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The Beatles' "Let It Be": What Is The Best Version?

Simone is an Italian guy who is very passionate about music. He writes classic rock album reviews.

The Beatles recording at Twickenham studios.

The Beatles recording at Twickenham studios.

After the release of The Beatles, or the "White Album", in late 1968, The Beatles decided to do something a bit different in January 1969. They went to Twickenham studios with the idea of filming their sessions, working on new songs, and maybe rehearse for some kind of concert. They had the assistance of George Martin, Glyn Johns, and a camera crew directed by Michael Lidsay-Hogg. The focus had to be on them playing together live in a room, so there was no big production of any kind as a contrast to their most recent albums.

What happened is no mystery by now, thanks the the Let It Be movie from 1970 and Peter Jackson's Get Back series from 2021. Long story short, the band rehearsed at Twickenham for a while, George Harrison left out of frustration after a few days, they reconvened at Savile Row, George got back, they got Billy Preston in as a keyboard player, they decided to do a concert on the roof, they recorded a few more songs the day after, and then they pretty much closed the project.

After that, the band quickly moved on and started working on Abbey Road while Glyn Johns worked on a couple of possible versions of an album then called Get Back from those January sessions. They decided to release a couple of songs from those sessions, "Get Back" and "Don't Let Me Down", as a single in April. Abbey Road came out in September. Lennon then asked Phil Spector to assemble another version of the possible album from those recordings. The album changed its title to Let It Be; it was released in May 1970, along with the movie and a book. It's no mystery that McCartney didn't like Spector's version of the album, and that didn't really help in what was a very difficult period for The Beatles. That period eventually led to a definitive end for the group a month before the album came out.

Through the years, we've had four official versions of Let It Be, not counting bootlegs, so it might be a bit confusing for the casual fan to choose one to listen to (although the original version will always be the historical one), especially given the nature of the project and the now extensive documentation of the sessions, along with countless different takes of individual songs to choose from. Let's try to see what we got in detail.

The original album release.

The original album release.

Let It Be (1970)

The original version of the album was produced by Phil Spector. It is a strange combination of a very big production (his famous "wall of sound") on certain tracks, and a very stripped down approach on others. There are also little snippets of studio chatter in between the songs. So there's "The Long And Winding Road" with strings and a choir along with an improvised "Maggie Mae" and a fragment of "Dig It", which is a studio jam. The result is a bit disjointed, but it somehow works. For some reason, "Don't Let Me Down" was not included in this version of the album, even if it was actually released as a single in 1969.

In the end, some like the big production that Spector brought on some of the songs, while others hate it (including McCartney). The latter group believe the big production is in total contrast with the idea of the "back to basics" approach that was the base of the whole project. On the other hand, Spector was called to work on the tracks without being told what to do precisely, and he just did his job in his own style. Even if the result might sound disjointed and is not coherent with the initial idea of the project, and maybe even differs from the usual "sound" of The Beatles (due to not being produced by George Martin), what he did is historically important and cannot be understated.

Tracklist

  1. "Two of Us": Apparently what we hear is take 12, recorded on the 31st of January.
  2. "Dig a Pony": This is from the rooftop concert on the 30th of January. Spector decided to lower Preston's piano in the mix and cut the "all I want is..." at the beginning and end of the song.
  3. "Across the Universe": The basic take was recorded on February 4, 1968, with a sitar, a tamboura and a girl choir. That version came out as a single in October 1969. However, since The Beatles are seen rehearsing the song in the movie, someone thought it made sense to have it on the album too. Because they never got to a final version of the song in those sessions, Spector took the basic track from 1968, added strings and choir, and slowed it down from D to D Flat on April 1, 1970.
  4. "I Me Mine": This song is seen as a rehearsal in the movie, but the actual recording took place on January 3, 1970, without John Lennon. The main take used is number 15, from which Spector copied and pasted a verse at the end to make it longer. He added some strings on April 1, 1970.
  5. "Dig It": A brief fragment of a studio jam originated on the 24th of January, although this specific version is from the 26th.
  6. "Let It Be": The main take is number 27A from the 31st of January 1969. When they decided to release it as a single in 1970, George Martin wrote and recorded a brass arrangement, and new overdubs of a choir (by McCarney, his wife Linda, and Harrison), electric piano and percussions were added. For the album, Spector used another guitar solo recorded by Harrison in April 1969 (noticeable for not being played through a Leslie speaker, like previous ones), and he brought up Martin's brass arrangement in the mix.
  7. "Maggie Mae": An improvised old traditional song recorded very quickly on the 24th of January. This one is the third overall attempt.
  8. "I've Got a Feeling": What we hear is the full first performance of this song on the rooftop on the 30th of January 1969 (they played it twice that day).
  9. "One After 909": This version is from the rooftop concert, the only take they played there.
  10. "The Long and Winding Road": The basic track was recorded on the 26th of January 1969. Spector added strings (arranged by Richard Hewison), a choir, and an additional drum part by Ringo on April 1, 1970.
  11. "For You Blue": The basic track is from take 6 from January 26, 1969. Spector decided to include a new main vocal track that Harrison recorded in January 8, 1970, and he omitted his acoustic guitar track from the entire song. He kept it only for the introduction.
  12. "Get Back": What we hear is take 11 from the 27th of January 1969. The coda they recorded the next day was used only in the single version.
The rerelease from 2003.

The rerelease from 2003.

Let It Be... Naked (2003)

In 2003, the first remix of Let It Be came out in an attempt to restore the "back to basics" sound of the songs. Paul McCartney was the main man behind this project since he hated Spector's work on the original one, and the remix was done by Paul Hicks. The result has its high and low points. On one hand, we get the album without the orchestral overdubs done by Spector (and Martin, in the case of "Let It Be"), and we also finally get "Don't Let Me Down" as part of the tracklist. On the other hand, all the little snippets of studio jams ("Dig It" and "Maggie Mae") and dialogues are gone, and the songs are presented as clean studio takes, like in a normal album. This, along with the heavy use of the "de-noise" technology to make everything sound even cleaner, creates a sort of strange hybrid of an album that should sound more "live", but sounds purely like a studio creation in some places, even more than the original mix.

So, if you just want to hear the songs as they were played by the Beatles in a rearranged order (that, in my opinion, works better than the original), with the addition of "Don't Let Me Down", as a studio album with nothing else added, it's a great experience. If you want a good representation of the atmosphere of the session, you might be disappointed. To be fair, you get a 20-minute bonus "Fly On The Wall" disc with bits of dialogues and studio jams. It's just not the same having these bits taken out of the main album.

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Tracklist

  1. "Get Back": A simple remix of the same take used both for the single and the original Let It Be album, again without the coda, but also without dialogue.
  2. "Dig a Pony": Just a remix of the same take from the rooftop used on the original album (again with the "all I want is..." part edited out) without the dialogue and the false start.
  3. "For You Blue": This is the same take as on the original album with the newer vocal track from January 1970 still in place. However, it now has George's acoustic guitar present in the mix for the whole song, as it was originally intended.
  4. "The Long and Winding Road": This is probably the track that sounds the most different. They didn't just take away the overdubs, they also decided to use a totally different take. What we hear is actually take 19 from the 31st of January 1969. This was the very last time they played the song, and it's also the same version we see in the movie Let It Be.
  5. "Two of Us": This is just a remixed version of the one heard on the original album without the dialogue.
  6. "I've Got a Feeling": For this song, they decided to edit together the two takes from the rooftop concert instead of using just the first one like on the original album. This was probably to get a more "perfect" sounding version.
  7. "One After 909": This is a remixed version of the only take done on the rooftop, the same one used on the original album.
  8. "Don't Let Me Down": This song wasn't included on the original Let It Be, but it was released as a single in May 1969. They used a version recorded on January 28th with added vocal takes done sometime in February of that same year. This specific version is a combination of two different takes from the rooftop concert.
  9. "I Me Mine": This is a remixed version of the same, longer "Spector edit" from January 1970 without the orchestra.
  10. "Across the Universe": The same 1968 take is used, but in this case, the song is presented at its original speed and pitch. There is no orchestra, just vocals, guitar, light percussion and George's tamboura with a touch of reverb growing as the song progresses.
  11. "Let It Be": A remix of take 27A from January 31st is used here (same take that is present on the original album) without any kind of overdubs from 1970. It was originally present in both the original single and album, and it has yet another guitar solo from take 27B from that same day.
The 2021 rerelease.

The 2021 rerelease.

Let It Be (Giles Martin 2021 Remix)

After Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 2017, the "White Album" in 2018 and Abbey Road in 2019, Let It Be got the super deluxe treatment in 2021. We usually got a new remix by Giles Martin and a lot of outtakes from the sessions. In this specific case, along with the new mix and the outtakes, we also got a 1969 Glyn Johns mix of the album.

The 2021 remix uses the same versions of the individual songs present on the original album. It also keeps all the jams and dialogue between songs, and it tries to make everything sound "updated" in some way. Overall, the bass is noticeably higher everywhere in the mix. Everything sounds a lot clearer, brighter and less "muddy". You can also hear some bits that were inaudible before. Spector's additions are still all there, but they obviously sound a bit different as they are a bit less intrusive.

In the end, while the new mix does a wonderful job in trying to make the album sound less dated, choosing the original mix or this new one all comes down to personal preferences.

A release of the album under the title "Get Back".

A release of the album under the title "Get Back".

Get Back (Glyn Johns 1969 mix)

Along with two CDs of outtakes from the sessions and the new remix, the 2021 edition of Let It Be finally included the 1969 Glyn Johns version the album titled Get Back. Johns did multiple versions of the album. All of them were discarded by the band, and the version included here is from May 1969. We don't get the full version from 1970, but we do get Johns' mixes of "Across The Universe" and "I Me Mine" in a bonus EP.

The version here is probably the most realistic representation of those sessions in an album form. There are snippets of dialogue, false starts and quite a few studio jams. Although some choices of individual song takes are debatable (there were better ones in Let It Be and ...Naked), the overall feel is that you are in the studio with The Beatles fooling around. They're simply playing new songs and jamming.

Tracklist

Bear in mind that there are dialogues and false starts between all the songs. I won't mention them in detail.

  1. "One After 909": This is the same take used in every version of the album. It's from the rooftop concert, and it is mixed differently here in a wider stereo.
  2. "I'm Ready (Rocker)"/"Save the Last Dance for Me"/"Don't Let Me Down": A medley of some studio jam with a fragment of an improvised "Don't Let Me Down" at the end. This is a short track that gives the first taste of those sessions recorded on the 22nd of January, 1969.
  3. "Don't Let Me Down": A slightly relaxed version of the song, this is one of the first takes with Billy Preston on electric piano recorded on the 22nd of January.
  4. "Dig a Pony": This was recorded on the 22nd of January like the previous tracks. This time it retains the "all I want is..." section at the beginning and end.
  5. "I've Got a Feeling": Another one coming from the 22nd of January, this is actually played right after "Dig a Pony". It's a very energetic version that sadly falls apart before the last verse, and it just ends there. This is probably one of the most debatable choices of takes done by Johns. While he chose a very good performance, the missing ending is a very noticeable flaw.
  6. "Get Back": This is actually the same take and mix as the single version from 1969 (so it's the same used on every version of the album). It was recorded the 27th of January, and it's missing the coda from the next day.
  7. "For You Blue": This is the same version used for all the other releases. However, it has the original vocal track from that same take (not the one re-recorded in January 1970). The acoustic guitar is kept in the mix.
  8. "Teddy Boy": This is a Paul McCartney song that The Beatles attempted in these sessions, but McCartney eventually finished it on his own for his first solo album in 1970. This version, far from being finished, is from the 28th of January, 1969.
  9. "Two of Us": This is the final version recorded on the 24th of January, 1969. That was the first day in which the band decided to try an acoustic arrangement of the song. It's slightly slower and more imprecise in the singing parts compared to the version we all know.
  10. "Maggie Mae": This is the same version as on Let It Be, only now there is a fade out at the end.
  11. "Dig It": This is the same jam that's presented on Let It Be with the same name, but here we have the complete four-minute long take instead of just 40 seconds.
  12. "Let It Be": This is from the same take used on the single and all different versions of the album (27A from the 26th of January). It has the same solo as the single and no overdubs whatsoever.
  13. "The Long and Winding Road": This is from the 26th of January, just like on every version of the album apart from ...Naked. There are no overdubs, just a touch of reverb added.
  14. "Get Back" (Reprise): The coda from the 28th of January.

Conclusions

In the end, there is no definitive version of this album. It all comes down to personal preferences. The original mix is historically important. With all its flaws, it perfectly represents a band in the middle of a crisis. ...Naked is a nice, stripped down listening experience. However, because of its very clean sound, it doesn't give the impression of a live recording; it sounds like a clean studio album. The 2021 remix tries to make the classic mix sound more modern and less muddy. You can hear details better, but it doesn't lose its original identity. The Glyn Johns mix is flawed, but it is the closest representation of those sessions in an album form.

So, in the end, it all comes down to what you look for. You can make up your own version by choosing individual tracks from each release. If that's not enough, you can easily find more outtakes on Anthology 3 and the Let It Be Super Deluxe Edition boxset, along with a plethora of bootlegs.

You can also hear the legendary rooftop concert from the 30th of January, 1969.

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