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The Beatles, it seems, have trouble following their own advice. Ignoring the title of their final album, surviving Fabs Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have approved a radical revamp of 1970’s ”Let It Be.” Recorded before 1969’s ”Abbey Road,” but not released until after the band’s breakup, the album was one of the Beatles’ least cohesive efforts (which, from rock’s greatest band, means it was still pretty good). But for Nov. 18’s ”Let It Be… Naked,” Beatle-sanctioned engineers stripped the LP of its elaborate production, jumbled the track listing, and remixed every song from scratch. We’ve heard the results. Here’s what Beatlemaniacs (and their mothers) should know.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED Four songs on the original ”Let It Be” — McCartney’s wistful ballad ”The Long and Winding Road,” George Harrison’s ego-blasting rocker ”I Me Mine,” John Lennon’s mystical meditation ”Across the Universe,” and, to a lesser extent, the title track — are awash in choirs, orchestras, and horns. Thank Wall of Sound producer Phil Spector, who was recruited in March 1970 to shape raw tapes into a finished album. On ”Let It Be… Naked,” all traces of Spector’s additions — much derided by the unlikely team of Paul McCartney and rock critics — are gone.
YESTERDAY AND TODAY Most startling are the changes to ”The Long and Winding Road.” Not only are the string stabs that famously punctuate the title lyric gone (you hear piano and organ instead), the song is not even the same take used on the original album. McCartney’s memorable ”yeah, yeah, yeah” ad-lib is absent from the ending, a new organ solo pops up, and even the lyrics change: Instead of ”You’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried,” a more optimistic McCartney sings, ”You’ll always know.” Some listeners may always be confused.
”Across the Universe”’s overhaul is nearly as dramatic. Reduced to just Lennon’s voice, acoustic guitar, and soft percussion, the song is more poignant — the vocals are among the clearest he recorded (Lennon preferred his voice obscured with reverb or filters). To some, though, the sparse arrangement may sound more like a demo than a finished Beatles track.
Spector tread lightly on the album’s title song, so the absence of his embellishments there isn’t particularly striking. Sharp-eared fans will notice, however, that a different take of George Harrison’s guitar solo is used on ”Let it Be,” and that the ”oohs” of the Beatles backing McCartney are more prominent in the mix. Finally, without Spector’s melodrama, the time-signature-shifting ”I Me Mine” becomes the spare (if vaguely silly) rock track it was always meant to be.
HELLO GOODBYE ”Let It Be… Naked” removes all of the original album’s between-song banter (like a falsetto John mocking Paul’s sincerity by promising a performance of ”Hark The Angels Come”), as well as its two mini-songs, the traditional tune ”Maggie Mae” and the throwaway original ”Dig It.” In their place is Lennon’s primal-scream rocker ”Don’t Let Me Down,” a ”Let It Be” B-side that never should have been left off the album. The song complements McCartney’s equally fierce ”I’ve Got a Feeling”; on both songs, newly prominent distorted guitars lend a pleasing, albeit anachronistic, punch.
To go with its clearer sound, the album also boasts a shuffled song order. The original began with the lilting duet ”Two of Us,” and ended with the single ”Get Back,” with ”Let It Be” wedged in the middle. The new CD presents the songs in this order: ”Get Back” (a new, leaner version); ”Dig a Pony”; ”For You Blue”; ”The Long and Winding Road”; ”Two of Us”; ”I”ve Got a Feeling”; ”One After 909”; ”Don’t Let Me Down”; ”I Me Mine”; ”Across the Universe”; and ”Let It Be.”
Anyone who’s offended by such irreverent reworking need not get too upset. The Beatles have no plans to yank the original ”Let It Be” off the market — after all, Phil Spector doesn’t need any more bad news.