Originally released back in 1970 (the official release), Let It Be was widely panned as being less than stellar work by a stellar group of musicians; the album conceived long after the actual pieces had broken. Between George Harrison growing increasingly unhappy at select members of the group and John and Yoko shooting smack, Twickenham Studios was a less than amicable place to record. Add to that the lavish plans to film the band recording (creating the accompaniment to that very film), tensions were unbearably high. And as the instances caught on camera would often show, the memory of that session was mostly a sour one. Amidst their break-up fiasco the record was left in the hands of producer Phil Spector (after original arranger George Martin had, according to Spector, “left Let It Be in a deplorable condition”) and off he went into the production twilight zone. Adding choral overdubs and orchestral layering, Spector’s supplementary sounds resulted in a distinctly puffed-up, overdressed version of the album; his production frosting best exampled by his version of “The Long and Winding Road”. It left the apparent pained session sonically hidden amongst the post-production haste. While he had very little time to finish the work, the results were so porous McCartney held the record as one of the reasons for the band’s dissolution.
Thirty some odd years on, the album finally gets the treatment the Beatles wanted it to get; or at least, the true capturing of that period. Stripped of all its Spector nuances, Let It Be … Naked is not necessarily the reworked edition of what is effectively, their swift farewell. It is rather the re-polishing of the album’s most essential quality: The Beatles live. Given the wash down at Abbey Road studios by the trio of Allan Rouse, Paul Hicks and Guy Massey; the selected tracks were given their Pro-Tools (where would the producers of today be without this little box of magic?) cleaning after they had been selected from the recording’s original tracks. Chosen to exhibit the sort of bare resonance McCartney wanted to capture from the original recording sessions, this new collection boasts that live personality while being current to today’s quality of sound.
Removing everything that had to do with Spector and Martin (the added extras plus the tracks “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It” and all that in-studio banter and dialogue), they kept almost everything that was the Beatles; all while giving the songs the technologically advanced update of a crisper, cleaner sound. So while it is a de-clothed version of the Let It Be soundtrack, it isn’t exactly ‘raw.’ There is also one notable addition – the swabbing groove of “Don’t Let Me Down”, which was recorded on label Apple’s roof and was the B-side to the single “Get Back.” Interestingly enough this cleaned-up third go-around works considerably well. Without the sponge that robbed the first two releases of its essence, tracks like “Long and Winding Road” escape from the shackles that seemed to bind its grace. The naked rendering, however still weepy in its unending sentimentality, does escape from being overly schlocky without the original’s bloated mush (as one adept journalist coined it, “Spector’s wall of schmaltz” – oh yes).
The Beatles, as they are, will never fade from public mention and will remain a defining entity in music’s history. The record labels (not to mention the members who remain breathing) will constantly remind us so. With Beatles anthologies aplenty and their albums of timeless compositions still readily available, reworked editions such as Let It Be … Naked, while certainly classy, will be hard pressed to satiate those fab four perfectionists. But really, they’re just asking for too much. So where does that leave the Beatles fan (or the general public)? Well, along with the aforementioned “Don’t Let Me Down” and the quality update the sound has received, this thrice released group of songs finally gets the polish they deserve. And it sounds glorious – without the torrential pour of the unnecessary, this is the most accurate documentation of the music from that session; the one joyous thing they actually got on tape.