Jerry Hammack has devoted 8 years of his life to research every tiny detail of the Beatles career and recoding process he could find. He wanted to ‘Write the book, that [he] didn’t have‘. Jerry has collected over 5700 Beatles recordings, from original mono Vinyl masters to outtakes and remixes. He’s talked to engineers, producers and assistant engineers to find out exactly about their recording process, band chemistry and studio workflow.
As the essence of his research, he’s written a series of books covering the entire Beatles career, which reconstruct each song’s creation as well as detailing the technical profile of each and every classic Beatles recording session from 1961 to 1970. The final book in The Beatles Recording Reference Manuals is out now, click here to check it out!
Today, Jerry Hammack is with us to give us a breakdown of The Beatles’ album “Let It Be”. He will give us some of the background of how the album was recorded and what went into making it, as well as go through the album song by song and tell us some more about how each individual track was made.
“Let It Be” was the twelfth and final studio album by The Beatles, and is one of my personal favorite albums of all time! The album actually celebrated the 50th anniversary of its release this year! This concept of this album began as an idea of getting back to basics. The Beatles wanted to create music that didn’t have any overdubs, and was based on live performances. They also decided to release a film showing the recording process and their return to live performance, to be released alongside the album.
An interesting fact about this album is that it was actually recorded before “Abbey Road”, even though it was released after. This is because when it came time to edit all the documentary footage into a film, they had to much material that it took much longer than originally thought to put together the documentary. So, in order to still release an album, The Beatles set about recording “Abbey Road”. “Let It Be” was finally released in 1970, once the film was completed.
It was so incredible to sit down the Jerry Hammack and learn all about this amazing album. He has so many more interesting facts and stories about each of these songs. Check out today’s video to learn how this amazing album was recorded!
Watch the video below to see our interview with Jerry Hammack!
Remembering the Back-to-Roots Hope of Let It Be and the Get Back sessions
Written by Caitlin Vaughn Carlos
“Spring is here, and Leeds play Chelsea tomorrow, and Ringo and John and George and Paul are alive and well and full of hope. The world is still spinning and so are we and so are you. When the spinning stops – that’ll be the time to worry. Not before.
Until then, The Beatles are alive and well and the Beat goes on, the Beat goes on”
The Beatle’s final official press release on April 8, 1970 reminded fans the future was still bright for the Fab Four, even if the details of that future remained uncertain. A month later, the band would release their final studio album Let It Be, on May 8, 1970, as the companion soundtrack to the 1969 documentary of the same name. The dissolution of the band’s official partnership wouldn’t occur for several months still, but in all practical ways, the band had stopped operating as the Beatles after Abbey Road (their last album recorded, even though it was their penultimate release). Producer George Martin later reflected on Abbey Road saying:
“Nobody knew for sure that it was going to be the last album – but everybody felt it was. The Beatles had gone through so much and for such a long time. They’d been incarcerated with each other for nearly a decade, and I was surprised that they had lasted as long as they did. I wasn’t at all surprised that they’d split up because they all wanted to lead their own lives – and I did, too. It was a release for me as well.”
But to the public Abbey Road was not the end – Let it Be (1970) holds that honor and in many ways has paid dearly for it. The album held the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 for four weeks and, as a soundtrack, won both a Grammy and Academy Award for “Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Series”, and “Best Music, Original Song Score,” respectively. But that didn’t stop it from receiving critical and sometimes even scathing reviews by critics. Alan Smith wrote in New Musical Express: “If the new Beatles soundtrack is to be their last, then it will stand as a cheapskate epitaph, a cardboard tombstone, a sad and tatty end to a musical fusion which wiped clean and drew again the face of pop.” 50 years later, however, Let It Be’s legacy has proven to be much better than Smith had predicted. Separated in distance from band’s breakup and enjoying the warm glow of nostalgic remembrance, Let It Be lives on as time capsule of a band whose internal combustion represented both the hope and the disappointment of a generation dreaming of a better world.
Four Boys from Liverpool
Reflecting on the words of his final press release for the Beatles (see above), Apple record’s press officer Derek Taylor reminisced on what friendship of these four boys from Liverpool had meant to him and many others:
“I absolutely did believe – as millions of others did – that the friendship The Beatles had for each other was a lifesaver for all of us. I believed that if these people were happy with each other and could get together and could be seen about the place, no matter what else was going on, life was worth living. But we expected too much of them.”
The breakup of the Beatles was not a purely musical loss – in fact, there are many instances of individual members of the band playing on their former bandmate’s non-Beatles releases, even immediately following the band’s disbanding. Ringo Starr plays drums on John Lennon’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band release (1970) and Starr’s 1973 album Ringo unites him with all three of his Beatles bandmates on individual tracks (although never all three together on the same track). Perhaps more keenly felt was the loss of hope that the band had symbolically represented. The revelation of tension between this idealized group of friends in news reports and interviews surrounded the band’s final release within a complex web of blame and disappointment. A public that had believed so much in the power of their friendship and love – who had placed their hope that the Beatle’s could “get back” and find themselves as a unit again – heard the album through this lens. In April 1970, when Paul McCartney admitted (in the press release accompanying the premier his solo album) to a cessation in the band’s work together (“temporary or permanent? I don’t know”), it triggered a media storm, including the Daily Mirror’s famed headline “Paul Quits the Beatles.” One month before the release of Let It Be, this dramatic pronouncement of the internal struggles within the band certainly affected the album’s reception. Hearing Lennon and McCartney singing in harmony with one another, while reminiscing on their history together in album’s opening track, “The Two of Us,” holds a different type of weight when you know it’s the end. The album feels like a gift – one last time to hear the fab four together – but also a loss. And it is a loss that comes with the knowledge that idealism that they represented would not be heard, from their lips again.
Fifty years later, we feel that loss even more keenly. Before the fateful night of December 8, 1980, when the world lost John Lennon, there was always the hope of a reunion (even in the April 1970 “quitting the Beatles” press release, McCartney had referred to the movement towards solo projects as a “break” from the Beatles, rather than an end). But now, with both Lennon and George Harrison gone, we look back to Let It Be as the last time we would ever hear the Beatles perform something “new” together.
While Let It Be was not fully finished until its release, most of the songs were recorded in early 1969, with some tracks going as far back as February 1968. In many ways, the recording sessions which resulted in the album’s tracks were part of an attempt to keep the band together, and to reach back and find the roots that united them. The entire process would be filmed centering around the idea of the band returning to live performance once again. Paul McCartney explained years later:
“We started Let It Be in January 1969 at Twickenham Studios, under the working title Get Back. Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the director. The idea was that you’d see The Beatles rehearsing, jamming, getting their act together and then finally performing somewhere in a big end-of-show concert. We would show how the whole process worked. I remember I had an idea for the final scene which would be a massive tracking shot, forever and ever, and then we’d be in the concert.” (Anthology, 2000)
The centerpiece of a concert looks back to the band’s early years spending long hours on tour and performing live, a practice which they had ended full stop after their August 1966 performance in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. After this concert, the band turned their attention solely on the recording studio, a shift which had resulted in the band’s most complex technological and compositional album work, to both critical and popular acclaim. In many ways, it was also a welcome break after years of hard work on the road. However, three years later, the dynamics of the band had shifted yet again. The Beatles were now businessmen as owners of a record label (Apple); they had children and new spouses, and were active participants in the cultural revolution that was sweeping both the US and England at the end of the sixties. In the midst of rapid change all around, the band spent almost a month working on the Get Back sessions, trying to find their way back into their groove as a performing unit. Richie Unterberger explains:
“Very broadly speaking, these sessions resulted from a notion the Beatles were now entertaining: a return to the live concert stage. The rough idea was to give just one show, or just a few, under circumstances in which the Beatles were most comfortable. The idea would be to arrange the event so the group would enjoy it as much as possible, and so that the music and performance could be truly heard and appreciated. This would have been a big step forward from the Beatlemania days, in which the group trotted maniacally all over the globe under tremendous pressure, unable to even hear themselves well, playing for audiences who couldn’t (or didn’t want to) hear the music well either.”
Live music making was at the core of the Beatle’s origin story. Their friendship and career had been forged in the live heat of Hamburg and Liverpool’s music scenes – through two busy years of traveling between and performing in both cities. Barry Miles argues that it was “the 800 hours on stage in Hamburg that transformed them into a world class act.” It was through these grueling, and yet exciting, years of live performance that they built their fans, began their relationship with manager Brian Epstein, traded their leather jackets for suits, found their iconic instrumentation (McCartney’s Höfner violin bass and Harrison’s Rickenbacker), and solidified their personnel. So when Unterberger highlights the attempt to find joy in their circumstances, to rekindle live performance in a way that would make playing together enjoyable again, we get to the heart of what makes the Get Back sessions and Let It Be so different from other multimedia projects of the era. For indeed, they were not the only musicians experimenting with notions of live concerts intertwining with television or film narratives at the close of the sixties. Tony Barrell notes that the live, rooftop concert portion of the Get Back sessions “emerged from a period when musicians were finding new ways to engage with the media of film and television. Elvis Presley used the TV to stage a remarkable “live” comeback, while the Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane were toying with cinema vérité and collaborating with the radical Nouvelle Vague director Jean-Luc Godard.” Likewise, The Who were attempting to realize Pete Townshend’s ambitious Lifehouse project vision, which also hoped to intertwine live concert footage with a dramatic narrative and include new compositions. But for all the challenges these other musicians faced, the Beatles were also attempting to use these sessions to come together while falling apart. They were simultaneously trying to parse out their future by reconnecting with their past. The working title of these sessions is telling…in the midst of new mediums and new ideas, John, Paul, Ringo and George were all trying to find a way to “get back to where they once belonged.”
The Rooftop Concert
In the epic tale of the Beatles’ career and the mythology surrounding the band, the January 30, 1969 “rooftop concert” holds a special place. As part of the Get Back sessions, it was never a concert in the traditional sense. The band played several takes of songs like “Get Back,” “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Don’t Let Me Down.” This makes it more of a rehearsal, or even more so, a live recording session. In fact, Beatle’s roadie Mal Evans described the event exactly as such in a diary-style entry on the event for the fan magazine The Beatles Book Monthly: “One particular day’s work at the end of January caused quite a stir. To get something a bit different, an open-air sound, we shifted the session from the basement studio to the roof of 3 Savile Row!” The live concert recording was done at lunchtime on the roof of their Apple headquarters in downtown London. According to Let It Be film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the event almost didn’t even happen. “We planned to do it about 12:30 to get the lunchtime crowds. They didn’t agree to do it as a group until about twenty to 1:00. Paul wanted to do it and George didn’t. Ringo would go either way. Then John said, ‘Oh [f—k], let’s do it,’ and they went up and did it.” And what they did was a 42-minute set that was cut short by the arrival of the London Metropolitan Police, who were responding to noise complaints from surrounding businesses. The final song was yet another take of “Get Back” as the police informed Evans that they needed to stop the performance. Multiple sources indicated that the band members actually hoped they would get arrested. McCartney reminisced: “…it started to filter up from Mal that the police were complaining. We said, ‘We’re not stopping.’ He said ‘The police are going to arrest you.’ ‘Good end to the film. Let them do it. Great! That’s an end: “Beatles Busted on Rooftop Gig”.’” Starr also expressed feeling a bit disappointed that the event didn’t get that rebellious conclusion:
“I always feel let down about the police. Someone in the neighborhood called the police, and when they came up I was playing away and I thought, ‘Oh great! I hope they drag me off.’ I wanted the cops to drag me off – ‘Get off those drums!’ – because we were being filmed and it would and looked really great, kicking the cymbals and everything. Well they didn’t, of course; they just came bumbling in: ‘You’ve got to turn that sound down.’ It could have been fabulous.”
Ultimately, the band was able to finish the take, after which Lennon concluded: “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we’ve passed the audition.” Immortalized in both the Let It Be album and film, the words capture another role of this event as part of the band’s attempt to reconnect to their former collaborative dynamic. If the rooftop performance was simultaneously performance, rehearsal, and recording session, it was also an audition – a “self-audition” according to author Tony Barell who writes that the rooftop concert “…was the big test. In that respect, they showed enormous courage. If they’d failed, they knew the media would have been circling like vultures dashing off nasty reviews and hatchet jobs with relish.” Perhaps, more than a musical audition, however, it was an audition of the spirit. Could they truly find their way back to a functioning dynamic where they enjoyed playing music together – not just a working relationship, but the type of collaborative joy that had inspired others and had catapulted their career from the bars and clubs of Hamburg and Liverpool into the international spotlight. It seems telling that they chose to perform the song “Get Back” three times during this performance. While of course the song had already been deemed important as the working title of these sessions, in repeatedly performing the song on public display, they projected the band’s back-to-roots intentions for the world to see.
Two of Us
The album’s opening track looks to the type of friendship that fans had imagined and treasured in their idealism of the Beatle’s internal dynamic. The song was written by Paul, in the context of his relationship to his new bride Linda. She described its origins in the peaceful rides the pair would take through the English countryside: “When I moved to England to be with Paul, we would put Martha, Paul’s sheepdog, in the back of the car and drive out of London. And as soon as we were on the open road, I’d say, ‘Let’s get lost,’ and we’d keep driving without looking at any signs. Hence the line in the song, ‘going nowhere.’ Paul wrote that on one of those days out. It’s about us. We just pulled off in a wood somewhere and parked the car. I went off walking while Paul stayed in the car and started writing.” It is, in many ways, a love song that celebrates the simplicity of being in love, akin to the charming innocence of his early songwriting with songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
In the context of the Let It Be album, the song takes on an additional layer of meaning for fans who would hear Lennon and McCartney singing in the Everly-Brothers-styled harmonies, as they had their youth, all the while full knowing that the band had broken up. The line “on our way back home” feels like it should be celebrating the success of their back-to-roots efforts in the Get Back sessions, and yet the illusion had been shattered. 50 years later, we start off our encounters with Let It Be through sonic time travel – back to the innocence and idealism of young friendship. Time has faded the sting of the band’s breakup, aided by their own individual reconciliations and fond remembering in decades of interviews since (tragically heighted after Lennon’s death in 1980). We can view the song through the images of “The Two of Us” in the Let It Be film, where we find the duo fooling around, breaking into Elvis impersonations, laughingm and enjoying each other’s company. It is a quite powerful affect in our cultural memory for Let It Be that the album begins with a song that so perfectly bridges the band’s stylistic history and captures the magic of their beloved friendship.
Dig A Pony
Written by John Lennon, “Dig a Pony” was the first song to be recorded during the Get Back sessions. He later called the song a “piece of garbage” saying “I was just having fun with words. It was literally a nonsense song. You just take words and you stick them together, and you see if they have any meaning. Some of them do, some of them don’t.” Musicologist Kenneth Womack reveals that the final song is actually derived from two separate songs that Lennon had written “All I Want Is You” and “Dig a Pony.”
The version of “Dig a Pony” on Let It Be comes from the rooftop performance, and includes a false start introduction – when Starr shouts out “hold on” while trying to get rid of the cigarette he has in hand. The footage also captures Lennon reading the lyrics from a clipboard held by a production runner for the film kneeling in front of him.
Across the Universe
Another Lennon original, “Across the Universe” finds its origins before the Get Back
session, during a February 1968 recording session at Abbey Road studios. In a Rolling Stone interview in 1970, Lennon described it as one of the greatest songs he had every written: “It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best. It’s good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin’ it. See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don’t have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them.”
It is also a great example of the influence of Indian music and culture on the Beatle’s songwriting in the late sixties, with Harrison playing a tamboura alongside Lennon’s meditative lyrics. Lennon notably employs a Sanskrit phrase, ‘Jai guru deva, om’ which Womack translates as roughly: “Jai (‘live forever’), guru (‘teacher’) deva (‘heavenly one’) omg (‘ the vibration of the universe’). The phrase can also be rendered as ‘victory to God divine’ or. In the words of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, ‘All Glory to Guru Dev.’” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s work on transcendental meditation became a dominant influence in their music and thinking in the late sixties. When Lennon spoke about the origins of “Across the Universe,” he connected it to a very transcendental, spiritual experience:
“I’d kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather …But the words stand, luckily, by themselves. They were purely inspirational and were given to me as boom! I don’t own it, you know; it came through like that….it wrote itself. It drove me out of bed. …It’s like being possessed; like a psychic or a medium. The thing has to go down. It won’t let you sleep, so you have to get up, make it into something, and then you’re allowed to sleep.”
I Me Mine
Written by George Harrison, “I Me Mine” developed out the ego-driven tensions of the Get Back sessions at Twickenham Studios. The association between the cheeky title stuck with Harrison, leading the songwriter to good-naturedly use it as the title of his 1980 memoir. It was written in the first two weeks of the Get Back sessions, and when the band saw that Lindsey-Hogg had included scenes with it in the film, they had to go back and re-record it, so that it could be included on the companion Let It Be album. However, when they went back to record the song for this purpose on January 3, 1970 at Abbey Road studios, Lennon had already departed from the band (although this was unknown to the public at the time). The final track that appears on the album comes from this session with only Starr, Harrison and McCartney. It is also during the session where Harrison jokingly acknowledged their fourth member’s disappearance by referencing a popular British group of the time: “You all will have read that Dave Dee is no longer with us. But Mickey and Tich and I would just like to carry on the good work that’s always gone down in [studio] number two.” While the remark is cut from the original Let It Be release, it was included on the track that appears on Anthology 3.
According Harrison, “I Me Mine” was inspired musically by the incidental music for a BBC television program, Europa: The Titled and the Untitled. Lyrically, it was both a product of the tension within the band, as well as the spiritual self-examination that Harrison experienced through his meditative practices. In his memoir, he reflects:
“ ‘I Me Mine is the ego problem. I looked around and everything I could see was relative to my ego. You know, like ‘that’s my piece of paper,’ and ‘that’s my flannel,’ or ‘give it to me,’ or ‘I am.’ It drove me crackers – I hated everything about my ego – it was a flash of everything false and impermanent which I disliked. But later I learned from it – to realize that there is somebody else in here apart from old blabbermouth. ‘Who am I’ became the order of the day. Anyway, that’s what came of out it: ‘I Me Mine’ – it’s about the ego, the eternal problem.”
Clocking in at only 50 seconds, “Dig It” gives the appearance of an off-the-cuff jam session between the band before getting serious and moving into the album’s title track, “Let It Be.” In many ways it was exactly that – a slice of a 12-minute improvisation between all four members of the Beatles, with Lennon ad-libbing nonsensical lyrics and even breaking into a duet with McCartney’s six-year-old future step-daughter Heather Eastman (later McCartney). While the 50 second glimpse into these improvisation sessions make it seem like a one time jam, the band actually recorded longer versions of the song four times, treating it like an evolving new composition. It is also one of very few songs to be credited to all four members of the band.
Let It Be
“Let It Be” is one of the most beloved songs in the Beatles oeuvre and certainly one of the most popular hits to come out of the Let It Be album. It was inspired by a dream in which McCartney’s mother appeared to him, bringing him great comfort:
“I had a lot of bad times in the ‘60s. We used to lie in bed and wonder what was going on and feel quite paranoid. Probably all the drugs. I had a dream one night about my mother. She died when I was fourteen so I hadn’t really heard from her in quite a while, and it was very good. It gave me some strength.”
The song appeals to religious interpretations with its invocation of “Mother Mary” and has had lasting appeal (Rolling Stone dubbed it #20 on their 2004 list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time). It was not recorded until the final days of the Get Back sessions, first on January 25, 1969 and again on January 31. The latter recording is the one that was used on the album and for the single.
Like “Two of Us,” McCartney’s contribution with “Let It Be” offers a rare moment of respite in the midst of the tumultuous sessions that gave birth to the album named after it. Upon the album’s release, it was a song of comfort and peace to listeners amidst a period intense personal and social conflict, both within the dynamics of the band, as well as in the larger world at the close of the sixties. It promises peace and resolution, if we can only “let it be.” Fifty years later, the world finds itself in another historic moment of social, cultural and political upheaval and the song maintains its relevance to contemporary audiences.
Almost a closing bookend to the prologue provided by “Dig It,” “Maggie Mae” offers another 40 seconds of Beatle’s improvisation from the Get Back sessions. One of the ways the band tried to rekindle their friendship and spirit was through light-hearted jams and warm-ups on songs from their teenage years, including old rock and roll, skiffle and popular songs (including “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “All Shook Up,” and “Besame Mucho”). “Maggie Mae” looks back to the band’s origins, as a traditional Liverpool folksong believed to date to the 19th century, and was a regular part of the Beatles’ Liverpool days when they were still known as the Quarrymen. The short track ends the first side of the original album, a lighthearted conclusion after the hopeful solemnity of the title track.
“I’ve Got a Feeling”
“I’ve Got a Feeling” is the opening track of the second side of the Let It Be album and evolved out of two separate original songs: McCartney’s “I’ve Got a Feeling” and Lennon’s “Everybody Had a Hard Year.” It was also influenced by an improvisation between the duo and Starr dubbed “Watching Rainbows.” Although many of the Beatles’ tracks were credited to both Lennon and McCartney, this was one of the few pieces, since 1967, that was written by the pair as a true collaboration.
Part of the song’s interest is found in the juxtaposition of the two very different sentiments of the songs from which it was derived: McCartney’s contribution was inspired by the new love of his future wife Linda Eastman, while Lennon’s reflected upon the challenges of his separation from his first wife and son, as well as the struggles he and Yoko Ono had faced over the course of 1968 (miscarriage, arrest for possession of marijuana, and the former’s addiction to heroine).
One After 909
In the story of the Beatle’s back-to-roots efforts in the creation of Let It Be, “One after 909” is perhaps the clearest manifestation of that effort. Although it was a new release for fans in 1970, the song is actually one of the band’s earliest original songs. It was first formally recorded in 1963, as the band was working on “From Me To You,” and several bootleg recordings exist from even earlier, in their Quarrymen days, with the earliest dating back to 1960. Decades later, in an interview with Barry Miles, McCartney reflected upon its composition:
“It [“One After 909”] has great memories for me of John and I trying to write a bluesy freight-train song. There were a lot of those songs at the time, like ‘Midnight Special’, ‘Freight Train’, ‘Rock Island Line’, so this was the ‘One After 909’; she didn’t get the 909, she got the one after it! It was a tribute to British Rail, actually. No, at the time we weren’t thinking British, it was much more the Super Chief from Omaha.”
Despite its early origins, the song never got much attention for any of the band’s preceding albums. McCartney explained: “It was a number we didn’t use to do much but it was one that we always liked doing, and we rediscovered it…It’s not a great song but it’s a great favorite of mine.” In the nostalgic efforts of the band to reconnect to their roots and re-establish their friendships, “One After 909” holds a special place. It was one of the few songs included in their January 30th rooftop performance, with Lennon breaking into a line of “Danny Boy” as the song concluded. It was this performance that is included in the album, as well as the Let It Be film.
The Long and Winding Road
Perhaps the most controversial of the final tracks on Let It Be, “The Long and Winding Road” was another one of McCartney’s contributions to the album. However, it was in the final production of the track (in which producer Phil Spector – famous for his dramatic “wall of sound” arrangements – added a dense orchestration and choir) that the composer took most offense. In an April 1970 interview with the London Evening Standard McCartney explained: “The album was finished a year ago, but a few months ago American record producer Phil Spector was called in by John Lennon to tidy up some of the tracks. But a few weeks ago, I was sent a re-mixed version of my song “The Long and Winding Road,” with harps, horns and an orchestra and women’s choir added. No one had asked me what I thought. I couldn’t believe it….it just goes to show that its no good me sitting here thinking I’m in control because obviously I’m not.” Although he had asked for the added instrumentation and noises to be reduced in volume and the harp to be removed completely, the album was released a month later with all of Spector’s additions still in place. In an album that was centered in back-to-roots music making, Spector’s lush production aesthetic, epitomized in this particular track, has been the element most oft criticized. So much so that in 2003 Apple Records released an alternative mix of the album entitled Let It Be…Naked, which Anthony Decurtis reviewed in Rolling Stone saying: “…Naked exists essentially as an excuse for Paul McCartney, after decades of complaining, to finally remove Phil Spector’s production effects from ‘The Long and Winding Road.’”
And yet, time has been kind to Spector’s version of the track. On the one hand Rolling Stone’s John Mendelsohn left a biting review on its original release in 1970, saying “musically, boys, you passed the audition. In terms of having the judgment to avoid either over-producing yourselves or casting the fate of your get-back statement to the most notorious of all over-producers, you didn’t.” But upon hearing the stripped-down release in 2003, Decurtis wrote for the same magazine, that although “the sonic improvements as a whole are undeniable…casual fans will wonder what the fuss was about” and concluded “novices should still the get original.” When Let It Be remains the last musical statement the band gave us, its deficiencies tend to fade with the passage of time.
For You Blue
In describing this contribution to the album, Harrison called “For You Blue” a “simple 12-bar song, following all the normal 12-bar principals, except that it’s happy-go-lucky!” Much of its joy, comes from its intenions; Harrison had written the song for his wife Pattie.
Immediately following the complexity of “The Long and Winding Road,” “For Your Blue” offers the back-to-basics sound that the other Spector modified tracks lack. There is no bass guitar on the song, but features Lennon on a lap steel guitar and McCartney playing a modified piano. In his preparations for his work on the Naked album track, Paul Hicks was surprised to find how McCartney got the instrument’s unique sound: “It’s a fuzzy metallic sound, which he did by putting a piece of paper in the piano strings causing them to vibrate against the paper when struck.” For a band that so often turned to progressive technology for the evolution of their sound, the physical manipulation of a traditional instrument is a fitting sonic complexity for a back-to-basics track.
During Lennon’s solo, Harrison adlibs encouragement (“Go, Johnny, go!”) and other filler (“same ‘ol 12-bar blues” and “Elmore James got nothing on this, baby”). Spector’s drafts of the track also included several lines of dialogue from the film footage – especially that from the rooftop concert – but ultimately the producer cut all of these additions, leaving only a faint introduction of Lennon saying “Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI members.”
While the band discarded the working title of Get Back for both the film and accompanying album, the song is still given prime attention as the album’s final track. McCartney revealed shortly after the song’s release that it began as an improvisation in the early days of the Get Back sessions: “We were sitting in the studio and we made it up out of thin air. We started to write words there and then. When we finished it, we recorded it at Apple Studios and made it into a song to rollercoast by.” Finding the final version, however, would take many rehearsals and recording sessions. Womack notes that in a period of just 17 days, “the Beatles rehearsed some 59 iterations of ‘Get Back.’ In so doing, they slogged through a seemingly endless parade of false starts and bouts of sloppy instrumentation on the way to perfecting the distinctive galloping groove.” As already mentioned, in the rooftop concert alone the band played through the song several times, and in the end it was only Lennon’s off-the-cuff remark concluding with “…I hope we passed the audition” from this performance that made it into the final track of the album. This dry moment of humor serves as a fitting final sonic epitaph for the band.
Let It Be, as an album, is a curious and inconsistent artifact of the January 1969 Get Back sessions. The project was a valiant effort to rekindle the friendships and inspire the creativity of the band, with moments of comic release and collaborative spark. When a fed-up Harrison quit the band early in the sessions, he attended a Ray Charles concert, where he heard Bill Preston on organ. Preston then returned with Harrison to the studio, and his presence seemed to help ease some tension and renew excitement for the project. He even played with the band on the rooftop concert and his contributions are heard and credited on the final album (including on “One After 909” and “Get Back”). But despite Preston’s rejuvenating presence, the sessions were often a tension-filled and ultimately, perhaps an overly ambitious effort to complete under the blaring spotlight of film crews capturing it all.
Fifty years after its release, Let It Be remains an appropriately flawed and yet beloved testament to the Beatles failed reconciliation in the Get Back sessions.