Let It Be was was the final album released by the Beatles but not the last recorded (that was Abbey Road). Why? Because ‘Get Back’ as it was originally called, and its accompanying documentary film, were a total mess by all accounts. Relations in the band were at a low ebb, McCartney having become a little dictator trying to guide a wandering steer the other members were no longer interested in riding. The initial idea behind the album had been to dispense with the over production of previous albums and return to the Please, Please Me Roots of their recordings. “None of your nonsense”, as Lennon put it to George Martin. The result was strained recording session played out in front of the cameras without a usable product to finish with. The tapes were shelved and they moved onto Abbey Road. After that the Big Wigs at EMI demanded the tapes be released but nobody was happy with them so Lennon basically dumped them onto Phil Spector with a “pick the bones out of that” attitude. Spector duly picked the bones out of it and was left with some less than prime cuts so he slathered them in some very sweet and sugary oil: the notorious ‘Wall of Sound’. Having tried to distance the band from over-production McCartney was appalled by the finished product with its Disney strings and sweet choirs of angels. Justifiably I would add.
This is all well known Beatles lore. What seems to have been forgotten was that in 2003 after an extensive digitising of all the Beatles back catalogue for what would become the Love album three years later, McCartney leapt at the chance to ReMaster his poor lost album. The band politics had rather obviously simmered down what with two of the members being dead, so McCartney persuaded Yoko and Ringo to give it another going over and drafted in the poor retired Martin to oversee remastering. The result was the stupidly named ‘Let It Be… Naked’. It was unfavourably viewed as a piece of Machiavellian Ret-conning on the part of McCartney by basically everyone at the time and roundly savaged then ignored once the hype had simmered down. Unfortunately, whilst it was certainly an ego project on McCartney’s part, it turned Let It Be into a really great album that people seemed to overlook in their haste to vilify. Far from being the tacked on album at the tail end of the band’s career Let It Be Naked sits the album firmly in the same quality bracket as their other albums.
I bought the album upon release and it sounded very strange to me at the time. I was used to the Spectorisms and their absence made it sound empty. I put it on my iPod the other day as I was finding albums that were recorded with Telecasters as I plan to buy one for myself soon and I remembered Harrison was playing one on that album. For the sake of clarity I chose Naked as I’d be able to pick the parts out more. I listened to it twice back to back today and was delighted to find it is a really great album. Far FAR superior to the 1970 release not just in a production sense but as songs it is far more cohesive.
Get Back: The first major change was the running order. Moving the last track of the 1970 release to the first for the 2003 edition sort of plants the flag and does so with style. What you get is basically the single version recorded in 1969 on the rooftop and without the needless chatter. It is polished to a mirror shine however and makes far more sense as an opener.
Dig A Pony: Again the same as the original release but now glowing with a bit of digital polish. Lennon’s Epiphone is revealed as the mushy fuzz growler it should be and the riff to open doesn’t suffer from the pointless false start Spector left in and takes your head off instead. Harrison’s solo gleams now too.
For You Blue: Unusually the Harrison tracks, placed now amongst a much stronger and cohesive Lennon-McCartney album, suffer significantly. This is the same take as the original with an added acoustic guitar and the brush and touch up applied. This album also provides the best sounding acoustic guitar I’ve heard on record. Also nice to not have Lennon’s slightly ropey slide guitar dominating the whole track. McCartney’s piano solo is also a surprise now it’s less buried: it’s really good. Sadly it’s just a 12 bar from a band that didn’t need to record another one. Stand out for any other band, filler for the Beatles.
The Long and Winding Road: The one that McCartney most wanted changed, by all accounts. And it is unrecognisable here. The original recording is a mushy mess all covered in saccharine strings and choirs by Spector. Sadly (as the book of Beatles recording lore Revolution in the Head puts it) he had to do something. The original was a bad take, Lennon’s bass playing tantamount to sabotage: missed notes, wrong notes, fudged slides up the neck all litter the original recording but were, rather cannily, buried by Spector. Listen to the 1970 release version again and pay attention to the bass. It’s bad. Also McCartney’s vocal is not that great, largely flat for the man who would record ‘Oh, Darling’ a few months later. The Naked version is an entirely different take with electric piano and guitar not on the original and the orchestra and choir entirely absent. Lennon’s bass is still lacklustre but workable at least. Harrison’s guitar is a thing of lush shimmering beauty and Ringo’s typically precise but understated rhythm is perfect. What screams at you though without the sludge of Spector is what a beautiful song this is. Easily one of McCartney’s best and his piano playing is something to envy, the doubling of his lines by the strings utterly unnecessary. I can see why McCartney wanted this song ‘saved’, turns out its one of the best the Beatles ever wrote or recorded. And almost, almost made me understand why people like Chorus pedals on guitar.
Two of Us: With the clarity afforded the remaster the foibles of the original recording is revealed on this one. The vocals are very ‘poppy’, the slightly inferior mics used for live recording are rather evident on an acoustic track. Other than that this is the original take polished up again and what a polish. If there was a division between Lennon and McCartney you wouldn’t know it. You couldn’t fit a fag paper inbetween those harmonies and it is clearly a team effort form the two songwriters resulting in yet another classic.
I Got A Feeling: Whilst everyone points out that it is simply Suspicious Minds slowed down, I Got A Feeling has got some serious balls to it. This is apparently a composite of two recordings from the rooftop and is certainly different to the original release, the vocals are much better and the mix shows off just how damn groovy they could be when playing together. The only thing I miss is the break in the original had Harrison’s guitar play the riff with massive distortion making McCartney whoop with joy and sounded so cool. In fact Harrison’s guitar is just much louder generally on the original but the Naked version is much more of a song which is to the album’s endless benefit. One of the best examples of the differences in Lennon and McCartney’s style and how they made that fit in one song seamlessly. Probably my favourite track on the album.
One After 909: Again, how tight were this band? It’s a remix and master of the original but is just a proper good laugh. Probably the closest thing to what McCartney wanted out of the album and he didn’t even write it. When pub bands endlessly imitate this style why do they never sound this good?
Don’t Let Me Down: With the merciful removal of the weird and needless Dig It and Maggie, Don’t Let Me Down was added to beef up the run time. One reviewer at the time of Naked’s release sniffed this away saying the song was nothing but a dirge. Far from it I say, it’s another tight performance (again a composite from both rooftop versions) of a great song and makes the whole album less of a novelty piece with its presence. It’s minor tonality is a nice offset to the rest of the album too. A welcome addition.
I Me Mine: Again not one of Harrison’s best but the remix without the Spectorisms brings it up to par. It is also oddly lengthened which also reveals it as rather slight compared to the other songs on the album. Works really well if you imagine it as a proto version of Cream’s ‘Badge’. The song that probably benefits the most from the remaster.
Across the Universe: Another complete retread. Slowed down and all of Spectors production is exorcised leaving just the acoustic guitar, more akin to the original single b-side version. Something, I feel is lost on this one, it does need something. Maybe not wah-wah guitar or full symphonic orchestra and choir but something. I suppose it does end up sounding as empty as the Universe is which was maybe the original intention. I guess we’ll never know. Probably the one that suffers most from the remaster. No doubt to the glee of McCartney…
Let It Be: The remaster, again, reveals master songwriters and incredible performers at the heart of the band. Sadly, the removal of all Spectorisms means it is overshadowed by the much better known and bigger original as that’s the one everyone knows. Personally I would have this one replace it as it is an amalgam of all the takes with Harrison’s better solo and McCartney’s best vocal take. Also the piano is de-muffled and like Winding Road absolutely sings, carrying the song to that soaring last chorus. Makes much MUCH more sense as an album closer too. A never to be forgotten classic song given the recording it deserves, putting the band front and centre and showing what a consummate group of musicians and artists they were. This should be the archived take that gets the radio play. The crowning achievement of the Remaster for me. Wonderful stuff.
In all, Naked is an album, specifically a Beatles album, where as the original ended up being something of a curio with all its mire of production, bad blood, between song chit chat and novelty half-songs. Let It Be was the soundtrack to a film, Naked is an album in its own right and fits in neatly with the rest of the canon far more comfortably. I highly recommend a listen if you can find it.