Arguably, The Beatles’ Let It Be album released in 1970, is the fab four’s most controversial album. Recorded before Abbey Road but released after, it has long been associated with the documentary of the same name that filmed the fraught recording sessions that did not depict John/Paul/George/Ringo as the close knit group many assumed. Eventually, the tapes were left for Phil Spector to sort out which caused another storm in the group when orchestras and choirs were added to several backing tracks which niggled at Paul McCartney for so long that he eventually released Let It Be… Naked in 2003. Starting in 2017 with the Sgt Pepper album, Giles Martin has been reworking the last albums by The Beatles in newly mixed stereo editions tied in with unreleased alternative takes.
Musically, the songs on Let It Be are a curious bunch. The album contains three massive singles and another one of their most famous songs. The most famous single is the iconic McCartney sung title track that appeared to him in a dream about his long deceased mother. Strong in religious overtones, it is hard not to get wrapped up in the emotion of the track that seems much longer than it’s 4 minutes. Influenced by transcendental meditation, Lennon’s “Across The Universe” is reportedly one of his proudest lyrics that get amplified by the celestial strings and choirs. Starting off with “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup”, the track adds the sung mantra “Jai Guru Deva, Om” before the famous “nothing’s gonna change my world” line that gets repeated several times.
The final track of the album is “Get Back”, a worldwide #1 single that grew out of a jam session. The song is carried by Ringo Starr’s chugging rhythm, some fine lead guitar playing from Lennon, and Billy Preston’s swinging Rhodes piano solo that is one of the most memorable moments on the album. To the hardcore fans, the single that is most remembered as one of the main arguments of latter day Beatles is McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road”. With the tapes left behind for Spector, he adds his wall of sound to Macca’s simple tune. While it does add a whole lot of orchestral gloss to the song, it also likely made it accessible to the older generation pushing the song to #1 in North America and acts as a wistful final moment for the band that would soon break-up.
The rest of Let It Be is more of a hodgepodge of tracks including “Dig It” and the folk song “Maggie Mae” that both clock in at under a minute each. Neither of George Harrison’s tracks are his best but “I Me Mine” focuses on egos which is an interesting comment in the shadow from the songwriting team of Lennon/McCartney. “For Blue” is a fine bit of blues rock that gets lost between the orchestral flourishes of “The Long and Winding Road” and one of the band’s finest rock songs, “Get Back”.
The album tracks that do stand out include the first track, “Two of Us”. Seeing the band get back to it’s roots of Lennon/McCartney duetting into the same microphone, the track is reportedly about Macca and wife Linda but could easily be associated with his relationship with Lennon. As internal tenstions rise in the band, it’s hard not to hear their relationship laid bare in the lyrics, “you and me chasing paper, getting nowhere/on our way back home…. You and I have memories/longer than the road that stretches out ahead”. “I’ve Got a Feeling” uses tidbits of three different tracks that come together to form a belter, with Macca sounding like a preacher on the opening lyric and Lennon singing that “everybody had a good year”.
As it is, Let It Be is hodge podge of smash hit singles, a few good tunes, and several forgettable ones. It’s regrettable that this is the final statement from the greatest band of all time in that they released an album that feels mostly thrown together with a lack of flow in several spots. Still, it’s hard to dismiss an album with four of the band’s most memorable tracks. While Let It Be is a hard album to love, it’s also one that does surprise in certain spots with a few fine performances.
The two disc edition adds a second disc of alternative takes from the sessions and oddly enough, sounds like the more cohesive album. Stripped of the controversary and aura of the released album, the alternative takes sounds like a legendary band playing a few great songs together. Highlights include the chatter before Macca belts out “Let It Be” and a version of “The Long and Winding Road” that leaves off the Spector overdubs. “Across the Universe” appears in a Glyn Johns 1970 mix that also leaves out the gloss while “Don’t Let Me Down”, that was inexplicably left off the album, shows up in the version from the famous rooftop performance. The album tracks have a looser feel with “For You Blue” appearing earlier and fits in better with the tracks surrounding it. There is a joy on disc two’s performances that really carry it as a standalone product and one that is a helluva lot of fun to listen to.
Let It Be – 9/10
Let It Be Outtakes – 9.5/10