How the Beatles First Reclaimed ‘Get Back’ on ‘Let It Be … Naked’
Everybody had a hard year in 1969, and everybody had a good time. History suddenly seemed to be tripping over itself: There was the moon landing, Woodstock and Altamont, and the disintegration of the Beatles.
In January, the group gathered to record what would eventually see release in 1970 as the film and soundtrack album Let It Be. In 2003, Paul McCartney spearheaded an initial re-evaluation of that era with Let It Be ... Naked, a more organic version of the LP released on Nov. 17, 2003.
Returning to the master tapes, producers Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Allan Rouse stripped away the initial production by pop auteur Phil Spector and instead focused on the core instrumentation by the Beatles and ace keyboardist Billy Preston. The original Let It Be began life as rehearsals for a never-performed live concert that would feature all-new material. Dominated by infighting and tension, those recordings marked the beginning of the end for the Beatles.
John Lennon and George Harrison eventually turned the tapes over to Spector to lather on his patented wall of sound for their final official release. Abbey Road was actually recorded after Let It Be, but it was issued in September 1969. Let It Be didn't hit shelves until May 1970.
"It’s been treated as a perpetual work in progress, an album that was never originally meant to be," says Dan Rivkin, who founded They May Be Parted to dig deeper into these sessions. "The parts were always greater than the sum. From that standpoint, Let It Be ... Naked is just another part of that process. A new version of Revolver or Sgt. Pepper would be heretical. A new Let It Be, while perhaps unnecessary, isn’t shocking."
The motivation for Let It Be ... Naked seemed to be a desire to erase Spector's contributions on songs like "The Long and Winding Road," a McCartney composition that received some of the most extreme Wall of Sound treatments on the original album. A low-key ballad of yearning became a grand pop production featuring a lush string section and brass.
Years before director Peter Jackson's celebrated The Beatles: Get Back film, Let It Be ... Naked returned these songs to their roots, drawing from many of the same takes used on the original album.
Listen to the 'Naked' Version of 'Let It Be'
Other changes included the removal of tracks like "Maggie Mae" and "Dig It" in favor of "Don't Let Me Down," a Lennon composition that saw release as a single but wasn't included on Let It Be. They also restored "Across the Universe" to its original speed, while offering a complete re-sequencing of the tracks.
The results met with mixed reaction from Beatles fans. "It sounded more raw and authentic, plus it sounded very clean: This was released before the 2009 remasters, so side-by-side with the muddier 1987 CDs, it did sound fresher," Rivkin argued. "But at the same time it was tough to understand why it was necessary, since it was largely the same takes, just remixed.
"While Let It Be ... Naked may be a more accurate portrayal of the January 1969 sessions than the original Let It Be LP," Rivkin added, "it stands on the shelf with something like the Love LP of remixes or the Anthologies. It’s complementary stuff."
Perhaps this brief moment in Beatles history continues to resonate due to the endless bootlegs that followed. More than 80 hours of tapes have leaked from the Let It Be sessions, full of aborted takes of the officially released songs, partial and complete cover tunes, and early attempts at later solo Beatles cuts like Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" and "Let It Down" and McCartney's "Another Day" and "Teddy Boy."
There are also endless hours of studio chatter that provide a glimpse into the inner workings of the group at its moment of self-destruction. With all of that fodder, is it any surprise that Jackson's 2021 film turned into such a sweeping exploration?
"You can hear every aspect of Beatles history unfolding before our ears, and from the source," Rivkin says. "There’s nothing else really like it, with the chance to hear relationships between songs and band members play out in real time.
"Listening to the songs evolve over the course of hours and days – we’re talking only 20 days of tapes – and the breadth of material they spanned all the while trying to figure out what kind of concert they wanted to stage, it’s just a fascinating listen with surprises at every corner," Rivkin added. "For a band that you think you know everything about, that had so much coverage of every move they made, it’s a wonder to listen to them unedited."
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