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Let It Be (album)

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Beatles Let It Be album cover art
The project which eventually mutated into Let It Be, the album and the movie, commenced on the second of January, 1969, under the working title of Get Back.

The success of The White Album — released just a couple of months earlier, and still riding high in the international charts — had done little or nothing to alleviate the tensions within the band: indeed, only Paul (whose proposal it was) showed any particular enthusiasm for the new venture. Starting the rehearsals at the cold and unwelcoming Twickenham Film Studios using what classed as a mobile recording unit back then, and the early-start schedule to fit in with the movie crew certainly didn't help any, either. United Artists had not considered their brief live appearance in Yellow Submarine sufficient to fulfill their three-film contract, so it was a case of two birds with one stone.

Very stoned...

In principle, Macca's plan was not a bad one: to film and record themselves rehearsing a new set of songs, to be performed at a one-off gig somewhere. He evidently realized that the best times they'd had making The White were the jams, playing together as a band: something they'd been doing less and less since they'd stopped touring. By getting back to basics, he was hoping they'd get back their sense of unity.

In practice, it was simply too late. "It had become a job", as Lennon put it. Being a Beatle was no longer fun or exciting, and by then — all past the quarter-century mark, and in the light of everything they'd been through together — there was clearly no way they were going to revive the enthusiasm they'd had as teenage Quarry Men.

Paul's peppiness, though probably genuine, was taken as pushiness by everyone else. He himself has since reflected that "it could easily be construed as someone coming on a bit too heavy". Whilst it was patently, painfully evident that none of the other three really gave a shit about the group's continuation, he clearly still did: at this point, his 'I've quit' announcement was still well over a year in coming.

He was going through big changes in his personal life, too. Hell, he hadn't even had time for a shave since The White... 'Britain's most eligible bachelor' was by now a daddy-to-be, and would be wed within a couple of months or so. His relationship with Linda Eastman had also led him to consider her father, Lee, as the best man to sort out the rotting Apple. Once again, he was out of step with the others, who were all backing Allen Klein.

John was still unconditionally attached to Yoko — if anything, even moreso than than he had been when her omnipresence in the studio for the previous album had provoked so much animosity, on account of her miscarriage shortly after its release. The loss of the child was hardly surprising, given the emotional turmoil they were going through: hounded by the press and hated by the public. Their release of Unfinished Music 2 (Life With The Lions), which included the foetal heartbeat amongst the waves of feedback and electronics further fuelled the rumours that John was losing the plot.

His dope bust can't have helped matters, either: though — given the fact that they were both fully-fledged heroin addicts at the time — he was probably pretty lucky (or crafty) that the cops only found the hash...

They eventually got "married in Gibraltar, near Spain" in March of the same year (with The Wedding Album to remember it by): though, as everyone knows, that was far from the end of their hassles. It was, however, the effective finish of any lingering interest in The Beatles that Mr Ono may still have been harbouring.

George, following his Inner Light, and finding only darkness within the band, had been getting his kicks jamming with other musicians. His friendship with Eric Clapton had been evident in the latter being invited to play guitar on "Gently Weeps"; he'd produced the Jackie Lomax album; and then he'd been out to Dylan's ranch at Woodstock, hanging out with him and The Band. He'd come back to England in "the winter of discontent" reluctantly enough, and being bossed about by Paul from virtually Day One was the final straw.

Within a week, as immortalized in the movie, the two of them were at loggerheads, though Harrison's subsequent walk-out was carefully edited. It took a fortnight to persuade him to return. Still, it's an ill wind that blows no good at all: he'd written "Wah Wah" in the meantime. Relocating to the Apple Studios, and the inclusion of Billy Preston in the project were amongst his conditions. George's two contributions to what would become the record — the free 'n' easy "For You Blue" and "I Me Mine", with its introspective overdrive, kinda sum up his whole ambivalent attitude to the band.

Ringo, of course, had already quit the band during their previous venture. And, though he'd accepted the other three's pleas to come back, he didn't find much improvement in the atmosphere. Twickenham — "a big barn" — did little to lighten it, the cameras intimidating rather than inspiring. He was fully behind George in wanting to move somewhere a little cosier, though it was still no Octopus's Garden even back in the Savile Row basement. Throughout the movie, Ringo looks either totally bored, downright depressed, or completely off his head (or any combination thereof...).

The Apple Studio was, of course, unfinished — or leastways unusable. What else should they have expected from the Magic Greek?!! The mobile unit was duly trundled in and plugged in (once they'd managed to find where Alex had put the sockets).

Ultimately, the movie became a stark document of the band's break-up. Nevertheless, for all the bickering and back-biting, there are many moments when that old Beatle magic comes through loud and proud. When they did manage to set aside the fussing and fighting, my friend, they demonstrated that they were still — as McCartney has put it — "a great little band".

The underlying reason is the songs themselves. Let It Be, like every Beatles release, contains a fine collection of compositions and — just as they'd always done, whatever their personal feelings at the time — they all worked their balls off to get them right. The extra textures provided by Preston's keyboards also served to make them unique amongst the band's canon.

A whole series of half-baked suggestions for the culminating concert were considered and cancelled, so they finally decided to just haul the gear up onto the roof on January 30th, and do it there. It's become a legendary episode in rock 'n' roll history — and you can't tell me that each and every Beatle wasn't loving each and every moment of it. Hey, even Ringo cracks a smile a couplatimes. And what a set list which they swung London a bit harder with: "Gotta Feeling", "Pony" and "909", along with the monumental "Don't Let Me Down" — discarded from the eventual LP. When 'P.C. 41' (actually '57') and his pals inevitably arrived to complain about the breach of public peace, the band were actually hoping they'd be dragged off screaming: the perfect finish to the film. Sadly, Mr Plod merely pulled the plug and told them all to 'Get Back Home'.

Of course, making good songs sound good for the record was another matter entirely. The old faithful Martin/Emerick partnership started out at the control desk(s), with the brief to 'keep it simple': but somewhere along the line Glyn Johns was brought in. Whose idea it was, and precisely why, remains unclear. "Maybe just for a change", said George H. "It was definitely nothing personal".

It's hard to see how else George M was supposed to take it, mind you, after all the five of them had accomplished as a team. He was understandably hurt, but bowed to Beatle wishes and stepped back from the mixer. Johns, then, it was who got the unenviable task of converting the hours of tape they'd generated over the month into two sides of vinyl. In addition to the new material, there were improvised renditions of old faves — some of their own and a bunch by other artists — knockabout jams, and bits of stuff that'd turn up on subsequent solo projects. Paul's "Teddy Boy" and George's "All Things Must Pass" were later released officially on Anthology 3, along with other outtakes.

Johns made various attempts to make an album out of it all (all of which were soon in bootleg circulation), which none of the band — except, possibly, for Paul — were into at all. As the post-production of the movie was in itself a lengthy process, there was deemed to be no rush to put the album out. The Beatles got back with Uncle George to record and release Abbey Road in the interim, including some of the songs they'd started to work out during the Get Back project.

When the film editing was nearing completion the following March, Lennon, via Allen Klein, suggested giving the tapes ("the shittiest load of badly recorded shit") to Phil Spector, to see what he could do with them. George and Ringo went along with the plan: Paul was not informed. It was also decided to include "Across The Universe", originally recorded pre-India.

Spector vanished for a couple of months. When he did return with his interpretation of the songs, the reaction was mixed. John, George and Ringo considered that he'd made a decent job of it, in his 'wall of sound' sort of way. As Ringo astutely pointed out, the way it sounded was hardly unexpected, 'because that's what he does'.

McCartney and Martin, on the other hand, were horrified. Paul was particularly outraged at the heavy-handed additions to "The Long And Winding Road": a resentment which simmered until he got it off his chest with the issue of the Naked album in 2003 (the same year Phil shot his girlfriend dead, for which he's currently doing time). Big George was simply bemused by the fact that Spector had done 'all the things (and not so well) that we hadn't been allowed to do...'

Nevertheless, adorned with the names of all three producers, and with first editions including a 160-page booklet of photos and quotes, this was the version which hit the shelves — shortly before the film hit the screens — in May, 1970: sixteen months after the majority of it had been recorded, and a month after Paul's statement that he'd no longer be playing as part of the group.

The separated images of their four faces on the sleeve seemed to reinforce the world's woeful realization that The Beatles as a unit was a thing of the past:

Shine on till tomorrow,
Let It Be...

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