THE BEATLES –
Let It Be… Naked
|Making the history modern kills it. Here’s the artifact that proves it. A Fabulous Nudity.
How would you like your Shakespeare re-written in a modern orthography? That’s what the “Naked” is. That’s how Paul McCartney views “Let It Be”. Right, he never liked it – no, not the songs, the Fabs bar was placed high, but what Phil Spector had done to them. The correction seemed a matter of time, then, and the time came when Macca seemed to have finally come to terms with the fact that his solo material is considered inferior to THE BEATLES’, if only because myth always wins over reality. The time came when George Harrison passed, who admitted the same truth rather early and was averse to any changes to the legend and reluctant to release the apocryphic versions of songs on “Anthology”; therefore, it’s possible to guess his reaction to this new project, even though he supposedly approved of it – but who’s then that “late band member” which didn’t want it out on a DVD? And who’s affable Ringo to stand against Paul?
“Naked” means presenting the music as it was intended to, but it was down to the Fabs themselves that “Let It Be” came out somehow different to what they wanted – or it’s nobody’s fault at all. How could the quartet break out from the vicious circle of the album that was to be a soundtrack to the film about making an album? Well, late in 1968 the original idea looked righteous enough: to get back to the audience that hadn’t see the band on-stage for more than two years. To get back with a new repertoire, and not just this but with the songs as simply arranged as it could be, because it was due to the arrangements’ complexity and impossibility of reproducing it that the group stopped playing live. THE BEATLES wished to come again in style, and with the concert album. Yet they didn’t wished to work…
Lennon was busy experimenting with Yoko Ono, Starr was getting ready to shoot “The Magic Christian”, Harrison was jamming in Woodstock with Bob Dylan and THE BAND, so there was McCartney alone to steer the process. The process demanded new songs, so Ringo felt quite uninvolved, John’s heroin assumption made him out of comission for some time and wanting to play old rock ‘n’ roll, while George’s fresh pieces like “All Things Must Pass” and “Isn’t It A Pity”, though great, didn’t interest the main writers a lot. Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s cameras didn’t make the tension ease off either. As a result, Harrison left the fold but was talked into returning and returned with the organist Billy Preston in tow – on the proviso there would be no concert.
On one hand, the decision provided the group with much more time to work, and to work not in Twickenham film studio, but at Apple’s; on the other hand, George Martin, who would rein in the live recording appeared out of the project, because the rehearsals were supervised by Glyn Johns who faced the task of cutting an album from the month’s worth of noodling that ended on January 30th, 1969 with a rooftop concert. There were some fine moments amid all the fooling about and parodying: Macca rather decently took on Lennon’s “I’m So Tired”, and the band did some good versions of classics including Dylan’s and THE STONES’ stuff. The talk would also be serious, so the quotes in the “Naked” booklet don’t reflect the real proceedings, and citing the source of them as “the original ‘Let It Be’ booklet” is wrong, because that was a 160-page book. Something very good.
Still, the result of Johns’ work, finished that May, reflect the proceedings too truthfully, and the Fabs didn’t want such a raw thing to be released. Instead, Martin polished “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” for a single, while the band worked a bit more on some January songs and added some new ones, and in Sepetember that became “Abbey Road”. Its grand finale “The End” didn’t become the end though. because there was an obligation to release a movie – with an accompanying album. In the early 1970 George Martin produced the title song, “Let It Be”, sprinkling it with brass section, and in came Spector who just worked with John on his “Instant Karma!”. The others couldn’t care less, yet Lennon and Harrison liked what Phil did on THE BEATLES record and invited him to do the same trick with, respectively, “Imagine” and “All Things Must Pass”. Starr joined the majority: the three were managed by Allen Klein anyway, while McCartney was represented by his father-in-law Lee Eastman. But Paul didn’t object to Spector fusing his “The Long And Winding Road” with strings and female choir and decided to get rid of the embellishment when it was too late. Until now.
Phil resolved the problem well enough to render “Let It Be” in the Fabs’ spirit – there’s that working ambience with no noodling, thanks to the insertion of the conversation bits and fragments of “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It”. None of this is used in “Naked”, which ruined the link between “Maggie Mae” and “One After 909”: the Liverpool train station from where departs 909 of the latter is situated at Lime Street of the former. Sure, an excerpt of “Maggie Mae” pops up on the “Fly On The Wall” bonus disc filled with mash of the words and music, yet it only contorts the reality even more, as previously unreleased “Child Of Nature”, re-written later into “Jealous Guy”, had been recorded and discarded back in 1968, and played during the “Get Back” sessions as another past oddity.
Remixed “One After 909” comes off as the best track on the very dry “Naked”, electropiano brought to the fore made it much better, which can’t be said of “Get Back”, now the opening cut, that feels weaker despite Lennon’s catchy solo and, surprisingly, lost its ending. The producers’ team that Macca called to arms might strip the songs of Spector’s overdubs but left his editing mostly untouched, and what was changed was changed for worse – so it’s unfair to say THE BEATLES wanted their album to sound like this, especially with much more prominent Paul and Ringo’s parts. George and John would hardly approve the sprinkling of rooftop variant of “Don’t Let Me Down”, rightfully reinstated in the context here, with studio bits instead of Lennon’s flawed lines. As for the scandalous “The Long And Winding Road”, “Naked” features completely different take, not the original one minus strings.
How should one feel about “Let It Be… Naked”, then? Negative, as the cover suggests? A muted point. Should one have it in his collection? Certainly. No matter what difference there is from what the group intended, it’s the pure Fabs’ music. And any revelations adds to the truth. To the naked truth.
***3/5 – for the productions, not performances