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The Beatles Let It Be…Naked (2003)


Here is my unfinished review of “Let It Be…Naked”. I’m going to make two versions of it, decide they’re both rubbish and shove them in the drawer for a year, after which I’ll hand my rough notes over to Phil Spector for him to edit with a pair of garden shears. Which is more or less what The Beatles did with “Let It Be” originally.

It must have been difficult in 1969 having to compile an album from hours of material by a band who, whilst sounding much less ragged than rumours alleged, were not (except Paul) over-enthusiastic about the “Get Back” film and album project, or each other. Glyn Johns’ first version tried to replicate the documentary nature of the film, with a lot of studio chat etc. On his second go he put together an album not so far removed from “Let It Be…Naked”, but people were still not sure and the whole project was shelved. They may have thought it was too meagre a follow-up to the creative outpouring of the White Album just a few months earlier.

Whatever the reason, the poison chalice was handed to Phil Spector in 1970, and he had the unenviable task of revisiting old, rejected material to create an album retaining the fly on the wall documentary feel of the film whilst also being a cohesive set in its own right. He also had to try to satisfy the warring factions of a defunct band that had effectively collapsed when that material had been recorded. Unusually for Spector, he was actually a bit hesitant, so he gave some tracks ill-fitting new clothes and left others “naked”, and left in some chatter too.

The result was a ragbag of mismatched ideas and missed opportunities. It was neither a half-decent back to basics collection nor a full-blown studio set. John thought it was okay, Paul hated it. EMI stuck it in a box with a big booklet, which the NME promptly described as a cardboard tombstone. And that was the end of that. Until now.

Hearing “Let It Be…Naked”, you wonder why the band was reluctant to put out something along these lines in 1969. It might not have scaled the artistic heights of the White Album but it would have had the “authenticity” they were seeking, and they had scored a number one single with “Get Back” that spring. But that’s hindsight for you. So why is “Let It Be…Naked” better than “Let It Be”? It has a better running order than the 1970 version, and with Phil Spector’s production removed, and some careful remastering, it sounds a lot livelier.

It wasn’t just Spector’s inappropriate addition of strings etc to various tracks, it was his rather heavy handed production style generally that spoilt the original release. You wished someone had said at the time, “Come on Phil, you’re not producing the Ronettes now.” All the chat between tracks has been removed too. I thought I’d miss some of it but I don’t think I will and I doubt if the 1970 version will get much play now we have this alternative.

Paul has made a big fuss in the past about “The Long and Winding Road” in particular, even though the song is just candyfloss really. Now though, you get to hear George’s guitar on the track, rather lovely, far preferable to Spector’s violins. The stripped down “Across the Universe” now displays its delicate beauty. The track had been messed about in two versions on two albums before: first with unconvincing wildlife sound effects (for a WWF charity album) and dodgy backing vocals from a couple of fans dragged into the studio on a whim, and secondly with Spector’s burying techniques. The rockers like “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Dig a Pony” now have the raw edge they always deserved, and Lennon’s “Don’t Let Me Down” from the legendary rooftop session takes its rightful position in place of the fillers “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae”.

“Let It Be” itself appears with a more restrained guitar solo than the previous album version. That makes four officially released versions of the track, all slightly different, so I’m looking forward in a couple of years to a new release, “Let It Be…Twelve More Takes”. George’s “I Me Mine” is now freed of Spector’s syrupy strings and rocks in a lean, hungry fashion. “Get Back” retains its rollercoaster appeal. It escaped largely unscathed in 1970 but it makes much better sense as an opener, not the concluding track. The title track is the perfect finale at last.

After the cleaning operation “Let It Be…Naked” achieves the ragged glory previously obscured by Spector’s haphazard bolt-ons. It may not be the Beatles’ finest hour, and people might argue for hours in the pub as to when that was, but it is now a respectable conclusion to a momentous body of work.

May 9, 2013 Posted by | The Beatles Let It Be...Naked | | 1 Comment