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In January 1969, The Beatles were at the apex of the pop music world. Their self titled record, better known as The White Album, topped the charts two months earlier. That was preceded by the extremely successful "Hey Jude," 1968’s biggest selling single in the U.S., UK, Canada, and Australia.
As the new year began, The Fab Four embarked on a project chronicling what would be their first concert in nearly two and a half years. The plan was to produce a television special and an album to go along with it. Both would be made up of all-new Beatles compositions, with the viewing audience getting to see the band rehearsing these work in progress tunes along with the finished songs performed live.
But the group was slowly moving in different artistic directions, and the record and what was now a film documentary ended up being shelved. The band’s live performance took place, famously on the rooftop of their central London Apple Corps offices. In the following months, the group did “come together” and the result was the Abbey Road album, released in September 1969.
By May 1970, the band was no more. The delayed record and motion picture, both titled Let It Be, were finally released that month. Over a half century later, the Let It Be music album has become the latest Special Edition release in the series of Beatles box set collections.
The Super Deluxe Edition CD box set contains a remixed Let It Be album, as well as 27 previously unreleased session recordings; a four track Let It Be EP, the never before officially released Get Back stereo LP mixed by engineer Glyn Johns (The Who, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones), and a Blu-ray audio disc. A 105 page hardbound book is included with unpublished Beatles photos by Ethan A. Russell and Linda McCartney, and images of hand written lyrics, session notes, tape boxes, and film frames. The CD's and book are housed in a 10” by 12” die-cut slipcase.
Let It Be is the fourth Beatles album to receive the Super Deluxe Edition box set treatment, following Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White Album, and Abbey Road. Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George, again produced and mixed this special Beatles release, with Sam Okell additionally engineering the recordings. They’ve taken the original Let It Be album, “Reproduced for Disc by Phil Spector,” and created a new stereo mix from the initial session and rooftop performance eight track tapes. Martin and Okell used Spector’s work as a guide.
New Mix of Original Album
The remixed album sounds close to the previously released discs of Let It Be and 2003’s no-frills Let It Be…Naked, but with some nice, subtle audio touches added.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s Everly Brothers influenced vocals are heard clearly in the lead off track, "Two of Us," while their acoustic guitars harmonize. Ringo Starr’s cymbals are prominent in "I Dig a Pony" 's mix, with Lennon’s rhythm guitar placed in the left audio channel and George Harrison’s lead guitar in the right.
"I Me Mine," recorded by “The Threetles” of McCartney, Harrison and Starr in January, 1970, rocks out nicely in the part of the song they referred to as the bop piece, meaning the chorus. Spector does get the credit for turning "I Me Mine," a one and a half minute song, into a two minute and 24 second one by repeating the bop piece and second verse.
McCartney has never been a fan of Spector’s overdubs on "The Long and Winding Road," and the song was heard unadorned in the Let It Be…Naked disc. The included SDE book in the box set details Spector’s additions to the track, all without McCartney’s approval. Talk about a Wall of Sound! How about 18 violins, four violas, four cellos, harp, three trombones, and fourteen vocalists performing on the track?. The new mix seems to tone done all of these overdubs, and still deliver the emotional punch the song conveys.
Get Back-Apple Sessions
Alternate recordings of the Let It Be album, minus "Across the Universe," make up this 40 minute disc. Three speeches, taken from the film crew's audio, are interspersed among the CD's songs. It's fun to hear McCartney croon a very tiny bit of "Please Please Me" before take 10 of " Let It Be." Billy Preston’s acoustic piano is prominent in the mix of Take 3 of "One After 909." Preston, a friend of the band from their Hamburg club days, was brought to the Get Back/Let It Be sessions by Harrison. Preston provides some needed energy to the recordings.. "I Me Mine" is pretty much an instrumental, with 10 seconds of "Wake Up Little Susie" at the beginning. "Maggie Mae" segues into a snippet of the early Lennon-McCartney song, "Fancy Me Chances."
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Get Back Rehearsals and Apple Jams
A bit more interesting than the previous disc, this CD clocks in at 32 and a half minutes. It’s too bad that both this title and the last one couldn’t have added more tracks to fill up the 80 minutes worth of space available individually. Nevertheless, there are some audio gems here, although some are a bit brief.
Just three of these 13 tracks ended up as songs on the Let It Be album in more fleshed out form: "I Me Mine," "Get Back," and "Let It Be."
A tantalizingly short segment finds Harrison asking for advice with a lyric in his song, “Something.” He’s having trouble finishing the line, “Attracts me like a…” , Lennon tells him to use a place holder word in the lyric, such as “Attracts me like a cauliflower.” With that advice, Harrison decides to sing, “Attracts me like a pomegranate.“ Fortunately, he figured out “Attracts me like no other lover” worked just right in the finished tune.
Harrison also experiments with what would be the title track of his first solo album, All Things Must Pass. Lennon begins an early rendition of the biting "Gimme Some Truth" from the Imagine record.
Preston provides the gospel flavored lead vocals on "Without a Song," a jam with Lennon and Starr.
Get Back LP – 1969 Glyn Johns Mix
One of the most entertaining parts of the box set is the previously unreleased Get Back album, mixed and prepared by Johns .The record is intriguing for the fact that there’s no way, with The Beatles popularity in 1969 and 1970, that this Get Back LP would have been issued at the time. Talk about warts and all, you’ve got it here. And 50+ years later, that’s what makes this disc so unique and fun to listen to.
“Don’t Let Me Down” and “Dig A Pony” contain count offs before they begin. Harrison’s acoustic guitar intro leading to “For You Blue” breaks down, and the song is restarted. A brief, very loose medley of Fats Domino’s "I’m Ready" followed by The Drifters "Save The Last Dance For Me" segues into "Don’t Let Me Down." An embryonic version of "Teddy Boy," later found on McCartney’s self titled solo album, is played with Lennon jokingly calling out a "Grab your partner, Do-Si-Do" square dance call during it.
The live "One After 909" from the Apple rooftop is Get Back's opening track, however "Two of Us" does work better as the initial track on the official Let It Be record.
One quibble concerns the information by Tony Barrow on the back of the CD’s cover. It's so tiny, you need a magnifying glass to read it. In this case, the vinyl sleeve would be better.
Let It Be EP
Clocking in at just 13 minutes, the four track EP is made up of Johns' previously unreleased 1970 mixes of "Across The Universe" and "I Me Mine" and new Martin and Okell mixes of "Don’t Let Me Down" and "Let It Be." With the disc's short running time, a couple of more Beatle songs from the era could have been added.
"You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)," the B-side of the "Let It Be" single, would have fit here as well as another rock and roll oldies medley like "Rip It Up/Shake, Rattle and Roll/Blue Suede Shoes" found on "The Beatles-Anthology 3." Yes, "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" was recorded in 1967, but "Across The Universe" dates back to a year later.
With his solo on "Don’t Let Me Down," you realize how important Preston’s electric piano and organ performances were to the sessions. Whether it’s his work on "Get Back," "Don’t Let Me Down", "Let It Be," or "One After 909," he seemed to always deliver in these recordings. The Beatles obviously felt highly of him, enough to credit the "Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down" single as The Beatles with Billy Preston. Preston would go on to play on the Abbey Road tracks "I Want You (She’s So Heavy)" and "Something."
The Let It Be Blu-ray audio disc contains the new stereo mix in hi-res 96kHz/24-bit; new 5.1 surround DTS and Dolby Atmos album mixes. It doesn't include an Easter Egg music video as the Abbey Road Blu-ray did with the "Something" promo. The red Apple Records label on the Blu-ray, just like the American album release had in 1970, is a nice touch.
A highlight of The Beatles Super Deluxe Edition sets have been the accompanying hardbound books. The Let It Be Special CD collection is no exception. In particular, Beatles author, historian, and radio producer Kevin Howlett once more writes about the album tracks and offers interesting trivia notes regarding the quartet.
As examples, Lennon offered "One After 909" for the Rolling Stones to record in 1963, but they chose "I Wanna Be Your Man" instead. When writing “The Long and Winding Road,” McCartney was thinking of Ray Charles, and imagining how “The Genius” would sing the tune. A year after it became The Beatles’ last U.S. number one single, Charles did cover the song on his Volcanic Action of My Soul album. Lennon references BB King, Doris Day and Matt Busby at the end of “Dig It.” Many people would be familiar with King and Day, but who was Busby? He was the longest serving manager in the history of the Manchester United football club.
In the book’s Track By Track section, Howlett lists The Beatles and Preston's musical credits for the various Let It Be tracks. Recording dates are added along with a full page or two on the histories and backgrounds behind the tunes. Moreover, images of the original handwritten lyrics are pictured, as well as some of the tape boxes housing the recordings.
Of particular note are the Abbey Road (then known as EMI) Studios photos of McCartney, Harrison, and Starr working on "I Me Mine" and "Let It Be," mentioned above. Those sessions would be the last for new Beatles songs until the "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love" Anthology recordings in 1994 and 1995.
Other Let It Be Album Configurations
The Super Deluxe Edition is available on vinyl in a four LP and 12 inch EP edition, along with the 105 page book in a 12.5" X 12.5" die-cut slipcase. Plus, a digital collection is being sold. A single and double CD release is available, as well as a limited edition vinyl picture disc.
Let It Be may not be considered by many to be in the same classic Beatles album group as Revolver, Abbey Road, or Sgt. Pepper. But any LP that includes such classics as the title track, "The Long and Winding Road," "Get Back," and "Across the Universe," is still not too shabby a record.
The remixed Let It Be is a fun listen. Think of it as an alternative to the original. In terms of bonus tracks, The White Album is the best of the four Super Deluxe Edition Beatles releases. But with the Get Back disc and much more, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the Let It Be box set.
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