With the imminent release of The Beatles Thanksgiving feast that Peter Jackson’s Get Back will (hopefully) be, now seems like just the right to time to delve into what often seems like one of the most divisive Beatles albums in their catalogue: Let It Be. And not just any version of the album either, the super deluxe 5LP box set edition.
I’ll be honest, Let It Be has never been my favorite. Too serious, too miserable, too beardy. Out had gone the consequence free fun of the first few albums or the experimental thrill of the mid-60s. In came a group that, after a decade or more of being together, gave every appearance of having had enough. True, chronologically, Abbey Road was the last record they made together (and as an aside, free from the shackles of being The Beatles it’s clear they are more relaxed and enjoying themselves) but as the last studio release it carries the burden of being the last thing the band released; hits packages and box sets aside.
This article is not an attempt to review The Beatles Let It Be. No, this is more an attempt to reassess the album. Is it possible to separate the album from the circumstances around its release? Is it possible that the outtakes and rehearsals here can shed new light on its creation? Finally, was shelving Glynn Johns’ Get Back album (contained herein) a shrewd move by the band or a missed opportunity?
The Box Set arrives with a 100 page hardback book. A book I have purposely stayed away from. It is beautiful, well presented and contains the work and musings of far greater writers than I. Therefore before commencing here I have not read through the book. I’d like to think what you find here are my feelings and ideas, rather than those that I might have produced if i’d read the book (so to speak).
As a lover of The Beatles and armed with absolutely zero musical talent, these are my thoughts, feelings and opinions. The band mean so much to so many, it would be ridiculous to think that everyone will agree with everything I have to say. But every comment, every criticism and every thought comes from a place of love for a band that have been with me throughout my whole life.
LP1: A Brand New Mix of the Classic Album
It is worth noting that this is a brand new mix is of the original 1970s release of the album; not the more recent Let It Be…NAKED. This is important as, for many, LIBN is now the definitive version of the LP. During the multiple listens I have undertaken, both for pleasure and for the purposes of this article, many things occurred to me. Firstly, it is impossible to return to this album without considering the previous album (the eponymous The Beatles) and the album that would follow very quickly after these recording sessions (Abbey Road). Indeed, this was such a period of creativity that songs suggested for The Beatles find themselves on Abbey Road two albums later; all the while the band are writing and suggesting new songs, showcasing their creativity all the way to the end. For me, this is the fascination of this and the previous two box sets (Abbey Road and The White Album)—a chance to take a peek at the creative process that surrounded some of the world’s best love songs.
So, to the album itself.
“Two of Us” sounds sharper and the kick of the drum heavy and clear, the simple guitar strum working hard in the background. It is not until now I realize how much there is a skiffle-like quality to the song; a throw back to the pre-Beatles, Quarrymen days. This realization is followed by another: as the last album by the Beatles there is an inherent sadness to listening to it, fully aware that this is the last ‘proper’ release and that the band did nothing else together of note until the Anthology series of the 1990s. I’m not sure if this sadness is mine alone or, as recent McCartney interviews would suggest, it was one shared by The Beatles themselves. However, this listen and this mix remind you that there is a great deal of fun on this record. It looks to the past (“One after 909”) whilst showing you a potential future (the sadly rejected/unused “All Things Must Pass“). Along the way songs like “Two of Us” remind the listener that the band have closeness that is often forgotten in these fractured recording sessions as McCartney reminds us that the band have ‘memories‘ that are ‘longer than the road ahead‘. Which, looked at another way, is an early lament for the end of the band.
“Dig a Pony” is an excellent example of the ‘warmth and freshness of a live performance‘ that the faithfully reproduced sleeve notes remind us is what this album is all about. “Dig a Pony” is also a timely reminder that the band still had their eponymous double album in their system. The lyrics, to an outsider, seem incredibly strange to the point of obfuscation; which makes the ‘all I want is you‘ refrain all the more powerful when it arrives through the Lennon/McCartney harmonies. In terms of the mix, the bass is perhaps clearer but the song has lost none of the warmth of the original LP. It’s as early as this stage in the LP that the passage of time has had a real and profound effect on my attitude to this album. There’s a yearning melancholy about the song that I’m not sure sixteen-year-old me truly appreciated. Dad-of-two me, with a few more years of experience, however, gets it. As an aside, it is interesting to note that “Dig a Pony” is one of the few songs to keep its track listing place on Let It Be…NAKED. So there you go.
A lot has been said about the production of “Across the Universe” ( and the production of Let It Be in general) and, as a listener, all you can have is an opinion. I love the Let It Be…NAKED mix of the song (as well as that album in general) but, boy, it sounds something special here. There’s little to add to the no doubt millions of words that have been written about this song. Perhaps my only contribution would be to suggest that, to me, without the orchestration the song would not have sounded out of place on the recent release of The Beatles (white album) box set on the Esher Demos LP. That’s not a criticism, most Beatles demos are better than any band could dream to be, but the orchestration here elevates the song.
And so to “I, Me, Mine“. Another song that wouldn’t have been out of place on either The Beatles or Abbey Road. It’s bluesy, it’s heavy, it’s topical and it’s great. But when you think that Harrison had been suggesting “All Things Must Pass” at nearly every session for the last eighteen months, it’s hard to see how this is the track the band settled on. A bedfellow of Harrison’s own “Piggies”, both songs seem to criticize the indulgences and excesses of the modern world. I could write another article on how Harrison was criminally under rated until he left The Beatles but he really does get a chance to shine here.
“Dig It” (and later “Maggie Mae“) seem only to exist to give credence to the idea that this was a ‘live’ album. A throw away drum shuffle, whirling organ and driving bass. All of which culminate in the ‘ark the angels come’ introduction for “Let It Be“. It’s not until later, deep into the box set, that my understanding of “Dig It” will shift dramatically!
If the introduction (accidentally or otherwise) seems to undermine the song, “Let It Be” soon reasserts itself. As with many other songs on the album, “Let It Be” seems almost impossible to review. The songs have transcended popular culture and in many ways are impervious to criticism, especially from someone like me. What can be discussed is the new mix. The brass is to the fore during the guitar solo and I, for one, love it. A quick return to Let It be…Naked confirms that choral arrangement there still has an unsurpassed lightness of touch but the brass is nowhere to be seen and the solo is more ‘raw’. After multiple listens, it has quickly become my preferred version of the track.
How “Let It Be” ever ended up sandwiched between “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae” can only be answered by minds immeasurably superior to mine. “Maggie Mae” is another throwback to the skiffle songs of old. One that would probably have been better sat on Side 3 of The Beatles rather than here. One thing Let It Be…Naked got right is the track listing. “Let it Be” finds itself at the end, the ‘big ending’ favored by many bands but seemingly once again pioneered by The Beatles. Unfortunately “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae” are jettisoned from Let It Be…Naked so it’s a musical trade off. Keep them in and accept that they bookend one of the most beautiful songs of all time or lose them (on Let It Be….Naked) but lose this luscious brass arrangement
“I’ve Got a Feeling“. A personal favorite; encapsulates everything that’s good about the album. Billy Preston’s keyboard is amazing and the song exudes bluesy cool. It also best shows off that, no matter what was going on around them, when they played together, The Beatles were unbeatable. The playful, intertwined vocals of Lennon and McCartney are excellent, the guitar is pure Harrison and the ever dependable drumming of Starr holds the whole thing together. It’s at this point in the proceedings (for me) that a series of EPs might have best demonstrated the stage the band were at. EPs might have also taken the pressure off the band that they put on themselves during rehearsals in January 1969.
“One After 909” is, seemingly, as old as The Beatles themselves. Having already previously surfaced on Anthology 1 in a much simpler form; this is the sound of a band having fun. More of an extended jam to warm up a recording session rather than a fully formed song, the track serves as another reminder that The Beatles were both brilliant and adept at having fun.
A quick note now that Anthology 1 has been mentioned. Upon release I loved the three LP series of Anthology albums. In the 90s, they represented the ultimate way to see behind the myth and magic of the Beatles. With no internet (I know!) and no social media (I know! I know!) these three records represented the only way a young(ish) fan like me could get his hands on more than just the studio albums and official releases. Much of the Anthology release does turn up here and it was slightly frustrating to put one or two of these LPs on the turntable only to realize I had already heard them. However, I would point out that, at the time, Anthology presented a tantalizing piece of the puzzle; presented here is the rest of the puzzle and the picture you were trying to create the whole time.
“The Long and Winding” road is, again, served well by this new mix. The brass and strings seem a little more subtle (something perhaps that Paul McCartney might approve) but this is still a long way from the stripped back version that was the centerpiece of Let It Be…Naked.
“For You Blue” (poor George, a song jettisoned from Let It Be Naked) is another The Beatles-era type track. Seemingly more in common with early-Beatles Harrison tracks about being in love, the second half of the song becomes a blues shuffle and is well complemented again by the keyboard. It raises what has fast become the ‘What about All Things Must Pass?’ question but I’ll leave that for now.
“Get Back“. The word that springs to mind for the new mix (and is very apt for the song itself) is robust. The last official song on the last official studio album is The Beatles at their best. Drum and bass driving (another) bluesy stomp. Like “Revolution“, and “Don’t Let Me Down“, a track that best encapsulates the latter years Beatles. This mix keeps the ‘hope we passed the audition’ comment from John and contains the warmth of the original LP rather than the raw band take of Let It Be…NAKED.
Still with me? Good.
LP2 and LP3: Apple Sessions, Rehearsals and Apple Jams
For me, this is where the fun begins. I approached these records like I did the demo sessions for The Beatles and Abbey Road: full of hope and expectation that, just for a brief moment, the curtain would be pulled to reveal The Beatles themselves. Once and for all I would know everything. I was also rather hoping that one of my original questions—can we separate the allegedly miserable filmed rehearsals from the resulting album?—would be answered.
Did I get what I was looking for? Well, yes…and no.
LP2: Apple Sessions
After a jaunty “Morning Camera” (an early indication from the band that they were incredibly aware of being watched through rehearsals?) from Ringo we’re off. “Two of Us (Take 4)” shows us that the song was fully formed and ready to go early and always remains fun to listen to. “Maggie Mae” gives something more. The original first verse is there BUT THEN, McCartney turns the song into something much more. Both he and Lennon are having a great time with the refrain ‘Fancy me chances with you’. A simple lyric, and not much to look at written down, but the two of them are clearly having a ball playing with the song and structure; probably a bit too “Polythene Pam” from Abbey Road for some, but not me.
“Can You Dig It?” provides the biggest revelation on Side A. A seemingly improvised blues jam that finishes with Lennon asking ‘Can you dig it?’ before finally transitioning into the squeaky voiced introduction to “Let It Be” from the original release. Suddenly I’m faced with more questions than answers. Why did “Can You Dig It?” just become “Dig It?“ Why are we left with the voice from the end of this jam on the original album and who left it right at the start of “Let It Be“? And now, finally, after all these years “Dig It” on the LP makes sense. Not a lot of sense, certainly. And you still need to know that its origins lay in “Can You Dig it?” but now, finally, I get it. Do I like “Dig It” now? No. Does it make any more sense? No. But I get how it arrived here for good or for ill, and I take a certain amount of strange satisfaction in that.
The LP then really does pull back the curtain: George seemingly reassuring everyone that they don’t need to plan things as the best things they do are spontaneous (fairly prescient considering how the over planned nature of the sessions and the time constraints they left themselves under meant the sessions collapsed into animosity); Lennon seemingly playing peacemaker as McCartney gets upset that one of the slower numbers (his) is replaced by a rock number (full band) as a potential last song for any live show. It’s fascinating stuff, and exactly what the box set is for. Revelatory? No. But again, exactly why I’m here. My band through all my years of growing up, sitting and chatting like I am in the room and I could contribute.
“For You Blue (Take 4)” is enjoyable, the guitar looser and the piano more honky-tonk than ever. As with most of Harrison’s contributions (in this writer’s opinion) there is a clear hang over from The Beatles in terms of sound and this take is no exception. If we’d have found this on the double LP it would once again have sounded right at home. Finally, “Please Please Me” gets an enjoyable piano work out whilst the band are gearing up for “Let It Be“. A rather pleasing joining of the very beginning and the very end of The Beatles. “Let It Be” here is stripped of just about anything other than the band. The backing ‘Oooohs’ are lovely, the gradual integration of the band through the song and the vocals on the take are, frankly, beautiful. “I’ve Got a Feeling (Take 10)”—a little faster than the album version. Groovier and looser than the official release with the drums sounding fantastic and an amazing showcase of the rock n roll side of McCartney’s voice.
Side B starts with “Dig a Pony (Take 14)” and “Get Back (Take 19)“ both of which seem almost fully formed and ready to go; the latter having a longer, more spoken word coda than the final release. More studio discussion, this time centered around the use of the songs they have. John seemingly pushing (gently!) to keep some songs back from the rehearsal cameras so that they don’t give everything away. Again, interesting for the lack of negativity. It will be interesting to see in which direction Peter Jackson’s Get Back takes us. Will he opt for a revisionist take on the negativity surrounding the sessions (the recently released trailer would suggest this is the case) or will we finally see just how negative the sessions were? My guess (and supported by the work in this box set) we might just get to see how the four members of the band never stopped having fun; they just wanted to stop living in each other’s pockets after 10 years of doing so; and that really is OK by me.
“One after 909” is another live blast of Little Richard-style piano, not quite finished vocals and—there it is again—the sound of a band having fun. A real gem this one. Another gem is the first rooftop run through of “Don’t Let Me Down”. Lennon loses the lyrical thread at the start of the second verse but soon regains the words as the band power through an amazing live version of an amazing song. McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road (Take 19)” is interesting in this form as it feels very much like Paul McCartney and Band, rather than The Beatles. Perhaps it’s the piano leading the take, but it’s very much McCartney’s baby here. “I Me Mine” finishes off the Apple Sessions, and it’s great. Stripped of the final versions electric guitar fuzz and with next to no vocals at all, the song becomes an acoustic/skiffle stomper. One that it would have been fascinating to hear ‘finished’ and included on the album.
LP3: Rehearsals and Apple Jams
A minor gripe. From a purely sequencing point of view, I think I would have enjoyed this LP prior to the previous. Beginning with the January 1969 sessions and then transitioning to the more fully formed takes of the Apple Sessions would have felt more organic. I suspect the decision is more to do with a fully rounded 2CD package than it is to upset chronological perfectionists!
So, this is a less fully formed LP full of snippets, jams, lyrical fragments and—crucially—lots of what- might-have-been(s). Starting with lots of “Happy New Year” all round, the band begin to work on Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass“. George’s belief that the song would benefit from sounding Band-y and his invite to the others to join in feel like the band was reaching for a version that might have finally been included here or on Abbey Road. Frankly, when George, John and Paul join in together singing the lyrics, there are goosebumps. Sadly, not to be. Some discussion about the studio and getting the right sound lead into a fragment of a clearly unfinished “Gimme Some Truth“. With only half a verse or so and no clear direction, it’s obvious why this didn’t make either of the last two albums and why it would emerge much more fully formed as the protest song it is trying to be on the 1971 solo record Imagine. After some unfinished tracks that would finally find a home on Abbey Road (including a speech by George putting a lunch order in), Ringo presents an unfinished “Octopus’s Garden” to the band, and George gamely takes on the challenge of helping to develop the song. For me, this is when the LPs are at their most thrilling—George playing with Ringo’s rudimentary lyrics and melody and try help a brother finish a song. Simply wonderful.
Side B starts with the already released (on Anthology 3) “Oh Darling.” A slowed down blues number with Paul yet to find the ‘voice’ of the song and John proclaiming ‘I’m free‘ at the end as Yoko’s divorce is finalized. “Get Back (Take 8)” is less fully formed than other versions in the box set and is enjoyable for listening to the band working through (or not) the ending, seguing nicely into “The Walk (Jam)” which feels like a go to band piece to help them loosen up. “Without a Song (Jam)” has guest musician on the LP Billy Preston on vocals and piano and is perhaps interesting for reinforcing just how welcome Preston was in the sessions and how comfortable he must have felt in the presence of The Beatles to how relaxed and confident he must have felt to jam with a half the band. The discussion around “Something” is hilarious for no other reason than the song writing process is laid bare to the world and the song that soundtracked a million marriages is reduced to finding a rhyme for ‘cauliflower’. “Let It Be (Take 28)” closes this LP of rehearsals and jams contained on these two LPs and is a timely reminder of why we are here in the first place. A subtle version, all piano and complementary organ, it undercuts the frivolity and throw away nature of some of the other tracks here and ‘closes’ this section of the box set.
For this listener, two of the questions posed at the start of the article have been answered. Over the course of three LPs the listener is once again captured by the magic of The Beatles. The new mix on LP1 can be enjoyed for what it really is: a chance to return to a magical Beatles album that showcases the band at the top of their game. The other LPs present us with a band enjoying themselves—reviewing this article again the word ‘fun’ is most prevalent. The in-studio speeches are relaxed and humorous in places whilst the rehearsals and jams seem free of the animosity that seemed to play out over time as the band split. Whether or not—as noted elsewhere—we have a heavily sanitized version of the January 1969 rehearsals is almost inconsequential. The box set reminds us that The Beatles were four brothers who spent a decade creating timeless music right to the end of their career. If the end is heavily documented and plays out in public, who wouldn’t do a little creative editing to try and show the best of things rather than the worst?
LP4: Get Back by The Beatles, 1969 Glyn Johns Mix
Finally we arrive at what, for many, will be the centerpiece of this box set. By the end of January 1969 The Beatles had, seemingly, had enough. Rehearsals over, the band allegedly handed over the tapes for Johns to mix and left him to it. Beatles folklore suggests no one wanted to work on anything they had produced, and John for one hoping that it would end the band. Before Phil Spector began working on what would eventually be the official 1970 release of the album in March 1969, there were allegedly a number of different versions of the album Get Back; none of which were seemingly compelling enough for the band to consider releasing.
For one final time, let’s Get Back…
…To where we once belonged. Only this time we are back at Anthology 1. The masterful trilogy of albums that began to piece together the ‘Beatles Story’ for new a new generation.
“One after 909” is the Anthology 1 work out previously unreleased and this moves swiftly into “Medley: I’m Ready/Save the Last Dance/Don’t Let Me Down”. Known as link tracks on the LP sleeve here, there are better examples of behind the scenes tracks and speeches elsewhere in this box set that best showcase the band as a unit. “Don’t Let Me Down” is welcome anytime The Beatles are playing, although the false start here seems a little false and contrived; again compared to elsewhere in this magnificent box set. The ending here is abrupt and finishes with some studio speech before the Anthology 1 released “Dig a Pony” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” remind us what we already know: both are highlights of any version of Let It Be and withstand any studio tinkering. Side A ends with “Get Back”—another previously available take that is, of course, brilliant; however unnecessary.
At the half way stage, it’s clear that as an exercise in exploding the myth of The Beatles, in the 21st Century, it is ineffective. We’ve had so many releases (official and otherwise); the last few years have seen magnificent box sets of every studio album from Sgt. Pepper all the way to this, Let It Be. Each one revealing more and more of the band and the studio process. Each one offering take after take of songs so woven into the fabric of Beatles fans hearts and minds that to try and appreciate Get Back as a ‘live and in person’ album is almost impossible. At this point it’s just one more piece the puzzle of understanding an outsider has when trying to make sense of the last few months of The Beatles existence as a band. The most obvious conclusion that anyone listening can draw from the Get Back LP is that The Beatles had the songs at the end of January 1969, it just seems no one knew what to do with them. I also can’t helping thinking again that the heavy lifting will be done by Peter Jackson’s Get Back, and that it’s here where the myth of The Beatles will either be torn down or begun anew for generations both old and new!
Side B, and “For You Blue“, The Harrison composition seemingly ill-treated throughout different iterations of the album, is here and once again we are treated to a studio false start! The gentle, folksy, skiffle of the tune is intact. The slide guitar is as subtle and wonderful as every and, once again, the listener is reminded that it would not be long until George released his 3LP opus All Things Must Pass—which is full of such musical delights as this one. “Teddy Boy” is a distant cousin to “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill“, all simple acoustic guitar and McCartney story-telling; Lennon chiming in with a ‘do si do’ towards the end. The run of tracks to the end is familiar territory; starting with “Two of Us“. Here again in a more wistful form and clearly not the finished article before “Maggie Mae” serves as another link track. It’s here on “Teddy Boy” that I’m happy this mix is included. I love it. No idea why, I just do. And i think it is these, unexpected little surprises that will keep the listener coming back for more.
“Dig It” arrives in yet another form; this time with more McCartney backing vocals. Longer, yes. and more piano but perhaps showing that the band never really settled on how best to use this track but, more tellingly, already in place before the next track, “Let It Be“. A little more echo on the vocal, perhaps to showcase the ‘live’ nature of the record and the organ has a more church organ sound, making this take more funereal than others in the box set. “The Long and Winding Road” too is served by the ‘live’ echo vocal and driven by the piano. Stripped of most other production, this is perhaps what the band envisaged when they handed over the masters to Glyn Johns to piece together an album. A “Get Back (reprise)” closes the 1969 Glyn Johns Mix, a reprise that is as enjoyable as it is wholly unnecessary after what has gone before. I can’t help thinking that the band had found a (reprise) so effective on Sgt. Pepper’s…that they thought another one here might just finish the album in style.
“The Long And Winding Road” is the latest track available to listen to right now ahead of the Let It Be Special Edition releases next Friday, 15th October. #LetItBe https://TheBeatles.lnk.to/TLAWR2021Mix This autumn, The Beatles present their 1970 chart-topping album Let It Be in sweeping new Special Editions, as you’ve never heard it before.
LP5 Let It Be EP
As noted elsewhere, perhaps a series of EPs might have served The Beatles well at this stage. “Across the Universe” and a juxtaposing “I Me Mine” make up Side A and both mixes are strong and enjoyable. Side B showcases the two sides of 1969 Beatles; “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Let It Be“. For this listener, the EP serves as another reminder that The Beatles had the songs, they just needed a way to get them across to their audience. The Beatles were no strangers to non-album singles and a series of EPs made up of the Get Back sessions might have been a poignant, slower goodbye—rather than the abrupt and (seemingly) publicly acrimonious one that they gave us.
As a lover of The Beatles, I always struggled with the ‘slower’ songs. “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be” itself always seemed a bit too emotional (especially as a teenager) but it’s here in this box set and especially on this EP that I appreciate them for what they are. Maybe I’m finally becoming an adult or maybe—like The Beatles themselves—tastes evolve over time. Either way, all the slower numbers on Let It Be and especially here on the EP resonate with me far more than they ever did. And that’s a lovely surprise to me considering I thought The Beatles had finished surprising me years ago.
And there it is.
More words than anyone would ever have thought necessary about a subject that already has millions of words attributed to it. This is a magical box set, beautifully presented and full of takes of some of the most beloved Beatles tunes as well as glimpses at what might have been. The studio speech and chatter is enjoyable, if hardly revelatory (over to you Disney+ and Get Back) and the new mixes do bring something to these already familiar and loved songs. In an age of Box Sets, Super Deluxe Editions, 50th Anniversary Editions and many more formats, revelations were going to be at a premium but here, just for a few brief and shining moments the listener is back, with The Beatles.
Here’s to the next fifty years…