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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

The Beatles letting it be fantastic

The year was 1969, and as the tumultuous decade that had seen the clash of civil rights, the assassination of a president, the Summer of Love and the rise of Vietnam, came to a close, so was rock n' roll's greatest band nearing its end as well. Despite the forces pulling the Beatles apart, recording contracts and obligations were precariously holding the band together. In January of '69, the Beatles began sessions at London's Twickenham studios for an album tentatively titled Get Back. Too exhausted for the daunting task of reviewing the hours of studio recordings, the Beatles shelved the tapes and began work on a new album, Abbey Road.Over a year later, the Beatles called in legendary producer Phil Spector to edit the hours of Get Back tapes and produce what was to be their final album. Given free reign, Spector produced a hard-to-read album of contradictions. What had started as a "back to roots," raw Beatles sound was embellished with grand chorale and string orchestration. Although not overjoyed with the results, the Beatles were too engrossed in their legal battles to rework the album now titled Let It Be. Released as the band's swan song one month after their official break-up, Let It Be remained the final word from the Beatles for nearly 33 years.Now the year is 2003, and Paul and Ringo, with the blessings of Yoko Ono and the late George Harrison have had Let It Be stripped down to its origins and rebuilt into a new album titled Let It Be ... Naked. The result is a stellar collection of songs filtered to their core elements of rock n' roll - simply the Beatles and their instruments. There are no over dubbings or excessive productions as on the original album. The only addition is the keyboarding of an old friend from the Beatles Hamburg days, Billy Preston. Although the title, Let It Be ... Naked, suggests a sparse acoustic set, the album is far different from the Anthology series released in the 1990s. The producers, Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Allan Rouse listened to the 32 reels of tapes, chose the best takes of each song, cleaned up the hisses and hums, and mixed each of the songs from scratch. The songs are found in a new line up with the short ditties "Maggie Mae" and "Dig It" removed from the album and the song "Don't Let Me Down" added.Upon listening to the new album, any Beatles' fan will be quickly struck by the obvious differences from the original song versions. The title track, "Let It Be," for example, differs from the 1970 version with a new clarity in both McCartney's vocals and piano and Preston's supporting keyboarding. Although the new version lacks the suspense of Ringo's drumming in the original, this is made up for by Harrison's spectacular guitar solo, which is brought forward with new emphasis and lucidity.The most strikingly different track on this album is "The Long and Winding Road." The 1970 version of this song was over-saturated with grandiose background orchestration that hid its core beauty. On this take, it is simply McCartney and his piano with subtle percussion accompaniment and a supporting keyboarding solo in the middle. Shed of its lavish embellishments, the song is heard as McCartney had originally intended - a delicate balance of grace and strength.An exciting and captivating listen for Beatlemaniacs and music fans alike, Let It Be ... Naked is the raw display of unsurpassed rock n' roll purity and talent that is essentially, the Beatles. Even with its posthumous release 33 years late, this album is yet one more testament to the Beatles as the greatest band in rock n' roll.

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