Release Date: May 8, 1970
Active Members: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Guests: Billy Preston on Keyboards
Producer: Phil Spector
Side One: Two of Us; Dig A Pony; Across the Universe; I Me Mine: Dig It; Let It Be; Maggie Mae
Side Two: I've Got a Feeling; One After 909; The Long and Winding Road; For You Blue; Get Back
The Beatles 12th and last album of new material to be released, Let it Be may not be their best, but it still captures the four of them at the height of their powers. As has been well documented, by 1969 the band was hitting a cul-de-sac in their epochal, but all too brief, recording career. Tired of recording epic studio albums that took months to complete (the White Album sessions took the better part of six months), they returned yet again to the studio in 1969 with what was intended to be a new approach, writing new songs on the fly with the goal of performing them before a live audience.
Let it Be put the group's issues under a microscope. They were getting older and weary with each other. George remained frustrated with his limited role and would temporarily leave the band a few days during the sessions. Camera crews were recording their every move for an intended documentary, thus adding to the pressures they were facing (early morning 8am sessions did not help either). The haphazard rooftop concert that concluded the sessions made for a great ending to the movie, but it got cut short and left incomplete (a fitting ending for the project).
The album would sit on the shelf for over a year and go through many iterations. Glynn Johns produced the original mix, tracks that were without overdubs, even including mistakes. Members of the band could not agree on a final mix, just as the album was ready for release in the summer of 1969. Phil Spector was brought to do a mix, crafting a more polished sound that somewhat captured the spontaneity of the recording sessions.
The initial cover had the four of them replicating the cover of their first album, but was replaced with the so called "funeral" design cover with four snapshots of the band members as individuals. For a generation the cover symbolized the demise of the Beatles. No longer a cohesive unit, the four headed monster Mick Jagger spoke of, but four young men about to go their separate ways.
"Two of Us" opens the album on poignant note, with John and Paul harmonizing on a folk-pop ditty Paul wrote about the joy of traveling with friends. Although Paul wrote the song about his relationship with Linda, hearing him and John sing the chorus: "You and I have Memories, Longer than the road that stretches far ahead" adds a bittersweet undertone.
John's "Dig A Pony" features surreal lyrics set to heavy and erratic guitars. One of the most exuberant tracks on the LP, don't miss the cover version performed by St. Vincent back in 2009. "Across the Universe" may one of Lennon's most beautiful compositions. Spector added strings and background vocals on the album version. John's hopeful and transcendent spirituality comes through on the track.
Harrison's "I Me Mine" maybe hit too close to home, a sarcastic song about ego and self destruction. Perhaps the lyrics are too straight forward, but the sting still comes off the record, possibly George's own protest against the machinations of John and Paul.
"Dig It" was originally over five minutes of improvised lyrics. Spector included a mere fragment as sort of bridge to the next song, still that fragment leaves the listener intrigued. John yells out random names and quotes "Like a Rolling Stone."
The title track opens with Paul's piano and offer a spiritual message of hope. Background choral vocals and organ music give the song a hymn like feel. George's guitar solo is a highlight and exemplified how all members could still make great contributions to each other's songs. Paul's lyrics have an eloquent simplicity, much like a Psalm. "Maggie Mae" closes side one on an absurd note, an old Liverpool standard.
Side Two opens with "I've Got a Feeling" was one of the last true collaborations of John and Paul. An old fashioned rocker; the track may be the closest to what the Beatles were trying to accomplish on Let it Be. "The One After 909" was an early Lennon/McCartney collaboration from their schooldays they finally put on record.
"Long and Winding Road" marked another high point in Paul's songwriting, one of his crowning achievements as an artist. A fitting song to bring closure to the Beatles career.
George's "For You Blue" feels like an intended b-side, with some slight lyrics, but sounds like he's having fun on it. "Get Back" closes the album on a rocking note.
While the final version of Let it Be did not reflect the initial vision for the project, the four still sound magical when they play together. But there's also a sense of exhaustion in the music, a finality to songs like "Across the Universe," "The Long and Winding Road," and "Let it Be." Abbey Road, recorded later that summer for financial reasons, would allow George to take center stage and bring the Beatles recording career to a pleasing conclusion, Let it Be reminds us they were human.
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