Friday, July 23, 2010

9. The Beatles - Let It Be

Counting down my favorite 25 albums of 1970:

The Beatles - Let It Be

This album is much better than it has a right to be. Its troubled history is well documented: In early 1969, The Beatles decided to 'Get Back' to their roots and make an album in the style of their early albums, and to have film cameras document whatever happens - unfortunately, not much did. By the time the sessions dissolved, there were hours of film footage and audio tape of the Beatles tuning guitars, warming up with classic rock covers, and getting testy with each other. The project was abandoned, and only two singles 'Get Back' and 'Don't Let Me Down' were salvaged from it.

In 1970, Phil Specter was hired to make an album out of the mess. It would be the first Beatles' album not produced by George Martin, and Specter's 'wall of sound' production style didn't seem like a natural fit for the album's back-to-basics concept. Anyone who had heard the widely circulated 'Get Back' bootleg album that was generated from these sessions (which was also not produced by George Martin) would not have high expectations of this Specter-ized version.

Incredibly, the album is fantastic. Even the criticism of Phil Specter's overblown production on 'Long and Winding Road' seems unfair - could the song really be less sappy even without the choir of angels? The in-between-songs banter, and the loose and joyful mood really show through as originally intended; this is particularly remarkable considering the actual mood of the sessions (if the footage in the film is any indication) was often tense and joyless.

A particular highlight for me is the song 'I've Got a Feeling'. My favorite Beatles' songs are the ones where an unfinished McCartney song is mashed up with a complementary unfinished Lennon song (The earliest example being the appropriately titled 'We Can Work It Out' in 1965; Sgt. Pepper's 'A Day in the Life' is another memorable example). McCartney's 'I've Got A Feeling' shifts into Lennon's 'Everybody Had a Hard Year' and back again.

This is not the first or only time that Phil Specter was involved with the Beatles in 1970. He first produced the single 'Instant Karma' for John Lennon (easily my favorite song of 1970), and he also produced George Harrison's excellent solo album All Things Must Pass.

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