Expanded ‘Let It Be’ Shows the Beatles at Their Most Human
One frigid morning in January 1969, Ringo Starr walked into London’s Twickenham Studios and took a look around. “Morning, everybody,” he cheerily told his bandmates. “Another bright day. Morning, camera.”
Beatles studio banter always offers us a glimpse of what the Fab Four were really like — a dusty stained glass view of their personalities and how they interacted with each other. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” might be one of the most achingly beautiful ballads John Lennon ever wrote, but you can’t help but crack up at the version captured on Anthology 2; Lennon tries to kick it off but he fails after Paul McCartney shatters a glass and erupts in a silly rap about the tune. Hearing these moments more than 50 years later, it makes the greatest band of all time seem human.
In the case of the Twickenham sessions, where they recorded and filmed the messy making of Let It Be, these intimate moments are crucial. The new Special Edition of the album follows the box sets for Sgt. Pepper, the White Album, and Abbey Road, but unlike these releases, this one has something to prove, something to clear up: that despite being on the verge of disbanding, there were still glasses to left smash, and sing about.
The five-disc collection is part of the Let It Be-aissance, which also contains the massive Get Back book (spoiler alert: there’s transcripts of their conversations!) and Peter Jackson’s upcoming film of the same name (spoiler alert: the band still loves each other!). Each component does its job to correct the past — and in the case of the expanded album — present the music as McCartney originally intended. “It is how I want to remember the Beatles,” he writes in the forward of the Deluxe Edition’s hardcover book.
A vital part of the correcting lies in Phil Spector’s production, which McCartney first tried to strip off on 2003’s Let It Be….Naked. The “Wall of Sound” is officially torn down, with Glyn John’s original fly-on-the-wall approach in its place. The result is a raw quality with a sound akin to Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes — an album that undoubtedly influenced these sessions (George Harrison, having recently hung out with the Band in Woodstock, describes his early take of “All Things Must Pass” as ‘Band-y’.) The mix also includes “Don’t Let Me Down,” tragically left off the original album but now in its rightful place, nuzzled between a loose, rowdy medley and the gem “Dig a Pony.”
The post-Beatles future is glimpsed during the third disc of rehearsals and Apple jams, where Lennon tries out an early “Gimme Some Truth” (later on Imagine) and they tear through Abbey Road tracks like “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” and “Oh! Darling.” Harrison fiddles with “Something” and asks McCartney for help, but Lennon jumps in to lend a hand instead. “Just say what comes into your head each time: ‘Attracts me like a cauliflower,’ until you get the word,” he tells him. Although Lennon calls his bandmate “Harrisongs,” at one point, in this moment, it feels as though he’s truly respecting him as a songwriter, guiding him along the path to what would become Harrison’s classic debut All Things Must Pass.
It’s an understatement to say that things got ugly between the Beatles when they officially broke up in the spring of 1970 — the most legendary band split of all time. Beyond the Let It Be sessions, the Alen Klein fiasco, lawyers (no guns) and money, my brain always tends to zoom in on Imagine, where Lennon included a black-and-white photo of him holding onto a pig, mocking McCartney’s Ram cover. But all of that washes away after Ringo greets the room with “Morning, camera,” and what follows is Take 4 of “Two of Us.” Sure, McCartney wrote the love song for his wife Linda, but as he and Lennon harmonize about wearing raincoats and standing solo in the sun, it morphs into a dazzling ditty about their friendship, harking back to the early days. With Let It Be, the Beatles just wanted to go back home.