Let It Be… Naked
The Beatles’ 1970 release Let It Be has always been more of a back story than an album. But, if Let It Be has long functioned as a collection of myths and “might have beens” for rabid Beatles fans to argue about, then 2003’s Let It Be… Naked is the last word.
Most Beatles fans are aware of the legends surrounding the recording of what was originally called Get Back. In the midst of the band’s infighting, Paul McCartney felt that the group should write and record a simple rock album devoid of all the studio tricks that had seemed to become as much a hallmark of the Beatles’ sound as their great songwriting. The Beatles recorded the album’s tracks and left them with engineer Glyn Johns to mix, master and assemble into an album. But John Lennon hated the result and brought in Phil Spector to “reproduce” (according to the liner notes) what would ultimately become the Let It Be album. Here is where the myths begin. The 2003 release of Let It Be… Naked was supposed to be put such myths to rest. Instead, it gave birth to myths of its own.
Myth 1: Get Back is a great lost Beatles album.
Myth 2: Phil Spector ruined some of the Beatles’ best songs.
Myth 3: Paul McCartney used Let It Be… Naked to get back at John Lennon now that he was unable to voice his opinion.
Myth 4: Let It Be… Naked was what Get Back was supposed to be.
Myth 4: Let It Be… Naked is not the album that Get Back was originally conceived to be. It’s shorter than the proposed version of Get Back by several tracks. Three songs that were on the finished version of Get Back, “Teddy Boy”, “Rocker” and “Save the Last Dance For Me”, never made it onto Let It Be at all and the version of “Dig It” that does appear is shorter by roughly three minutes. It’s worth noting that none of these songs were included in Let It Be… Naked either.
Myth 3: The exclusion of “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae” from Let It Be… Naked has fueled the argument that McCartney used the project to get back at John Lennon for bringing in Phil Spector by cutting two of his songs. The argument is logical so long as you ignore the songs involved. “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae” (both credited to the entire group, not just Lennon) are arguably two of the worst tracks the Beatles ever put on an album. It’s also important to note that while Let It Be… Naked excluded two songs that were largely unmissed upon its release, it included the amazing “Don’t Let Me Down”, Lennon’s anguished song of love and longing, which had been relegated to a b-side after Spector left it off the original Let It Be album. Leaving off two trifles for one of Lennon’s best songs is addition by subtraction.
Myth 2 : Another thing that Let It Be… Naked makes clear upon first listen is that Phil Spector has been woefully miscast in the role of villain as far as Let It Be is concerned. Spector was not an invader, he was hired by John Lennon and he did not ruin any of the album’s songs. True, the added orchestral and choral flourishes to “Across the Universe” seem to weaken the simple beauty of the sung poetry found on Let It Be… Naked, and it’s also true that the “Wall of Sound” treatment applied to “The Long and Winding Road” created a bombastic behemoth out of what was conceived as a beautiful, but modest, ballad about the search for a love that might be lost. However, all Spector did was add elements to songs; he didn’t change the structure of any of the tunes at all, and the songs that bear his mark were considered classics for over three decades before Let It Be… Naked stripped these elements away.
Myth 1: Stripped of the original’s bombast, Let It Be… Naked makes another thing clear, Get Backis not a great lost Beatles album. It contained too many songs that weren’t great and over time, fans seemed to make the same mistake that Phil Spector did. They took a nice, little album and made it sound much bigger than it was ever supposed to be. Let It Be… Naked houses some classic music. “Get Back”, “The Long and Winding Road”, “Two of Us”, “Don’t Let Me Down”, “Across the Universe” and “Let It Be” are as good as anything the Beatles ever recorded. However, nearly half of Let It Be… Naked consists of tracks that sound like b-sides (George Harrison’s contributions pale in comparison to the other music he recorded in 1969). The same is true of Get Back, which was far from “lost” to fans that wanted it, and the released version of Let It Be.
Ultimately Let It Be… Naked is an average Beatles album that houses within it one of the greatest EPs in rock history.