Monday, March 23, 2015

Let It Be

From the outset, Let It Be was a convoluted idea: spontaneously write and rehearse an album's worth of tracks leading to a live recording on which the songs could be debuted; all of it filmed by Michael Lindsey-Hogg. The documentary would showcase The Beatles' return to the live stage. No one at the outset anticipated the complexity, the emotional ballyhoo and the friction among the band. The film (which is out of American release) is a stunning documentary that strips away the Beatles' fa├žade and puts a face to these four lads who'd grown up together and now were growing apart. The album, on the other hand, despite the Beatles' animosity (particularly Paul's), and while not of Revolver stature, sits shamelessly aside the Beatles' best, though even the album's release was serpentine. 

United Artists held the film rights and therefore, as a "soundtrack," Let It Be was released in Europe on the UA label (similar to A Hard Days Night in the US). For the American release, and based on complex contractual restraints, Capitol Records held no rights to the album, though Apple did. Let It Be was therefore released on Apple Records with UA maintaining all distribution rights. Apple was affiliated with Capitol and to acknowledge that Capitol was not the distributor, the Granny Smith Apple label was replaced with a red Macintosh. Despite it all, the album is a spectacular success and would go on to win an Academy Award in 1970 for Best Soundtrack.

Paul's issue was with the album's producer, Phil Spector and his "Wall of Sound." The LP, originally titled Get Back, was shelved in mid-1969, not to be picked up again until 1970 when Spector was called in to produce and engineer the "soundtrack." Spector remixed each of the tracks, while adding overdubs, chorus and full orchestration. McCartney was particularly displeased with "The Long and Winding Road," maintaining that it was a simple piano ballad and not the aria as released on the soundtrack. In 2003, Apple released Let It Be...Naked, a stripped down version of the soundtrack that many felt curtailed the fun and the beauty of Spector's version. Naked was not a success, and the original far exceeds sales of the newer version on a yearly basis.

Leading to the rooftop, tensions had been high. On January 6th, McCartney and Harrison exchanged heated words; on the 10th, Harrison announced he was leaving the band and stormed out, only to return on the 15th. The Beatles collectively decided to abandon the original Let It Be concept and to reassemble at  Apple Corps to finish the project, whatever was left of it.  On January 21st, George invited American, Billy Preston to sit in on keyboards.  Doing so rekindled the old feelings of cooperation and collaboration, and for the next 10 days The Beatles worked peacefully together, something they had not even done in Rishikesh. Based on an unsuccessful project that had taken nearly two years, The Beatles went up to the roof of Apple Corps (3 Saville Row) on a frigid January 30, 1969, some three years after the band quit performing live. Alongside Billy Preston on keyboards, The Beatles played a 42 minute set that included "Get Back," "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," "Don't Let Me Down," "Dig A Pony" and "Danny Boy." It would be the last time The Beatles were seen together publicly.