Often considered to be one of the bands weakest albums, Let It Be was recorded under stressful conditions. With the band nearing the end of their tenure, tensions in the studio were high. Working for the first time with producer Phil Spector, the relationship was strained due to obvious creative differences, and with the added pressure of being filmed for a documentary during the rehearsal and recording process, the finished product was a rather disheveled collection of tracks. Similarly The White Album was a mismatched selection of songs and was tonally all over the place, but with that, it felt like each individual member had complete creative control over their own recordings, giving the album a really uniquely interesting feel. Let It Be however saw the Beatles trying to be unified as a band and, as the documentary film shows, co-existing within the studio was proving to be an arduous task.
Despite the albums flaws there are some timeless Beatles numbers on display including the 3 McCartney hits Get Back, The Long and Winding Road and the titular Let It Be. George Harrison’s Bob Dylan inspired For You Blue is a definite highlight and Across the Universe is often considered to be one of John Lennon’s finest Beatles songs. Admittedly though, Let It Be wasn’t an album I revisited regularly and it certainly wouldn’t be in my top 5 Beatles releases. Having said that, when 2003’s Let It Be… Naked was released it blew my mind.
Masterminded by Paul McCartney (with George Harrison’s posthumous blessing) Let It Be… Naked breathed new life into the original 1970’s release. Unhappy with Phil Spector’s excessive orchestral arrangements on a number of tracks, McCartney had the songs remixed using recordings from only the core members with George Martin and Billy Preston. The songs were also “cleaned up” digitally, re-arranged, re-mastered and sections of the original album were removed, including segments of conversation between band members and the songs Maggie Mae and Dig It, short ditties that evolved out of extended jamming sessions.
As you can see the ordering of the tracks is completely different on Let It Be… Naked and the album also included Lennon’s Don’t Let Me Down, the original B-Side to Get Back. It truly is amazing how a re-ordering / re-vamping of the classic tracks changed it’s overall appeal for me. Without the incidental moments of dialogue and short bursts of jamming the record definitely flows a lot more smoothly as an album. Also, the tracks sound really contemporary and I love that a number of songs were given more of an acoustic focus. This is particularly noticeable on For You Blue and Across The Universe.
The most prominent difference for me was the remix of The Long and Winding Road. Of the 27 hit singles present on the Beatles 1 album I would have never considered it one of my favourites. However, with Phil Spector’s epic wall of sound reined in, the choral and orchestral arrangements scrapped, and the focus being given to Billy Preston’s electric piano, the song took on a new beauteous identity for me. It’s so much more gentle and subtle and the mix is absolutely perfect. With the new ordering of the tracks it doesn’t feel like there’s a weak song to mention. Songs such as Two of Us, One After 909, and I’ve Got a Feeling jump off the album. Despite the original recording tensions McCartney and Lennon sound oddly more unified as they share vocals and harmonies. This is perhaps because a number of songs on Let It Be… Naked were composite edits of various takes not featured on the original album, giving them a new feel and a new spirit.
It would probably be blasphemy in the presence of Beatles purists to suggest that Let It Be… Naked is superior to the original release, but I definitely find it a much more enjoyable and coherent listen. Contrasting with Abbey Road the Let It Be project was a much more intimately scaled down affair. Whereas Abbey Road was rich with orchestral arrangements, overdubs and heavily layered experimental tracks, Let It Be was always intended to be a ‘back to basics’, stripped down rock n’ roll record, relying heavily on live recordings and unified group dynamics. It is perhaps why, that in retrospect, Phil Spector’s musical additions to the record do feel a bit out of place. Especially when you hear the Naked versions of the tracks.
The original release certainly wasn’t without flaws, but I feel McCartney’s re-visiting helped massively smooth out a few of the kinks. When it comes to selecting which version to play, I opt for Let It Be… Naked every time.