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“As Far as I Can Surmise, Let it Be… Naked is a Fallacious Power Trip on the Part of Paul McCartney”

Leave it to me, even a year after the Yesterday movie that was supposed to be like sounding the death knell of the Beatles’ cultural relevance, to still just chill out and listen to the whole album Let it Be on a Christmas off from work. And I think I had some ulterior motive for putting it on that day but what the actual experience ended up being was a rediscovery of the final Beatles LP [1] as a classic album and also a repeated embrace of the song-by-song journey as a sequence that flows with this special, almost disorienting kind of liveliness. It was a rediscovery of what made the Beatles so great — the understated, remarkably distinct turns that songs like “Two of Us” can take, hinging things on an amputated phrase and rotating the simple chorus of “We’re on Our Way Home” on a lilting leaf feather-light rhythm.

Somewhere along the line, though, I think, partly not without help from this egotistical Let it Be… Naked project by Paul McCartney which basically amounts to him trying to put his own stamp on an album that was released about him, the original Let it Be got a bad rap. Let it Be… Naked consists of, basically, variant “mixes” of the songs, which render the tunes simpler. Ironically, when I listen to Let it Be… Naked against the original version, the songs sound clean and overly polished, or “overproduced,” in other words, a malady that was supposed to be assuaged by the alternative mixing. Also ironic is the fact that while Naked is supposed to encompass Let it Be in its true, pure, unadulterated sense, there are four producers credited to finishing it, whereas Phil Spector is the sole listed soundman for the original. 

True to form, then, to me, it’s Spector’s original version that bounces out of the speakers as more natural, and more fun, and less a sterile case of “too many cooks in the kitchen” out of which all the exuberance and feeling have been fumigated. Paul McCartney seems to have been just madly in love with his own creation “The Long and Winding Road,” and while it’s certainly not a bad song, I think he overestimates its efficacy in its bare anatomy to move the listener: it’s probably helped by the body and annexed melodies of Phil Spector’s string additions. By itself, it just doesn’t make much impression — it’s like a really innocuous British pop song with nowhere near the edge or tension to appeal to American audiences. 

By stark contrast, Spector’s version is nothing if not raw, evidenced in one part by the hilariously bizarre track “Dig it,” which is apparently a mid-section snippet of an extended jam featuring stream-of-consciousness verbal ejaculations on the part of John Lennon: “And the FBI / And the CIA / And the BBC / B.B. King…” The second point I’ll look to to prove the superiority of Spector’s mixing is “I’ve Got a Feeling,” a song I typically associate with cheesy frat-boy singalongs but on which the original version’s sound scape just has this incredible body. It’s like being at a concert, actually, hearing Spector’s “wall of sound” mix — the guitar is given pungent girth and shapeliness, balanced heavily within the left ear drum, with the drums in the right and not overpowering Harrison’s part at all, but just seeming to belt their vibrations right into the guitar’s abdomen, so to speak. The bass is actually indecipherable from the guitar, a product of I think the “wall of sound” and its magnanimous power to fill empty space. It’s like a mix version of a closet that’s so crowded with parts that you can’t tell if you’re touching your own hand or someone else’s. But Let it Be is the rock album the Beatles otherwise would have never made — it’s one of the most freewheeling, melodic and glorious classic rock albums ever put to wax, the production of the Spector version garnering specific praise from Lennon in the wake of its release, with a mix that’s warm, beery and Woodstock-ready: something George Martin’s awkward piano/bass separation and cantankerous shrillness of guitar never could have approached. 

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[1] By this I mean the final Beatles LP RELEASED, as Abbey Road was recorded after these sessions but unlike Let it Be not shelved for a year prior to issue.  

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