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Let It Be
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After the "White Album" (The Beatles) was released in late 1968, the Beatles talked about making a television special, where they would play songs from the album for an audience. It would be the band's first live public performance since 1966.
As 1969 began, the band decided instead to begin work on a new set of songs, and film the process of rehearsing and recording all the songs, then performing them live. The project was titled Get Back, and a song by that name was worked up during rehearsals. The band agreed to perform all the songs without studio or , as they had long used.
First week: Twickenham Film Studios
The Beatles rented a at Twickenham Film Studios, where their instruments and equipment were set up. They were used to working from afternoons until late at night on music, but had to arrive between eight and ten o'clock in the morning, to meet the filming schedule. The band did not use this setup for long. The early hours and the cold, huge soundstage made them uncomfortable.
There was also between the Beatles, and it showed. The Beatles could not agree on where to perform the show, and for how large an audience. The suggested locations ranged from Los Angeles, California to Tunisia, and the size of the audience from a few dozen to thousands of people. Nobody had a location in mind that the rest liked, and George Harrison decided he did not want to perform a public concert at all.
Paul McCartney took charge of the rehearsals, and drove the band hard to play his new songs just the way he imagined them. The other Beatles became tired of this, because it did not give them much chance to , the way they were used to doing. George Harrison got especially tired of McCartney telling him what to play, and his own songs not getting the attention they deserved. John Lennon also had new songs, but was more interested in spending time with Yoko Ono than in making another Beatles record. He was also of Harrison's new songs. Yoko Ono gave her opinions on the band's music, which they were not used to hearing from anyone but their producer, George Martin. McCartney and Harrison Ono's being at Lennon's side constantly. Ringo Starr tried to play the peacemaker, but did not always succeed. Harrison walked out during one lunch break, saying he had had enough. The band stopped work on the production, and decided to find a new location to work.
The next weeks: Apple Studio
Harrison went to a Beatles business meeting, a few days after he left the rehearsal. McCartney agreed to mend his ways, and let Harrison have more input. Lennon and Harrison also made up. The idea of finishing Get Back with a public show was dropped. Nobody wanted to return to the movie studio, and they began to look for another place to work on their new songs.
"Magic Alex", a Greek-born inventor, had been hired by the Beatles to build them a new recording studio, in the basement of the which was the home of their company, Apple Corps. Alex spent a great deal of money over many months, trying to make a first-rate facility. He did not understand recording or studio technology well, though, and the studio he made had many technical problems. The Beatles only found this out when they tried to use the place to record. Things did not work, and this added to the tension felt by the band, and the people who worked for them.
George Martin was able to help the Beatles, by working around the problems in the basement studio. He borrowed recording equipment so the band could finish their project. The movie cameras were also set up in the basement, and the Beatles went back to work on their music. This time things were as crowded as the first location was cavernous, and again the band and their crew were uncomfortable.
The Beatles usually "warmed up" by playing old songs they had learned growing up. Many of these were captured on camera or tape during the sessions. Not all the songs were complete, or true to their original versions. When the band went from playing old songs to trying out new ones, problems came up. Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison each wanted certain things for their music, and enough time to make the records the best they could be. This did not always work out, and they sometimes insulted each other for trying to outdo the others, or for letting their musical influences show. It made the sessions unpleasant.
George Harrison helped the of the band, when he brought a guest musician, Billy Preston, to the sessions. All of the Beatles liked Preston, and got along while he was there. He played keyboards along with the band, and gave the records a fuller sound. McCartney's girlfriend Linda brought her daughter Heather to the studio, and they helped cheer things up. Linda sang background vocals on "Let It Be", a gospel-like song by McCartney.
The question of where and when to finally perform the new songs was settled, when the Beatles decided to give a show on the roof of Apple headquarters. This happened on January 30, 1969, early in the afternoon. The Beatles performed for the movie cameras, and for anyone who could hear them outside.
As it happened, the music coming from the rooftop caused a traffic jam along Savile Row, where the building was located. Local police came to Apple, and tried to stop the show. Mal Evans, one of the Beatles's most trusted helpers, went downstairs and talked to the police, to stall them until the band could finish playing. After performing "Get Back", "Don't Let Me Down", "I've Got A Feeling", "One After 909", "Dig A Pony", and another version of "Get Back", the band went inside.
The next day, the Beatles gave another show, back in the Apple basement. This show was for the cameras, though, and not a live audience. They performed "Two of Us", "Don't Let Me Down", "Let it Be", "Get Back", and "The Long and Winding Road". Some of these songs were too hard to record outdoors, with their keyboard parts.
The movie crew shot more than a hundred hours of movie footage, which was more than enough to make a television special. The Beatles worked a little longer on the recordings of the Get Back songs, ending up with over twenty-nine hours of session tapes. The problem was, nobody was happy with the music that had come from the sessions. The band members had argued and disagreed on camera, and did not always make their best efforts on each other's songs, or to get along. This was plain to anyone who saw the footage, or listened to the dialogue between songs.
George Martin tried to remix the recordings, and make an album from the songs, while the Beatles' movie personnel tried to edit the movie footage into the TV special the band wanted. The band's problems were only magnified by the results, and they blamed each other, and the people who worked for them, for what showed. The Beatles decided to abandon the project, and work on other things. Only one single was released from the sessions, with the songs "Get Back" and "Don't Let Me Down". Billy Preston's name appeared underneath the band's, and stories started that Preston might join the Beatles. He never did, but he signed a recording contract with Apple Records, their record label. The other songs stayed "in the can".
The Get Back project became another problem that was dividing the Beatles. There was also trouble with Apple Corps, and personal issues between the band members. They had begun to make music apart the year before, and this increased as they stopped getting along as people. McCartney and Lennon both married their girlfriends, and lost control of their publishing company, Northern Songs. George Harrison began to play with musicians outside the Beatles. Ringo Starr started a new career as an actor in movies. The Beatles issued a new single, with the songs "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and "Old Brown Shoe". John and Paul played on the first song, and George and Ringo on the second. They had stopped working as a unit, and George Martin stopped coming to recording sessions, which he had never done before.
During the summer of 1969, the Beatles felt sorry for the way the Get Back sessions had gone. They wanted to forget that time, and make another new album of songs, back at Abbey Road Studios. George Martin decided to come back, on the band's promise that they really would work together "like the old days", with Martin taking charge. The band kept their promise. Abbey Road was the result, and was issued in the early fall. As the record was being released, the Beatles met to discuss future projects. John Lennon, freshly back from his first non-Beatles concert, playing in Toronto, surprised everyone by announcing that he was quitting the band. He agreed to not make a public announcement, because this would have hurt the band's chance to their recording contract. Lennon instead focused on his and Yoko Ono's new group, the Plastic Ono Band.
Let it Be
At the end of the year, Apple's accountants told the Beatles that they would have to release some kind of album and program from the Get Back sessions. They had spent too much money on the project to just forget about it. Glyn Johns, a young music producer, tried to assemble an album from the session tapes, but he also could not please the Beatles. Anxious fans and insiders worked together and released a album from Johns's mix. Even though it was an album, it sold many copies and received radio airplay. The public wanted to hear the songs, good or bad.
Phil Spector, a legendary producer who predated the Beatles, had always wanted to work with them. Allen Klein brought Spector to England early in 1970 to meet them. John Lennon and George Harrison got along well with Spector, who produced a record of Lennon's song "Instant Karma!" the same day he wrote it. Lennon and Harrison gave their OK for Spector to work on the recordings, and Ringo Starr played along with the musicians Spector hired, to make overdubs. This went against the original plan to present the songs live, but was accepted to "sweeten" – and finish – the recordings.
An eighty-minute program was edited together from the movie footage, and the band decided it would make a better movie than a television show. The Beatles had a contract with United Artists, who agreed to distribute the movie, which was titled Let it Be. (The Get Back title was dropped, since "Get Back" had already appeared as a single almost a year earlier.)
Some of the new songs that appeared in the movie, including "Across the Universe" and "I Me Mine", were not finished on record. A session was scheduled in January 1970 to record full versions of some songs, but John Lennon refused to attend. George Harrison made a joke about this, during a take of "I Me Mine", referring to Lennon as "Dave Dee", another British musician.
Spector applied his "Wall of Sound" style to the Beatles recordings, including an old tape of "Across the Universe", so it could appear on record. His finished album was listenable, and showed none of the troubles that affected the band during the sessions, but it did not sound the same as other Beatles albums. Paul McCartney hated the changes Spector made to his songs on the album, especially "The Long and Winding Road", but he could not stop the album from being issued.
Another problem was the timing of the record's release. Allen Klein had succeeded in remaking the Beatles's recording deal, and McCartney was not bound by the same promise Lennon had been, to not say he was leaving the band. His first solo album, finished early in 1970, included a press release stating that he had no further plans to work with the Beatles. This effectively broke up the band. He also wanted the album released ahead of Let it Be.
Ringo Starr, who also had a solo record (Sentimental Journey), due to appear, was sent to ask McCartney to change his release date. The two argued, and McCartney threw Starr out of his house. The release schedule was changed, so McCartney could have his wish. Starr's album appeared earlier than planned, and Let it Be was pushed back from April to May.
Let it Be was both a hit movie and a hit album, and won a Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack. Paul McCartney accepted the award. The news that the Beatles were breaking up was very sad to their fans, however, and the knowledge made watching the movie a experience. Many fans and critics did not like Spector's changes to the Beatles style on record, and said so publicly.
A souvenir book was also issued, but instead of being a real document of the sessions, the book was and heavily edited, and reflected little of what was intended. It never appeared in the United States.
Late in 1970, John Lennon issued a solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which made his feelings plain in its last song, "God": Lennon sang "I don't believe in Beatles." He gave a long interview to Rolling Stone magazine, which was later published as a book, Lennon Remembers. He told his side of the Let it Be story, declared "That movie was set up by Paul, for Paul", and said he regretted not announcing that he quit the Beatles first.
When home video came along in the 1970s, Let it Be became a popular rental and sales title. Over time, the Beatles asserted their copyright control over the movie, and copies were withdrawn. The movie has been planned as a reissue many times, but has yet to be officially released on DVD.
In 2003, recording engineers went back to the old session tapes, and used to make a new version of the familiar Let it Be songs. The new version was close to what the Beatles had wanted to make in the first place, and had none of Spector's post-production work. The album was issued as Let it Be... Naked, and was praised as a "real"-sounding recording.
Songs in the albumAll songs written and composed by Lennon/McCartney, except where noted.
|1.||"Two of Us"||McCartney and Lennon||3:37|
|2.||"Dig a Pony"||Lennon||3:55|
|3.||"Across the Universe"||Lennon||3:48|
|4.||"I Me Mine" (George Harrison)||Harrison||2:26|
|5.||"Dig It" (Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey)||Lennon||0:50|
|6.||"Let It Be"||McCartney||4:03|
|7.||"Maggie Mae" (traditional, arr. by Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey)||Lennon and McCartney||0:40|
|1.||"I've Got a Feeling"||McCartney and Lennon||3:38|
|2.||"One After 909"||Lennon and McCartney||2:54|
|3.||"The Long and Winding Road"||McCartney||3:38|
|4.||"For You Blue" (Harrison)||Harrison||2:32|
- Recording data and notes
- The Lost Beatle Tapes / The Making of Let It Be
- 'Let it be' entry on BootlegZone
- The song Let It Be on the piano