Capitalizing on producer/director Peter Jackson’s upcoming six-hour extravaganza, The Beatles: Get Back, Apple Records issues yet another grand Beatles’ vinyl project, based on the Fab Four’s penultimate recording as a band. Following the release of Abbey Road in 1970, The Beatles’ Let It Be–the film and album–captured a band in breakup, with its petty arguments, tired looking musicians, and at times, dull songs.
Words and Photos by Ken Micallef
The Beatles’ Let It Be was recorded before Abbey Road, but released after. The album contained “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road,” perhaps two of the finest-ever Beatles’ songs. The romping “Get Back,” and Lennon’s “Across the Universe” too, though thanks to Phil Spector, songs were primped up with unnecessary strings and sappy background vocals, the “wall of sound” approach splashed over The Beatles like sour milk.
Listening to Let It Be, then as now, there’s no getting past a group trying to recapture its glory days. Performing the throw away “One After 909,” “Maggie Mae,” and as heard on the new reissue, forgettable versions of the Everly Brothers’ “Wake Up Little Susie,’ and bits of “Danny Boy,” The Beatles seemed forced into a box from which there’s no escape.
The five LP (six CD) reissue organizes the mythology of The Beatles’ breakup in one tidy, heavyweight package. It includes Giles Martin’s remix of the best-known version of The Beatles’ Let It Be, the Phil Spector production. Glyn Johns 1969 mix, Get Back, originally available as a bootleg in 1970 under the title Kum Back, is also included, as well as a two-LP set of outtakes (“Get Back – Rehearsals and Apple Jams” and “Apple Sessions”).
A four-track 45 rpm 12” EP includes “Across The Universe” (unreleased Glyn Johns 1970 mix), “I Me Mine” (unreleased Glyn Johns 1970 mix), “Don’t Let Me Down” (new mix of original single version), and “Let It Be” (new mix of original single version). A beautiful hard-bound book with archival photos and essays by Giles Martin and Paul McCartney complete the celebratory offering.
If you know the Phil Spector-produced Let It Be, you’ll be surprised that Giles Martin’s remix changes little. What’s different is the sound: the rumbling low-end captured at Apple, EMI, Twickenham Film Studios, and the Apple rooftop are gone, replaced with clean, powerful bass drum and bass guitar. Midrange instruments seem unchanged, while vocals have been considerably scrubbed, sounding thin and at times, etched. Those expecting the Giles Martin magic brought to recent reissues of Sgt. Pepper’s and The Beatles (aka the White Album) may be disappointed. The limitations of the original eight-track and 7”x ¼” Nagra recorder reels, off-the-cuff sessions, and unstable recording locations was a challenge to work with, apparently.
Glyn Johns 1969 mix of The Beatles’ Let It Be, Get Back, was originally slated as the commercial release until The Beatles realized what they asked for–a Band-like return to simpler arrangements and straight-forward recording–wasn’t what they wanted. The Johns’ mix is charming and low key, sounding like a bootleg in its looseness, bare songs, group banter, and unaffected, natural performances. After the gloss and excess of Spector’s mix, Johns’ 1969 mix is welcome relief.
Hardcore Beatles fans have owned the “Outtakes” for years, whether on CD or from the internet, and it’s nice to have them included, especially if searching rabbit holes isn’t your thing. Will you listen more than once? Doubtful. The real bonus, from a musical and sonic standpoint, are undoubtedly the 45 rpm versions of the Beatles’ Let It Be EP. Sounding fat, full, and powerful, “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Across the Universe” are practically new songs. The energy, power, and dynamics of these songs is thrilling. The Beatles sound supercharged and involved on “Don’t Let Me Down,” each instrument newly realized and vocals sounding rich, clean, and immediate.
Similarly, shorn of its previously cloying production effects, “Across the Universe” takes on new life, beauty, and body. It matches “Julia,” “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” and “Working
Class Hero” for pure Lennon virtuosity. “Let It Be” is also newly revived, its anthem of calmness and peace amplified.
Will Giles Martin return to remix the rest of The Beatles catalog? He responded to Variety’s Chris
“I think we have to do it, and I’ve said this before… If you take something like ‘Taxman’ from Revolver [a track often cited for its bizarre stereo separation], ‘Taxman’ is guitar, bass and drums on one track, and vocals and a sort of shaking and guitar solo (on the right). And it sounds good; they’re amazing recordings, and amazing mixes. You know, we have to look into what technology we can do to make things de-mixed and all this kind of stuff, which I’m looking into. So I’m looking for the technology to do it with, to do something really innovative with Rubber Soul and Revolver, as opposed to just a remastering job, because it’s been remastered already. So, I think we will. I think we also will look at outtakes as well.
“There’s such an overwhelming desire to do something with them, by fans. And at the same time, there’s the thing in the back of your mind: There’s no point in just doing this to make money or as a sales thing, or because we’d done the others. It’s more important that we do it for the right reason. So, there’s your answer: yes. If, the same as Sgt. Pepper, I can find a reason to do it, then yes. An actual experience reason to do it, as opposed to just because we’ve done it.”