I remember being disappointed when Don't Let Me Down didn't appear on the final album.

Paul Boudreau's picture

Thanks for the reminder about "Get Back" - haven't listened to that in ages.

There's also the Purple Chick "A/B Road" but who has the time or patience to listen to that (almost 98 hours of material from Twickenham & Apple Studios)?

Mazzy's picture

Nice review but actually this album didn't flop. It was huge!

Mazzy's picture

Although reviews were mixed at the time Let It Be  had the largest initial sales in US record history up to that time. 3.7 million advance orders: $25.9 million.

Logansport Berry's picture

The Long and Winding Road Spector vs. McCartney dust up - it's all the rage to say Phil's work with both Beatles' group and the solo Beatles' material is bad/awful/yucky/should all be remixed.  Nay, I say - no amount of remixing or Naked-style revisionism saves The Long and Winding Road from being a pretty dull Beatle moment.  As for Yoko's Lennon solo material remixing and Harrison's All Things Must Pass Spector masterwork - leave those as originally mixed.  The murky roar demanding the hi-fi be cranked up for proper ATMP enjoyment wouldn't be the same without Spector's production work.  Like it or not, it's what was approved by John and George at that point in time, and they obviously didn't do too poorly in the marketplace.  devil

amcevoy's picture

I remember that I bought the '45 single of "Let It Be" when it came out, and that I much preferred the guitar solo in that version to the one that was on the LP, and which also appeared on "1" and all the other compilations as far as I know. I thought it had more fire to it than most of the stuff they were playing at the time.

Does anyone know where to find the song in the original '45 version?

Thanks.

anomaly7's picture

Wow. I feel like I'm coming down with Beatle Mania, all over again. I'm perplexed though. I've read the reviews of the latest release on Amazon, and there seem to be so many cases where people have had to send many copies from each box set back for replacement due to defects. Then there are all the comments here that mention that, possibly, the EU versions are better stamped. Should I spend $633.95 to order the EU version from the Beatles store and have it shipped over??? Or take the time and my chances and have Amazon ship me a box and hope for the best, for $300 less?

 The extra $300 could buy a lot of extra vinyl, but I already have a couple of versions of the Beatles discs, so this is intended to be a last time extravagance. Does anyone know of a less costly source for having the EU version shipped to California? 

CarlP's picture

AnalogJ: You are so right - the 2nd UK is a beautiful sounding disc. Warm, warm, warm! For a guy who supposedly didn't like stereo, Phil did a great mix that is spacial and enveloping. I don't feel the need for any other version. Wish that Naked sounded as lovely, though that is also a fascinating document.

WaxtotheMax's picture

Let It Be reissue sounds just fine. This is all the comment this album deserves really, seeing that it was left to rot when they made it.

X
Enter your Analog Planet username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.
Loading