A Review of Let It Be...Naked
by John Whelan
Ottawa Beatles Site
February 22, 2004

A new musical facelift is presented on Let It Be...Naked culled from the Let It Be recording sessions.  This brings up to date, seven producers who at one time or another, have worked on the Let It Be tapes. The producers are: George Martin, Phil Spector, Glyn Johns, Malcom Davies (who, on February 28, 1970, did eight mixes of For You Blue -- none of which made it to the final Let It Be album when released). Enter now: Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Allan Rouse, producers for Let It Be...Naked.  

For some reason, Paul McCartney has always been unhappy with the way Phil Spector produced the original Let It Be album. One of the songs in particular seemed to have really annoyed Paul, namely The Long and Winding Road. But lets step back just one moment here: Phil Spector gets improperly blamed by fans for conducting and arranging the orchestral score for the Long and Winding Road when in fact the person responsible is Richard Hewson.1 All Phil Spector did was simply mixed in Hewson's orchestra and choral arrangement and turned it into a more enjoyable listening experience.

Hewson, who later turned out to be a top musical arranger in Britain, was certainly not unfamiliar to McCartney at the time. Hewson is responsible for the orchestral arrangement that you hear on Those Were The Days (released in 1968) by Mary Hopkin as well as her next single Goodbye and her album, Postcard (both released in 1969). He was later commissioned by Paul McCartney for the orchestral arrangement found on Thrillingon (released in 1971), the instrumental version of Paul's second solo album, Ram. Richard Hewson must of been doing something right back then, for why would he have been solicited by McCartney to later do the musical score for Thrillington?

But perhaps the real rub for McCartney goes back to April 1, 1970. During Phil Spector's mixing of the orchestration and choir for the Long and Winding Road, one of two vocal tracks done by Paul on the master tape, was wiped out in order to make room for Hewson's orchestra and choral arrangement.  Brian Gibson, technical engineer for EMI, was there when it happened: "On The Long and Winding Road he wanted to overdub orchestra and choir but there weren't the available tracks on the tape, so he wiped one of Paul's two vocal tracks in order to put the orchestra on.2"

However, the version that Paul evidently wanted out, is not the one from April 1, 1970. In fact, it's the one found on Let It Be...Naked and it is this version that was previously overseen by Glyn Johns (for fans wishing to hear what Spector's version without strings would sound like, all you have to do is play the track found on The Beatles Anthology 3).

When the Beatles began recording in the dreary Twickenham studios in January 1969, it is evident from film that the group was in the process of breaking up. They became unhappy and a cranky lot and the only real bright moment that occurred in the film was when the band left Twickenham and eventually ended up performing on the Apple rooftop. Back then, even the movie reviewers took notice of the Beatles disinterest in working and performing together...

Daily Variety (5/13/70): Declared that the movie was "relatively innocuous, unimaginative piece of film" and "probably the last public appearance of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr as a group. With all the gossip and speculation attending the split, reading between the spoken lines of the film becomes a game in itself."  The review went on to predict that Paul would "emerge as the strongest as a major individual talent of the 1970s as composer and singer.3"
The Herald (6/16/70): Reporter Ron Pennington charged that "The spontaneity and crazy antics that were so much a part of their early films and appearances are now sadly missing. As the Beatles' music has steadily grown and progressed during the past decade, so have the Beatles themselves. They are no longer the close-knit group that used to seem to be having so much fun working together."  Pennington went on to say: "Whether or not George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr will ever work together as a group remains to be seen. If they do not, it will be a sad loss to the music scene, although, hopefully, each will go on to make his own individual contribution. If they do get back together, it will be an answer to prayers of countless fans throughout the world. Let it be.4"

 

The Esquire (August, 1970): Let It Be "is a sad and fascinating Apple home movie" and charged that it "is a sloppy piece of instramural rip-off, with a special bummer of a sound track. But its crudity only makes us strain the harder to catch the aside, the gesture that will reveal them to us, lay bare the education of their fabulous odyssey together." The magazine ended their comments with: "They've regularly surpassed and redefined our expectations for nearly a decade. They've brought untellable happiness into our lives into our happiness-forsaken world. Now, in what looks like a collective bad head, they're busting up, with four individual lives still ahead of them. Find your stars, please, Beatles.5"
 
The movie reviewer's negative comments were just the tip-of-the-iceberg: back in England, Felix Barker of the London Evening News had declared in 1970 that the music in the movie "ought to satisfy their fans. To the less committed, this may look more like the last whimper of a dying civilization.6" And Alexander Walker of the Evening Standard also criticized the movie, saying that "Fame has sated the Beatles to the point where they obviously can't care less.7" 

It begs the question then, could any producer have salvaged the Let It Be recording sessions, let alone even using today's technology?

Here is what Mark Lewisohn, author of The Beatles Recording Sessions had to say about Phil Spector: "The best producer in the world or not, he couldn't re-write or re-record the songs, which were mostly of second-class Beatles standard, recorded at a time of boredom, arguments and intense bad feeling within the group, recorded live on borrowed equipment, deliberately devoid of the superior studio polish so characteristic of the Beatles' post-1965 output.8"

Therefore, given the conditions in how the Beatles recorded these songs, let's examine what Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Allan Rouse did with Spector's production work. Please keep in mind that Naked, according to the publicity hype from Paul, is exactly the way he would have wanted it released back then if the band had access using today's technology...

NOTE: All Beatle dialogue found on the original Let It Be album has been removed for the Naked tracks. Dialogue found on the Fly on the Wall bonus CD is substituted for the lack of studio chatter.

I Dig A Pony:

Same version as Phil Spector's.

Improvement: Sound quality is cleaned up.

As Nature Intended: The backing vocals - "All I Want Is You" - that open and close the song are still missing from the original master recording.

Score a point for Spector: The backing vocals were not included because, according to Guy Massey, "The tuning is particularly bad in the beginning9" which explains why the new production team didn't include it and is probably the very same reason why Phil Spector didn't use the background vocals in the first place.


I've Got A Feeling:  

A new version presented here by editing two different songs together.

Improvement: Overall, questionable (see following comments below)

As Nature Intended: This edit version has some annoyances. Danny Caccavo, Emmy winner in 2002 in the category of "Sound Mixing for Non-Fiction Programming (Single- or Multi-Camera) for "9/11", had this to say: "I really wonder why they edited in a different take on the end of "I've Got A Feeling" for LIB Naked.

"I've always liked the original - note how the distortion is accidentally left on the guitar as the intro comes back in - I haven't seen the film in over 20 years, but I remember George sort of "shrugging" when it that happens.

"But with the new edit, the energy just drops. I see no reason for it. Were they trying to fix that mistake? If so, bad move.10"

Score a point for Spector: We agree that Phil's version has a more powerful and raw feel to it than these two pieces edited together for inclusion on Let It Be...Naked.


I, Me, Mine:

Richard Hewson's musical score is stripped from this Harrison track.

Improvement: Sound quality is crisp and clear.

As Nature Intended: The original length of this recording clocked in 1:34 and not 2.25 as presented on Naked. The true length of this song appears on Beatles Anthology 3.

Score a Point for Spector: Phil increased the song to 2.25 by repeating some of the lyrical verses (including choruses) thereby adding "an extra 51 seconds" to this Harrison number. Said Lewishon: "With each verse sporting different lyrics, Spector gambled that no one would guess he had more than halved again the length of the original recording. And sure enough, no one did.11"

Interestingly, Matt Hurwitz, a music journalist had recently questioned Massey as to why the short version didn't appear on Naked and Massey replied that "it's just far too short12" to have presented it that way.

So, once again, Phil Spector was correct the first time around on I, Me, Mine by extending the length of this song!
 


Two of Us:

Same as Phil Spector's version.

Improvement: Sound quality is cleaned up.

As Nature Intended: The song placement for this song on Let It Be...Naked is clearly out of "sync" with the rest of the album. In this instance, it might have been better placed right after For You Blue followed up next with The Long and Winding Road. John Lennon's off-beat humor which kick starts the original album, is sadly missing here.

Score a Point for Spector:  Beatle historian Mark Lewisohn had this to say about Two of Us: "The Spector touch was both light and clear on his remix of 'Two of Us', lending the song, and in particular the acoustic guitar work, a crispness and brightness previously lacking. 'Two of Us'  was probably Spector's best achievement on Let It Be.13"


For You Blue:

Same as Phil Spector's version.

Improvement: Sound quality is cleaned up.

As Nature Intended: With the cinma verit clip "Queen says no to pot-smoking FBI movement" edited out for this new album, For You Blue was completed on the 6th take on January 25, 1969. The editing and mixing would later be done by Phil Spector for the Let It Be album.

Score a Point for Hicks, Guy Massey  and Allan Rouse: The drums and George's acoustic guitar work are more pronounced on the Naked version and might well be the major highlight found on this new release.


Get Back:

Same as Phil Spector's version.

Improvement: Sound quality is cleaned up.

As Nature Intended: Here is a classic example of what Paul and John originally really had in mine where the song is recorded and mixed with no over-dubs, no overproduction, just straight-forward rock'n' roll.

Score a Point for Spector: Nothing new added here. No coda tagged on the end of Get Back like there was in the single version. Naked's production team remained true to Spector's version.


One After 909:

Same as Phil Spector's version

Improvement: Overall, questionable.

As Nature Intended: Listener's will note that the band chatter where they did a parody of "Oh, Danny Boy!" is missing from the original album causing the song to end far too abruptly after the crashing of Ringo's cymbals.

Score a Point for Spector: While the drums, bass and vocal work are a little more louder here on Naked, Spector had a great idea to let the song end just the way the band had ended it and that is by singing and talking themselves out of the number. But now without their dialogue, this abrupt ending found on Naked actually ruins the song.

The listener will note the sequence of songs on this new album start and  end within a mere second of each other. Perhaps the production team did it this way so that listeners wouldn't have time to pause and think about the abrupt ending found on One After 909. Though it was never mentioned as such, Allan Rouse did admit the following: "If you think about Beatles albums or any album recorded in the Sixties with the exception of albums like Abbey Road, there was always three seconds between each track. It didn't matter how it felt, you just measured three seconds of white leader and stuck it in. But we didn't do that because people don't do that anymore, people use feel for when the next track should come in. All of this is slightly different to the usual Beatles album.14" In any event, it was a very subtle and quick way to segue way from One After 909 and into John Lennon's alternate version of Don't Let Me Down.


Don't Let Me Down:

New version of this number from Lennon.

Improvement: N/A

As Nature Intended: This is not the B-side single version to Get Back. Two different roof-top versions had to be edited together in order to cover up some lyrics that Lennon had forgotten to sing on. Once again, fans aren't exactly hearing the true version as nature had intended!

Score a Point for Hicks, Guy Massey  and Allan Rouse: For giving fans an alternate version of Don't Let Me Down and for finally including this song which should have first appeared on the Let It Be album but instead the B-side single version was relegated for inclusion on the Hey Jude album in 1970.


Let It Be:

Same as Phil Spector's production (but with one slight difference, see below).

Improvement: Sound quality is cleaned up.

As Nature Intended: George's original guitar solo is featured on Naked  while the "gritty guitar break" which appeared on Spector's Let It Be track on the album, was played by Harrison and recorded by George Martin on January 4, 1970.  It was an attempt to record an overdub to go alongside George's original guitar solo. To date, no known commercial version where both solos playing together simultaneously have ever been released.

The orchestration for Let It Be was scored by none-other-than George Martin: On January 4, 1970, background vocals were done by Paul and George and were added onto the January 31, 1969, recording. It included, according to Mark Lewisohn, take 27 where "a simultaneous overdub of brass, scored by George Martin: two trumpets, two trombones and a tenor saxophone.15" By the time they got to take 30, George Martin then added some additional cellos, drums, maracas for the song. This was again, scored and arranged by George Martin.

While Martin's production work appears in both the original single and album, George Martin's score regarding the brass and cello overdubs, according to Lewisohn, were "mixed very low16" for the single.

Score a Point for Phil Spector: Given the above facts, over the years heaps of blame was relegated onto Phil Spector for sabotaging not only The Long and Winding Road, but also for Let It Be. Phil may have elected to go with the "gritty guitar solo" on the Let It Be track, but beyond that, he stuck very close to the original format that George Martin had previously produced.


The Long and Winding Road:

Completely different version.

Improvement: N/A

As Nature Intended: During the last day of recording (January 31, 1969), the Beatles do a studio performance of this song (this is the same one that's on the film) with subtle lyrics alternation.  The change occurs, according to Paul Hicks, when the lyrics switch from "you'll never know" to "you'll always know.17" Allan Rouse added the justification for using this particular version: "The conclusion we came to in this instance was that, because it was the very last take that he probably ever did, therefore it was probably more correct. So that's how we resolved our problem, we figured that Paul had tuned his lyrics and that was probably what he really wanted. But then Phil or Glyn use the take that was done beforehand and, of course, that's how those lyrics became set.18"

Score a Point for Phil Spector:  The string arrangement is what makes the song flourish...it gives the listener a feeling of a person who is traipsing down life's long and winding road. And you know what? It worked! The song went No. #1 for two weeks in the USA (June 13 & 20, 1970). In my opinion, Phil Spector gets a unnecessary bad rap from Paul.


Across the Universe:  

Richard Hewson's musical score is stripped from this Lennon track.

Improvement: Sound quality is crisp and clear.

As Nature Intended: The original recording for this number began on February 4, 1968, that incorporated an acoustic guitar, tomtoms, tamboura and a sitar. It was during this session that both John and Paul realized they needed falsetto harmonies for the lines: "nothing gonna change our world" and so they brought in two young teenage girls and had them record their bits. Though not yet issued, the song was set aside for World Wildlife Fund and it then morphed into something a little different with wildlife sound effects at the beginning and the ending of the song. This version did appear on the World Wildlife album entitled No One's Gonna Change Our World. By the time the Beatles recorded Let It Be, Lennon decided to resurrect the tape and let Phil Spector have a go at turning it into something better.

Score a Point for Phil Spector:  After listening to "Across the Universe" recording for the World Wild Life Fund, Spector recorded the falsetto harmonies accompanied by 50 musicians comprising of violins, brass, drums and strings. Again, Richard Hewson is responsible for the musical score for this track that you hear on your original Let It Be album. In the end, Spector was at least attempting to remain close to the original idea as conceived by the artists themselves on February 4, 1968. The Naked version that you hear on the album consist only of John Lennon's vocals, acoustic guitar, tomtoms, tamboura and a sitar but with no falsetto harmonies!

Several months after it's release, Let It Be...Naked did not fair well on the charts, given the fact the Beatles success of "1" continues to be a lucrative seller for the band. One week after its November 18, 2003 release, Let It Be...Naked's chart placement on Billboard went like this: 5 - 17 - 16 - 20 - 17 - 26. By the seventh week, Let It Be...Naked was no longer in the Billboard Top 50!  

However, midway through Naked's action on the Billboard charts and realizing that the album was having some difficulty in garnishing sales figures, on December 15, 2003, Capitol Records launched a public relations campaign to back Let It Be...Naked. In a Business Wire news release from Capitol, the record company declared: "There's a new sound turning on kids at college campus radio this week -- The Beatles. "Let It Be Naked" just entered the College Music Journal's Top 200 with the #1 debut of the week at 42 (beating out Daedus, Moonraker, Tori Amos, AFI, Paul Oakenfold, Coco B's, Slipstream, HolyGhost, The Flying Luttenbachers, and Neung Phak, among others).19"

While college kids may have shown some interest in the album, it still wasn't enough to push the album back to the top of the charts. And what of the '60s aging baby-boomers? What happened to them? Were they resistant to some of the new musical changes found on the album?  Perhaps so. A recent on-line pop music poll that I came across on the web showed some stunning figures: 68% of music lovers are resistant to changes made with older music that they are already familiar with while 32% would be in favor of such changes made to their old familiar tunes. This might help to explain part of the reason why the album did not sell well amongst baby boomers and, to a much lesser degree, I suspect, the college kids.

And it's not that these songs aren't good when they first came out back in 1969. Contrary, there definitely were a few bright positives that came from both the album and movie release of Let It Be: On May 8, 1970, William Mann of the Times, declared Let It Be as "Not a breakthrough record, unless for the predominance of informal, unedited takes (Phil Spector is the producer); but definitely a record to give lasting pleasure. They aren't having to scrape the barrel yet.20" And only a month before, on April 15, 1970, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded an Oscar for "Best Film Music -- Original Film Score for Let It Be.21" The album also produced three major hit songs for the Beatles: Get Back, Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road. So in the end, given this kind of success, I'll stick with Phil Spector's original production of Let It Be.

Rating for Let It Be...Naked:   ** / 5 stars.


Biliography:

1. Mark Lewisohn's "The Beatles Recording Sessions", page 199, published by Prospero Books, 2000

2. Mark Lewisohn's "The Beatles Recording Sessions", page 198, published by Prospero Books, 2000 

3, 4, 5, 6, 7: Martin A. Grove: "Beatle Madness", pages 201, 203, 204, published by Manor Books, 1978

8. Mark Lewisohn's "The Beatles Recording Sessions", page 199, published by Prospero Books, 2000

9. "The Naked Truth About The Beatles' "Let It Be...Naked"", article by Matt Hurwitz, published by Primedia Business Magazines & Media Inc., January 1, 2004

10. "Re: Why alt take at the end of "feeling?"", by Danny Caccavo, rec.music.beatles, January 5, 2004

11. Mark Lewisohn's "The Beatles Recording Sessions", page 199, published by Prospero Books, 2000

12. "The Naked Truth About The Beatles' "Let It Be...Naked"", article by Matt Hurwitz, published by Primedia Business Magazines & Media Inc., January 1, 2004

13. Mark Lewisohn's "The Beatles Recording Sessions", page 197, published by Prospero Books, 2000

14. Historien bag "Let It Be...Naked", publisher Intervetavisen Jyllands-Posten, November 13, 2003

15, 16.: Mark Lewisohn's "The Beatles Recording Sessions", page 195, published by Prospero Books, 2000.

17, 18.: Historien bag "Let It Be...Naked", publisher Intervetavisen Jyllands-Posten, November 13, 2003

19. "College Radio Tunes to New Hit Sound -- of the Beatles", news release from Business Wire, December 15, 2003

20. Elizabeth Thomson and David Gutman, "The Lennon Companion - Twenty Five Years of Comment", page 162, published by Schirmer Books, New York, 1987

21. Allen J. Wiener, "The Beatles - The Ultimate Recording Guide", page 95, published by Bob Adams, Inc., 1994

Additional reference from: "The Story of Those Were the Days" by Pat Richmond, July, 2000.

The Ottawa Beatles Site