The Beatles – Let It Be… Naked

Let It Be.  Undeniably, it’s a phenomenal album, part of the cultural lexicon of rock and roll.  But Sir Paul McCartney tells us that if we’ve only heard the original album, we’ve not heard it the way it was intended.

In the early 1960s, rock and roll music was fairly bare bones.  The average band consisted of exactly the sort of ensemble the Beatles started with: a lead guitar (electric or acoustic, the electric being a controversy all its own at the time — just ask Bob Dylan), a bass guitar, a drum kit, and sometimes a piano or a harmonica depending on the band.  The saxophone, once prominent in the 50s after being co-opted from the classical stage, became more of a mainstay of jazz by this point.  During their short time together, the Beatles experimented with the idea of studio editing, pushing the boundaries of what music was capable of in ways that even classical or jazz hadn’t considered to that point, and that, too, became a matter of controversy.  The argument over “pure” music (what a human could reproduce on stage) vs. machine edits split the industry and enthusiasts right up the center.  It’s the sort of thing we don’t even think about today, but trust me when I say this was a scary situation to some, a technological terror ranking right up there with the advent of recorded music in the early days of the phonograph.  As always, the fear at the center of it all was the relevancy of the musician.  But seriously… this is the Beatles.  If anyone could push those boundaries at that time, it was these guys.

But just as the Baroque gave way to the trimmed down Classical ideal, even the Beatles decided it was time to go back to basics, to recapture the magic they’d first introduced as though maybe they’d misplaced it somewhere.  It was a good thought.  It just didn’t turn out that way in the end.  The album’s original producer, Phil Spector, apparently decided that the recordings for Let It Be weren’t progressive enough given all that the Beatles had accomplished.  Known for his “Wall of Sound” technique, Spector’s embellishments have always been the target of criticism by fans, and this album would be no different in that regard.  But by the time the album was released to the public in 1970, the band had gone their separate ways, and that spirit of original intent was in the rearview mirror.  Of course, it sold like wildfire anyway, its place in music history secured.  As a point of consideration, there are classical music ensembles today dedicated to recreating the original Beatles albums down to every bit of radio chatter, off-the-wall instrumentation, and pop or hiss that can be heard on even the cleanest recordings.

 

A chance reunion of McCartney and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg led to a discussion about the unavailability of the Let It Be film on home video formats, which in turn led to talk of a possible remixed soundtrack for a proposed future release of the film.  Abbey Road engineers were recruited, and the new version of the classic album was stitched together from 30 reels of tape.  As these tapes were recorded live in many cases as opposed to controlled studio situations, extensive digital cleaning was needed on each individual track before remixing them.  In some cases, multiple takes were edited together for the best possible final version.  For example, keen ears will note a digital pitch correction in “Dig a Pony” where John Lennon sang a wrong note, and a reposition of the song’s final guitar riff as Lennon was one beat too early on the outro.  Or is it wrong after all this time?  Matter of perception, I suppose.  I’ve certainly heard compelling arguments on all sides, not unlike with the changes to the Star Wars Special Editions.

In November 2003, Let It Be… Naked was released to the public in what can only be described as the quietest media frenzy I’ve ever heard of.  For Beatles fans, this album was a huge deal… for a couple of weeks.  For the average person, not so much.  By this point, the internet had already begun fragmenting audiences further.  I occasionally meet Beatles fans who don’t know this album exists at all, which given the dedication involved, that seems a lot like a Star Wars fan not knowing the different versions of the original trilogy.  But I digress.  (Take that, dead horse!)

Let It Be… Naked represents, as McCartney says, the back to roots, stripped down version that they had in mind, omitting those bits of radio chatter between many songs and the majority of Spector’s enhancements.  Gone are the orchestra and choral overdubs.  Removed are the studio and rooftop concert bits of dialogue.  And for all of you with ears to hear, all lead vocals and drums are now placed in a center balance on the sound mix, offering a more modernized sound and feel.  If you compare the albums side by side with a good pair of headphones, the difference is night and day.  The end result simply featured the core ensemble, with a little help from their friends:

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, lap steel guitar, bass guitar, organ, whistling
Paul McCartney: vocals, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, piano, electric piano, Hammond organ, whistling
George Harrison: vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, tambura
Ringo Starr: drums, percussion
George Martin: Hammond organ, shaker
Billy Preston: Hammond organ, electric piano

Let It Be… Naked also changed the running order and omitted / replaced a couple of songs outright.  To compare, this is the original Let It Be album release:

Two of Us
Dig a Pony
Across the Universe
I Me Mine
Dig It
Let It Be
Maggie Mae
I’ve Got a Feeling
One After 909
The Long and Winding Road
For You Blue
Get Back

The updated track list looks like this:

Get Back
Dig A Pony
For You Blue
The Long And Winding Road
Two Of Us
I’ve Got A Feeling
One After 909
Don’t Let Me Down
I Me Mine
Across The Universe
Let It Be

If you happen to have the “Fly On The Wall” bonus disc (which I only learned about recently), that track list looks like this:

Sun King
Don’t Let Me Down
One After 909
Because I Know You Love Me So
Don’t Pass Me By
Taking A Trip To Carolina
John’s Piano Piece
Child Of Nature
Back In The USSR
Every Little Thing
Don’t Let Me Down
All Things Must Pass
John’s Jam
She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
Paul’s Bass Jam
Paul’s Piano Piece
Get Back
Two Of Us
Maggie Mae
Fancy My Chances With You
Dig It
Get Back

Essentially, this bonus disc is where the extra chatter went.  This is a 22-minute collage of small edits, not full songs.  For those who really want to dig in deep and see how the sausage is made, the internet makes it pretty easy to find a track-by-track analysis that tells you which cuts were used, where, and how.  I personally find that sort of thing fascinating, but I won’t bore the rest of you with it.

Critical reception at the time was mixed, ranging from “this is a great improvement” to “a technical feat, but not essential.”  For the diehard Beatles fan, it was needed to complete the collection, regardless of which version was ultimately preferred.  The debate continues over original release vs. original intent, nostalgia vs. technical improvements.  Sound off, Beatles fans!  Where do you stand?

13 thoughts on “The Beatles – Let It Be… Naked

  1. I know, it’s controversial, but … meh.

    I like Naked, but I think I was more excited about the wip versions and demos included in Anthology more than the release of Naked. I prefer Naked to Let It Be for some of the songs but not all – Long and Winding Road, yes; Across the Universe, no; and so on.
    I guess the Spector version was a different animal of creation that cannot really be re-created on stage, whereas the Naked version kinda sounds closer to a stage performance (i.e. not a studio creation) – which was kinda part of the point of going back to basics.

    Needless to say – I don’t really care all that much because I love these guys any in way, shape or form, … which I may have told you about before. ;)

    Liked by 1 person

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