Why "Let It Be...Naked" is a lousy record.
| When I first heard about the release of the Beatles album Let It Be…Naked, I was intrigued but not thrilled. Upon buying the album, however, my hopes for the record were dashed. The final result was a travesty.|
Some background history is in order. The Beatles originally recorded the songs for Let It Be, then known as Get Back, in January of 1969. They planned to film the sessions and end with a live performance, also taped and filmed, and then release the album along with a TV special about the making of the record. In the past, the Beatles had overdubbed instruments and edited their songs, polishing them to perfection, but none of that was to take place for this record. The new songs would be presented "live", without any overdubbing or correction of mistakes. It was a great concept, and could have made an excellent record and TV show.
Unfortunately, things didn't work out that way. The band first began playing at Twickenham Studios right after the New Year, but several things were working against them. The studio was large and cold, not intended for recording music, and they were forced by its schedule to film in the early morning when they'd previously recorded late at night. Also, John was not very interested in the new record, being involved with Yoko and fooling around with heroin, and George resented Paul's domination of the project, resulting in an argument captured on film which was followed by George's leaving the group for a week.
When George was talked into staying and filming resumed, it was at Apple Studios, in the basement of their offices. Recording equipment had to be brought in because their flunky's planned 72-track studio had not worked out, but they were happier in the new environment. George's invitation to keyboardist Billy Preston to join them also helped ease the tension in the atmosphere, and resulted in the excellent song "Get Back".
Still, Paul's insistence on perfection in his songs resulted in take after take, with no one agreeing on which one was "best". In between playing, the group also argued about where to play live. Suggestions to play at the Roman Coliseum and on board a ship were ridiculed by George and John, the latter of whom suggested an asylum at one point. Finally, to finish the project, they agreed to play on the rooftop of Apple, where their lunchtime concert drew crowds who couldn’t see them and police who forced them to cease and desist without the drama of an actual arrest.
Once the record was finished, the tapes and films languished in drawers since no one could bear to complete the project. Glyn Johns, who became a famous record producer and was then an engineer, mixed the result and mastered a record for the group, but none of them really wanted to release it since the general aura was sloppy and unhappy. So apart from the single "Get Back", nothing was done.
Then, after Abbey Road was recorded and John announced privately that the group was over, Allen Klein, the Beatles' manager, pressed them to release Get Back, now Let It Be. John had the idea to have the famous American producer Phil Spector work on the tapes, and some overdubbing was done on "Let It Be" for its release as a single in March 1970, thus killing the project's original concept. A new song of George's, "I Me Mine", was also recorded by Paul, George and Ringo to fit in with its brief appearance in the film footage.
Phil Spector came in, listened to the tapes, chose the performances he thought best, remixed them and overdubbed orchestras and choirs onto "I Me Mine", "Across The Universe" (actually recorded in 1968, but that's another story) and "The Long and Winding Road". He sent an acetate of the results to the group. Paul didn't like what Spector had done to "Road" and demanded changes, but wires got crossed and nothing happened, depending on whether you believe Paul's or John's account of events. Anyway, Let It Be was released as an album and film, with mixed reviews. Many people felt Spector had ruined the songs, but some, including John, claimed that he had saved them. Paul, however, seldom lost an opportunity to complain about Spector's production.
This all leads up to Paul and Ringo's decision to rework the material for a new album, Let It Be…Naked, in 2004. Press releases claimed at the time that this record would be "the way the Beatles intended it". It would go back to the original songs and present them without Spector's overdubs. We'd finally get to hear the sessions au naturel. It sounded great.
But is that what we got?
The final result is neither close to the album mixed by Glyn Johns [Get Back] or Let It Be. What it does is to take the songs and present them without additional overdubs, but with the studio chatter cut out and with edits performed. For instance, the song "I Me Mine" was originally about a minute and half long. For Let It Be, Spector artificially lengthened it by inserting the middle portion behind the end of the song, making it sound as if it had another verse and chorus. He did this quite skillfully; no one except the band knew about this edit until The Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn explained it in the mid-Eighties.
Let It Be…Naked takes "I Me Mine" and lengthens it as well, but in a different manner. Instead of making it sound as if there are two different verses, the editors merely duplicated the first verse. It doesn't sound as good. Spector did a much better job at disguising the editing work. Apart from that, if the intent of LIBN was to present the songs in their original form, why was an edit performed at all?
"Dig A Pony" is another example. The song, first entitled "All I Want Is You", has Paul singing that line at the beginning and end of the song over the guitar riff. Both Spector's edit and the edit on LIBN completely eliminate his vocal. What happened? I thought this was supposed to be "the way the Beatles wanted it". The way they wanted it in 1969 was for the songs to be released UNTOUCHED.
In their own way, these songs are as artificial as the ones Spector produced for Let It Be, and they're not as good. Spector brought out the acoustic guitars quite well on "Two Of Us", but they're less prominent here. "One After 909" has a somewhat different mix, which lets us hear Paul's shout during the second verse more clearly, but how is this an improvement? Echo was added to John's vocal in "Across The Universe", and the song is artificially faded out. "Two Of Us" is also artificially faded, and "Get Back" has lost its coda about Loretta's mama in her low-neck sweater. This isn't au naturel. It's just as polished as LIB, except it has less excuse for existing. If you're going to betray the original concept, then there's no point to this record.
Except there is a point. The point is Paul McCartney's ego. He still can't stand what Spector did to his baby, and he's going to prove the point by offering his version of "The Long and Winding Road" to the world as the "best" version. Never mind that the truly "naked" take of the song was already presented on the album Anthology 3. Here an alternate version is presented, which quite frankly isn't as good. Nevertheless, this is "the way the Beatles wanted it". Except we can't know that for certain since John and George are both dead.
There are some good points to Let It Be…Naked. We get to hear a few alternate takes, although most of the songs are the same takes as the Spector versions. There's a new take of "Don't Let Me Down" that to my ears is much better than the one that ended up on "Get Back"'s B-side. And the CD comes with a bonus disc, "Fly On The Wall", which gives a nice sample of talk and some otherwise unreleased ditties from the album sessions.
But for people who aren't hardcore Beatles fans, this album is a complete waste of time. And true fans will release that what this record really is is a very expensive vanity project for Paul McCartney.
Oh, one last thing: When the hell are we going to get Let It Be on DVD, preferably with additional footage and/or songs?