Thursday, October 20, 2011
The Beatles -- Let it Be
And it's the end of the road. I mentioned in the previous review that The Beatles recorded Let it Be before Abbey Road, but it was tinkered with by producers, and released the year after. I also mentioned that this was a shame because Abbey Road would have made for an excellent swansong. Let it Be is a swansong of a different sort.
A detriment most often pointed out against Let it Be is the wall of sound touches Phil Spector added to the material. The truth is that these touches very rarely show up to the point that they can't really be blamed. The most egregious example is "The Long and Winding Road." Spector's Lennon-approved orchestral and choir touches on this song are oft-cited as a reason Paul McCartney left the band. However, Spector was just taking the song to its natural conclusion--it already sounded adult-contemporary in its untouched form. It's cheesy and over the top with the touches, but without them, it's just cheesy. It's hard to tell if the same changes are a benefit or a detriment to Lennon's "Across the Universe," though. It's obvious by the title that this is a very cosmic song, so strings fit, but with them, the song loses a lot of the ocean slowly lapping at the shore feel it has without them. Regardless of these two songs, the production touches aren't the problem with the rest of Let it Be. The problem is a lack of good songs.
Things start off strong enough, though. "The Two Us" is a great duet between John and Paul. It captures the rawer, more natural feel the band was originally going for in the Let it Be sessions. Lyrically, it's a good song for these two guys who have done so much together in the last eight years. The whistling of the melody from the end of Magical Mystery Tour's "Hello Goodbye" near the finish adds to the intimate feeling. The next track, "Dig a Pony" is a decent song, and again sounds like The Beatles are playing in the room next door, especially with the chatter after the song. "Across the Universe" follows and is, as said before, perhaps the only really good song possibly negatively affected by the production additions. George Harrison's "My, Me, Mine" comes up next, and is reminiscent of his previous "As My Guitar Gently Weeps." It's a good, hardrocking track, and the added strings are barely noticeable. "Dig It" is just a throwaway snippet of a Bob Dylan cover, and obvious filler. This is maybe the first clue that the label was low on material to add to this album, but it's also followed by maybe the best song Paul McCartney or anyone ever wrote, "Let it Be." You've heard it before, and you already know how good it is. The production touches neither add nor take away from the song. It's perfect. Also, George Harrison's guitar solo here is one of the best arguments that it's not the amount of notes one plays, but the amount of feeling one imbues in them.
The album takes a noticeable nosedive in quality from here on out. "Maggie Mae" is another snippet of filler. "I've Got a Feeling" is okay, but nothing much--it sounds like several ideas jotted down musically, and that's about it. "One After 909" is John and Paul's ridiculous attempt at a train song. It sounds like Jerry Lee Lewis on Quaaludes. This is followed by McCartney's drag of a song, "The Long and Winding Road," which has already been mentioned. "For You Blue" is one of the weaker songs George Harrison penned for The Beatles, though it is slightly elevated by the weird sound of John Lennon playing slide guitar with a shotgun shell. Now we're already done, but for "Get Back," which is a decent Paul rocker, but far from his best work.
Instead of speculating at what might have been, this is it:
The Beatles recorded a final album. It is called Abbey Road, and it is awesome. Then they broke up. After this, Let it Be was pieced together from some pre-Abbey Road studio work the band was not happy with. It's an okay album. The best song from those sessions by far isn't even on it, anyway:
1970 Apple Corps
1. Two of Us 3:36
2. Dig a Pony 3:54
3. Across the Universe 3:48
4. I Me Mine 2:25
5. Dig It 0:50
6. Let It Be 4:03
7. Maggie Mae 0:40
8. I've Got a Feeling 3:37
9. One After 909 2:53
10. The Long and Winding Road 3:38
11. Fore You Blue 2:32
12. Get Back 3:11