Thursday, May 28, 2020

The "Let It Be" Ghost Guitar - 50 Years Ago

We tend to use the release date of an LP to guide us chronologically, yet with Abbey Road and Let It Be, that's simply not the case. Abbey Road, in particular, the Side 2 medley, was the last piece of music the Beatles ever worked on collectively. Let It Be would be released after the band broke up (and contributed to the breakup), but its problematic recording sessions came prior to Abbey Road. Because of Abbey Road's release date 50 years ago, Let It Be is often glossed over. That said, there's something I find so interesting about the recordings that made up the Let It Be sessions, one based on the associated issues in production: the ghost guitar on the title track.
There are two different versions of the song, "Let It Be." If you have the opportunity, listen to them both. The single version has a far more subtle guitar solo at the midpoint of the song (1:59), a loose string version that lends itself to the 45, and sounding as if an acoustic guitar had been electrified. The LP version, on the other hand, contains a more electrified solo. Listen to them back to back. But that there are two diverse versions of the song isn't the unusual part. What's odd is the ghost solo hidden beneath the layers of music that appears in both the single and the album versions. It's hard to hear unless you tune your ear to it, so it may be helpful to isolate the left side on the stereo version or to listen to the track by clicking your receiver to mono.
What was interesting and appealing about the project tentatively titled Get Back, meaning the Beatles getting back to the roots, is this noble idea of returning to the live sound that the Beatles had been famous for, starting with those Hamburg club dates. That in mind, the Beatles entered the studio on January 31, 1969, to record the track. "Let It Be," and by they, I mean all four of the Beatles, with Paul on piano, John Lennon oddly playing the bass, Harrison pm lead guitar, and Ringo on drums. Add to that, Billy Preston on the Hammond organ.
Ultimately, the single version of "Let It Be" was released March 6 and produced by George Martin. It would go to Number 1 on the Billboard Top 100. The album version was released in May 1970. On the back of the album, there's a phrase that states, "This a new-phase Beatles album;" the reality is, the Beatles had already broken up in April. just prior to the LP's release.
The album version of "Let It Be" had a headier, heavier guitar solo lushly, some would say overly-produced by Phil Spector; the George Martin version more typically Beatle-esque. Interestingly, both Spector and Martin left in the "ghost solo," an earlier take somehow left audible in the background of the masters which were subsequently released as the single and the album.
So, let's put the pieces together. On January 31, 1969, with the other Beatles, George recorded an original guitar solo, the ghost track that can be heard faintly but distinctly in the background. George was back in the studio alone on April 30, 1969, and recorded the solo that's on the 45. On January 4, 1970, George again took the master tape, recorded a year prior, and overdubbed what Phil Spector would use for the LP version. Here's something else; 30 years later, Paul McCartney produced an alternate version of the album called Let It Be Naked which eliminates the orchestral and heavy-handed production by Phil Spector on the original lp. For that version of "Let It Be," McCartney chose yet another solo from the January 1969 sessions. The ghost guitar? Still there.

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