By Chris Moore:
The chart-topping success of Let It Be is truly a testament to both the heights of Beatlemania and also to the abilities of the four Beatles to consistently top themselves in their songwriting and musicianship. Even by 1970, amid tensions that caused all four to at least threaten to quit the band, they managed to come together (no pun intended) to finish the principal tracks for a new album.
This was made easier, of course, by the fact that this new album was based primarily on material that had been written and recorded before their previous record, Abbey Road, was released.
The true complication in this process arose when Phil Spector was somehow given the “okay” to add his signature studio treatment to the tracks. Perhaps with the disagreements between the Fab Four obscuring their collective vision, Spector was allowed to turn these songs — many of them little gems — into overblown, overproduced testaments to the capabilities of a mixing board. Orchestras aside, the original concept of this album (at least, when it was begun in January 1969) was that there would be no overdubs of any kind. How the leap was taken from “no overdubs” to “here’s Phil Spector” is a subject of some debate. The result? An album that made many fans and sources close to the band wonder what it would have been like without all the accessorizing.
Let It Be… Naked puts an end to that inquiry.
As the title implies, Naked is a stripped-down, bare bones version of Let It Be that highlights the instruments and original vocals of the four Beatles which, not surprisingly, is more than enough to excite and entertain. Ringo once pointed out that, despite all their issues and arguments, when the count began and a song was performed live, they transformed back into those four boys from Liverpool who just loved to play music together. For anyone who thought that may have been an overstatement, this new take on their final album is the proof of its veracity.
Throughout Let It Be… Naked, the Beatles’ harmonies are tight and their instrumentation is simple yet impressive. The drums and bass are particularly fun to focus on, perhaps imagining Ringo and Paul falling perfectly into the rhythm and putting all their combined experience, personal talent, and emotion into what would be these final released tracks. Of course, John and George are just as much fun to listen to. George’s guitar work, for instance, clearly never needed to be and never should have been buried beneath layers of production and overdubs.
Even the track listing is rearranged on this 2003 remix of the album, tossing out “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae,” as well as adding “Don’t Let Me Down,” a track that had made the cut on the earlier Glyn Johns mix of the album, before the project was shelved. This is hardly a revelation — I don’t imagine many will miss the two deleted tracks and the album is certainly much better for the inclusion of the latter.
In every conceivable way, Let It Be… Naked is a success and finally presents the album as originally intended, making it a must-listen for any Beatles fan as well as any fan of rock music who is interested in hearing the real story of the final album of this legendary band.
COMING LATER THIS WEEK: In addition to our regular Beatles cover songs, a review of the new Let It Be 2009 remaster. How does it compare?…