Let It Be

Let It Be is the twelfth and final album by The Beatles, released on May 8, 1970 by the band's own Apple Records label.

Much of what became Let It Be was recorded in early 1969, with production by George Martin, before the recording and release of the album Abbey Road. However, The Beatles were unhappy with the album and it was temporarily shelved. Let It Be was later 're-produced' (some critics have said overproduced) by Phil Spector and, in 1970, it became The Beatles' final release.

The album which became Let It Be was originally titled Get Back, and was planned to be a return to The Beatles' roots. McCartney in particular was eager for The Beatles to perform in public again, over two years after they abandoned touring. The other band members, especially Lennon, were resistant to this idea. After increasing use of overdubs and multi-layered recordings on recent albums, there was a general consensus to record the new album live in the studio, just as they had done for their first albums in the early 1960s. In keeping with the concept, the cover artwork was planned to be an update of the cover of their first album, Please Please Me, with the band looking down the stairwell of EMI's headquarters office block in Manchester Square, London. The photograph was later used on the compilation album The Beatles 1967-1970 (aka "The Blue Album"). Keyboardist Billy Preston was brought in to supplement the band for the live performances; Preston worked with the Beatles for two weeks and played with them in the rooftop concert.

There were discussions during the January 1969 rehearsals at Twickenham Studios about recording the album completely live during a televised concert performance - in fact the music press excitedly announced that The Beatles had booked the Roundhouse in London for the show. When this didn't happen, McCartney talked of performing in an Roman amphitheatre or on a cruise ship (or as Lennon sarcastically suggested, "an insane asylum"). In the end, the live performance took place on the rooftop of The Beatles' Apple Building at 3 Savile Row in front of a small audience of friends and employees. The performance was cut short by the police after complaints about noise. Several of the songs recorded during the rooftop concert made it onto the final album, and the complete concert has circulated amongst bootleg collectors for many years.

Hundreds of songs were rehearsed during the Get Back sessions at Twickenham, including covers of "Stand By Me", "Ain't She Sweet", "Maggie Mae", "Words Of Love", "Blue Suede Shoes", as well as original songs that would eventually end up on Abbey Road, including "Mean Mr. Mustard", "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", "Oh! Darling", "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and "Golden Slumbers". A number of early versions of songs that would eventually end up on Beatles solo albums were also rehearsed, including Lennon's "Jealous Guy" (called "Child Of Nature" at the time and originally written and rehearsed for the White Album) and "Imagine", Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" and "Hear Me Lord", and McCartney's "Teddy Boy" and "Junk" (originally written for the White Album). The recording sessions were filmed and form the basis of the Beatles' film also called Let It Be.

Everyone involved in the sessions considered them to be disastrous, and it is clear that the band was disintegrating. Lennon's growing two-year dissatisfaction with being in The Beatles was coming to a head, and at the time he was engulfed in a heroin addiction. He was eager to explore his career outside the band, and the constant presence of his companion and artistic partner Yoko Ono at the sessions was a source of major tension. McCartney's attempts to hold the band together and rally spirits came across as controlling. This escalated tensions, especially with Harrison, who walked out at one point. The presence of film cameras, and the cold, unfamiliar settings of Twickenham Studios and the new Apple Studios also contributed to the ill feelings. Things were so bad the producer George Martin was reluctant to work with the band on their next album Abbey Road, until assured it would be a better experience.

Engineer Glyn Johns put together a rough version of Get Back in March 1969, which included many of the same songs that made the final cut, plus McCartney's "Teddy Boy". Johns played the acetate for The Beatles, who were not really interested in the project anymore. At least one copy of the acetate made its way to America and was aired on local radio stations in Buffalo, New York and Boston in September.


The first Get Back album

In March 1969 John and Paul called Glyn Johns into EMI and offered him free rein to produce an album from the 'Get Back recordings [1] . Glyn booked time at Olympic Sound Studios and between 3 April and 28 May to mix the album and presented the final banded master tape on to the group on 28 May. The track listing was:

Side A:

  1. "One After 909"
  2. "Rocker (Instrumental)"
  3. "Save the Last Dance for Me"
  4. "Don't Let Me Down"
  5. "Dig a Pony"
  6. "I've Got a Feeling"
  7. "Get Back"

Side B:

  1. "For You Blue"
  2. "Teddy Boy"
  3. "Two of Us"
  4. "Maggie Mae"
  5. "Dig It"
  6. "Let It Be"
  7. "The Long and Winding Road"
  8. "Get Back (Reprise)"

Ref: [2]

The Get Back album was intended for release in July 1969, but the album was pushed back to September, to coincide with the planned television special and theatrical film about the making of the album. In September the album's release was pushed back to December, because The Beatles had just recorded Abbey Road and wanted to release that album instead. By December the album had been shelved.

On 15 December The Beatles again approached Glyn Johns to produce an album from the 'Get Back' tapes but this time with the instruction that the songs must match those included in the as yet unreleased Get Back film. Between 15 December 1969 and 8 January new mixes were prepared. The track listing is:

Side A:

  1. "One After 909"
  2. "Rocker (Instrumental)"
  3. "Save The Last Dance For Me"
  4. "Don't Let Me Down"
  5. "Dig A Pony"
  6. "I've Got A Feeling"
  7. "Get Back"
  8. "Let It Be"

Side B:

  1. "For You Blue"
  2. "Two Of Us"
  3. "Maggie Mae"
  4. "Dig It"
  5. "The Long And Winding Road "
  6. "I Me Mine"
  7. "Across The Universe"
  8. "Get Back (Reprise)"

Ref: [2]

Johns' new mix omitted "Teddy Boy" as the song did not appear in the film (and also likely due to the fact that McCartney had indicated to Johns that he had re-recorded the song for his upcoming McCartney album). It also added "Across The Universe" (a remix of the 1968 studio version) and a newly-recorded version of "I Me Mine," on which only McCartney, Harrison and Starr performed. The Beatles once again rejected the album.

In March of 1970 the session tapes were given to American producer Phil Spector, with McCartney's reluctant agreement. Spector worked on the tracks, and compiled the eventually released album - by now entitled Let It Be. The album and the film with the same name were released on May 8, 1970; The Beatles had already broken up by that time. The movie captured on film the critical tensions within the band, and also included footage from the rooftop concert. The rooftop performance closed with the song "Get Back", and afterwards John Lennon remarked, "I'd like to say 'thank you' on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition." The joke was added to the studio version of the song that appeared on the album.

Several songs from the recording sessions have had official releases in versions different to those on the Let It Be album. "Get Back"/"Don't Let Me Down" and "Let It Be" were released as singles in 1969 and '70 respectively. Across the Universe, a Lennon composition recorded in February 1968, was added to pad out his sparse contributions to the album; having previously been released in its original form as part of a wildlife charity album. The Glyn Johns version of "The Long And Winding Road" was released in 1996 on The Beatles Anthology 3.

Six tracks were "live" performances, in accordance with the original album concept: "I've Got a Feeling", "One After 909", and "Dig a Pony" from the rooftop performance, and "Two of Us", "Dig It", and "Maggie Mae" from studio sessions. However, the album versions of "For You Blue", "I Me Mine", "Let It Be", "The Long and Winding Road" and "Get Back" featured editing, splicing, and overdubs. The twelfth track on the album was a slowed-down version of the original 1968 recording of "Across the Universe", which was deemed superior to any of the January 1969 performances of the song.

McCartney was deeply dissatisfied with Spector's treatment of some songs, particularly "The Long and Winding Road ". McCartney had conceived of the song as a simple piano ballad, but Spector dubbed in orchestral and choir accompaniment. McCartney unsuccessfully attempted to halt release of Spector's version of the song. His bitterness over this was a contributing factor to his public announcement that he was leaving The Beatles shortly thereafter. Despite the criticisms leveled at Spector over the years for his handling of the material, Lennon defended him in his famous Playboy magazine interview ten years later, saying "He took the shittiest pile of shit and made something of it."

In Great Britain , the album was originally issued by Apple (and distributed by EMI) in a lavish boxed set that also included a book featuring stills from the Let It Be film. Several months later, the album was reissued in Great Britain in a standard LP jacket, sans book. In America , the Let It Be album was issued in a standard jacket, without the book. The American release was also originally issued by Apple Records, but because United Artists distributed the film of the same name, United Artists also held the rights to distribute the record in America . (EMI subsiduary Capitol, which held The Beatles' U.S. contract, had simultaneous rights to the music on the album, and could distribute the songs on various singles and compilation albums. Capitol, however, did not have the rights to release or distribute the actual album.) To indicate that Let It Be was not distributed by Capitol Records, the original record label in America sported a red apple, rather than The Beatles' usual green granny smith apple. In early 1976, when The Beatles' Apple Record contract expired, most of the group's catalog in the United States transferred from Apple to Capitol; Let It Be, however, went out-of-print in America . In the late 1970s, Capitol purchased United Artists Records. With this acquisition, Capitol acquired the rights to two Beatles albums previously distributed in the United States by United Artists, Let It Be, and the soundtrack album A Hard Day's Night. (As A Hard Day's Night had never been issued by Apple in the United States, it remained in-print in America under the United Artists label when the Apple contract expired in 1976.) Shortly after acquiring United Artists Records, Capitol re-issued both Beatles albums under the Capitol imprint.