Let It Be…Naked – a Beatles album for the “1” generation
In 2003, a new phase Beatles album was released – but it was not as successful as they would have thought. The “1” album of Beatles number one hits was released in 2000 and brought the music out to a new, young generation. It became the best selling album of the decade, not only for The Beatles, but for the music industry. So the follow-up was an album tailored for the new audience and for the CD era.
The original Let It Be album
When The Beatles first set out to make what later became the «Let It Be» album back in early in 1969, they intended to record an album that would be a return to live performance. No studio effects or overdubbing of voices or instruments would be allowed – just the bare necessities of the band.
«Let It Be» (working title was “Get Back” before that got old) evolved from an original plan to make a television show featuring the group playing tracks from the recent ‘White Album.’ That idea changed in three ways. First, abandoning the easier path, they opted to learn a completely new batch of songs for the televised concert. A second innovative approach was added when it was decided to film the rehearsals; allowing viewers to trace the development of each song from its first rough run through to the final polished version. Thirdly, as the climax of the project was a return to live performance, no studio effects or overdubbing of voices and instruments would be allowed at any time.
As usual, George Martin would be the supervising producer but – as he recalls – he had been instructed by John that ‘none of your production rubbish!’ was needed.
Recording engineer and de facto producer Glyn Johns made several attempts to edit and sequence a passable album from the session tapes, which also included the famous rooftop concert, each attempt later rejected. Although one of his attempts were slated for an August 1969 release, as detailed by Mal Evans in their fan club magazine, “Beatles Monthly Book”. With the album shelved for a while, The Beatles got together again and recorded and released “Abbey Road”.
Still, due to a contractual obligation to United Artists, the proposed television special was turned into a documentary film for theatrical release, and renamed “Let It Be”. To accompany the film, the album was re-produced by Phil Spector before its 1970 release and it did not represent the raw and unadorned set The Beatles had originally had in mind.
Post EMI settlement albums
Thirty years later, the tapes were brought out again, to have another attempt to make it a good Beatles album – on par with the rest of their studio albums. Neil Aspinall, managing director of The Beatles’ company Apple Corps Ltd had overseen a number of Beatles projects after the band had settled their battle in court with the EMI record company. “Live at the BBC”, the “Anthology” TV series, albums, books and video releases, the 1999 makeover of the 1968 “Yellow Submarine” film, now with a soundtrack in surround sound, restored colours and a remixed soundtrack album, “Yellow Submarine Songtrack”, plus the hugely successful “1” compilation album in 2000.
The idea of re-releasing the “Let It Be” movie triggered “Naked”
Having met the director of the “Let It Be” movie, Michael Lindsay-Hogg on a plane by chance, Paul McCartney was made aware of the fact that the film was not available for public consumption any more, not on video cassettes and not on DVD. So Paul decided that the movie should be cleaned up and re-released. Paul McCartney: “There was talk of the film ‘Let It Be’ being released on DVD, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that the music used in the film is unadorned; there is no Phil Spector. It’s not that I hated what Phil Spector did to the music on the album, I just didn’t like it. When I heard the songs as they were in the film, I thought ‘Wow, it’s almost scary, it’s so bare’, I really liked it. This is us, no frills, no artifice. Why don’t we put the album out again, but this time ‘naked’? It just seemed so obvious” (quoted from Paul’s press release when the “Let It Be …Naked” album was remastered and re-released in 2013).
Georges approval years before
This must have happened a long time before the project was realised, as the first time a new “Let It Be” project was mentioned was by George Harrison in 1996 (see DVD 5 of “Anthology”). He mentioned it alongside a “Magical Mystery Tour” project, which eventually came to be in 2012, so Apple clearly had a long term schedule organised. But the initiative to clean up the film and re-make the album came after George had passed away in 2001. Another Beatles project, in fact the next Beatles album, was to be “Love” in 2006, to accompany a Las Vegas show by Cirque du Soleil. That project was actually initiated by Harrison many years before it came to fruition.
The remix team
Neil Aspinall ordered a remake of the “Let It Be” album, and phoned Allan Rouse.
Rouse had acted as project coordinator for a number of Beatles remix projects, among them “The Beatles Anthology”, “Yellow Submarine Songtrack” and Lennon’s “Imagine”. While the task for those projects had always been to re-create the original mixes known to millions of fans using current technology, the charge for the “Let It Be” project was different.
“This was not an attempt to remaster an existing album,” Rouse says.”We were asked to make it sound the way the band had believed the finished album was going to sound.” This meant, for the most part, producing mixes that reflected only what the four band members (or five, including Preston) could play live: no overdubbed guitars or vocals, and certainly no orchestras.
Rouse, with Paul Hicks and Guy Massey had been the team working on the “Anthology” songs and the “Yellow Submarine Songtrack”, now they set to work on the “Get Back” session tapes. During a two-week period, the three listened to all 30 reels of 1-inch 8-track session tapes, which had been recorded through a pair of borrowed 4-track consoles onto a 3M 8-track machine. As a reference, the producer/engineers also studied the released Spector album and both of Glyn Johns’ versions. “We mainly listened to identify the takes they used,” says Rouse. They also noted where Spector had made any edits, deciding if there was a good reason to either keep or discard those edits. “As it turns out, Glyn and Phil had done most of the legwork. We ended up using the vast majority of their takes.” After the listening sessions, the tapes were transferred to the digital domain for editing and working of them in Pro-tools.
Once the tracks were available for digital editing, the live performances of The Beatles, be it in the studio or up on the roof, were repaired, for instance through editing out bum notes and replacing them with the same note from another take etc. The same with vocals etc. This was exactly the kind of editing the Beatles had originally prohibited George Martin from doing when the album was in the making.
The end-product, the 2003 “Let It Be… Naked” album was supposed to sound like the stripped-down, return-to-live-takes album that The Beatles originally aimed to create, free of vocal and instrumental overdubs or added effects.
However, one song was an exception. John Lennon had been complaining about one of his songs from the “Let It Be” album in his interview with Playboy in 1980:
LENNON: The Beatles didn’t make a good record of “Across the Universe”. I think subconsciously we… I thought Paul subconsciously tried to destroy my great songs. We would play experimental games with my great pieces, like “Strawberry Fields”, which I always felt was badly recorded. It worked, but it wasn’t what it could have been. I allowed it, though. We would spend hours doing little, detailed cleaning up on Paul’s songs, but when it came to mine… especially a great song like “Strawberry Fields” or “Across the Universe” …somehow an atmosphere of looseness and experimentation would come up.
LENNON: Subconscious sabotage. I was too hurt… Paul will deny it, because he has a bland face and will say this doesn’t exist. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about where I was always seeing what was going on and began to think, Well, maybe I’m paranoid. But it is not paranoid. It is the absolute truth. The same thing happened to “Across the Universe”. The song was never done properly. The words stand, luckily.
Perhaps this was the reason why the remixing team abandoned their work method for this particular song. Heavy editing took place, as well as forging what the remixing team wanted to be the ultimate version of the song “Across The Universe”, and adding a huge reverb to end the song, kind of a tribute to Phil Spector.
The “Let It Be” film re-release never happened, probably because of negative issues the film brought to mind – according to Aspinall, but the cleaned-up footage, both film scenes and outtakes were put to use to promote the new album, as trailer and as a new promotion film for the song “Get Back”.
Track-by-track details of “Let It Be…Naked”:
- “Get Back” – a remix of the take recorded on 27 January 1969 used for both the single and album; without the coda recorded on 28 January or framing dialogue from the studio and rooftop concert added to the album version.
- “Dig a Pony” – a remix of the take from the rooftop concert on 30 January 1969; framing dialogue and false start removed; error in second verse (the “because” in Lennon’s vocal track) digitally corrected.
- “For You Blue” – a remix of the 25 January 1969 take used on the album, including Harrison’s re-recorded lead vocal from 8 January 1970; framing dialogue removed.
- “The Long and Winding Road” – the final take recorded on 31 January 1969, instead of the album take from 26 January. Previously unreleased.
- “Two of Us” – a remix of the take recorded on 31 January 1969 used on the album; framing dialogue removed; minor error in Lennon’s acoustic guitar performance digitally corrected.
- “I’ve Got a Feeling” – a composite edit of two takes from the rooftop concert.
- “One After 909” – a remix of the take from the rooftop concert; impromptu rendition of “Danny Boy” removed.
- “Don’t Let Me Down” – a composite edit of two takes from the rooftop concert. Previously unreleased.
- “I Me Mine” – a remixed, slightly different recreation of Spector’s edit (which had increased the track’s length by copy/pasting the second chorus at the end) on the track recorded on 3 January 1970; orchestra mixed out, guitar overdubs and organ parts mixed in and out to make the repeated verse sound different.
- “Across the Universe” – a remix of the original version recorded on 4 February 1968, played at the correct speed; sound effects, piano, maracas and backing vocals mixed out; tape echo added.
- “Let It Be” – a remix of take 27A from 31 January 1969 used for George Martin’s single version and Spector’s album version, with edit pieces including Harrison’s guitar solo from take 27B edited in.
See also the bottom of this blog post for a more thorough description of the tracks by Guy Massey and Paul Hicks from the editing team.
The prime target was the new audience of young people who had emerged with the enormous success of the “1” album, it seemed. “It’s hard to make it as up-to-date as stuff nowadays, because it wasn’t recorded these days,” Massey told Mix Magazine at the time. “From that point of view, it was a challenge to make it sound as punchy and as present as possible. But it’s a good representation of what they were like then.” Hicks added: “We all collectively felt that we wanted it to stand along all the other Beatles albums, and hopefully, we’ve achieved that.”
On 13 November 2003, the completed “Let It Be… Naked” album had its world premiere with a two-hour radio special from Infinity Broadcasting. The special featured a 50-minute documentary of the original Get Back/Let It Be sessions, including interviews with all four Beatles; an uninterrupted broadcast of the new “Let It Be… Naked” album; and a 20-minute roundtable discussion hosted by Pat O’Brien. “Let It Be… Naked” was issued worldwide on 17 November 2003, two days before Phil Spector was charged with the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Formats: Vinyl LP, CD and cassette. The release of the album was covered by the news media all over the world (well, at least those places where The Beatles had been a big phenomenon), with cleaned-up footage from the filming in January 1969 edited together for television stations.
On a personal note, your’s truly happened to be in Amsterdam, The Netherlands at a marine trade fair on release day November 17, 2003. Having nothing else to play it on other than my notepad computer, I went looking for the CD in Amsterdam’s record shops. It was nowhere to be found. Eventually I came to a store in the record store chain “Free Record Shop”, who had ordered one single copy of the CD. They had it in the back room, having failed to bring it in to the shop itself on release day. “It won’t even chart,” I thought to myself, “if today’s record store managers are that lukewarm to it”. And it didn’t do much, we later found out. To our’s and Neil Aspinall’s surprise, the “new” Beatles album didn’t fare as well as the success of “1” had led us to expect. The album charted, but only made it to no. 7 in the U.K. and no. 5 in USA (Billboard). It did actually make it to number 8 in Dutch charts, so it must have been promoted elsewhere in the country.
Fly on the wall
In addition to the album, a second disc called “Fly on the wall” was included in the package, inviting listeners to a taste of what was happening on the session tapes during the recording of the album. Some of the removed dialogue that had appeared on the original album appears on this disc. In total, the track on this disc is 21 minutes and 55 seconds long. This disc was compiled and edited by Kevin Howlett, who listened to more than 80 hours of tapes, recorded in mono on Nagra reel-to-reel tape machines by the film crew during both the Twickenham and Apple sessions, discovering a number of previously unknown Lennon/McCartney tunes (which are included on the disc), as well as some other surprises. “I had expected to hear the kind of disagreements and arguing we’ve all heard about,” Howlett told Mix Magazine in 2003. “Instead, I heard the band members actually having a good time. By the end, they were, in fact, quite excited about what they were doing.”
“Fly on the wall” was all one track, but here is a breakdown of what you can hear, all songs credited to Lennon–McCartney except where noted:
- “Sun King” – 0:17
- “Don’t Let Me Down” – 0:35
- “One After 909″– 0:09
- “Because I Know You Love Me So” – 1:32
- “Don’t Pass Me By” (Richard Starkey) – 0:03
- “Taking a Trip to Carolina” (Starkey) – 0:19
- “John’s Piano Piece” (Lennon) – 0:18
- “Child of Nature” (Lennon) – 0:24
- “Back in the U.S.S.R.” – 0:09
- “Every Little Thing” – 0:09
- “Don’t Let Me Down” – 1:01
- “All Things Must Pass” (Harrison) – 0:21
- “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” – 0:05
- “Paul’s Piano Piece” (McCartney) – 1:01
- “Get Back” – 0:15
- “Two of Us” – 0:22
- “Maggie Mae” (Traditional, arranged by Lennon–McCartney–Harrison–Starkey) – 0:22
- “Fancy My Chances with You” – 0:27
- “Can You Dig It?” (Lennon–McCartney–Harrison–Starkey) – 0:31
- “Get Back” – 0:32
The remastered re-release
“Let It Be…Naked” was remastered and reissued in April 2013 – a decade after the original release – and charted again, although not as high as the original, #95 in the U.K. and #32 in USA (Billboard). This time it was also released as a digital album through iTunes, including music videos for the “Naked” versions of “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down”, film from the rooftop concert.
The iTunes download also included the “Fly on the wall” disc, which is now absent from streaming providers like Spotify and Apple Music. The re-release was also accompanied by a five chapter podcast.
The following has been taken from Matt Hurwitz’ article in Mix Magazine (2004) and is a breakdown of what was done to each Let It Be…Naked track (in running order, along with the mix engineer’s name in parentheses):
“Get Back” (Paul Hicks): While Johns and Martin used a master recorded on January 28, 1969, for the aborted LP and released single, Spector had used a recording from the day before, and the same master is used on this album. Notably absent is the song’s coda, which appeared on the single. “It turns out that the coda had been recorded as an edit piece four or five reels later,” explains Hicks. “Since it wasn’t on the original session recording for the song, it wouldn’t have represented what actually took place in the studio during that take, so it was decided to leave it off.”
“Dig a Pony” (Guy Massey): Those who’ve heard bootlegs of Johns’ mixes know the song originally featured an “All I Want Is You” intro and outro, which Spector removed for his LP. “The tuning is particularly bad in the beginning,” says Massey, prompting the decision to eliminate them in the new version, as well.
“For You Blue” (Hicks): Using the same master as Spector used, Hicks mainly focused on keeping the sounds bright and clear. What was interesting, he says, was learning about the unique sound McCartney got out of his piano. “It’s a fuzzy, metallic sound, which he did by putting a piece of paper in the piano strings, causing them to vibrate against the paper when struck. You can hear on the session tape Paul’s fiddling around, trying to get the right sound.” And because McCartney is playing piano, he does not play bass on the song. “The bass comes from the piano,” says Hicks, with McCartney playing a bass line on the keys. George Harrison’s vocal, it turns out, was one of the few overdubs used. “We took out his live vocal, which was basically a guide vocal. It wasn’t a complete take, really, and I don’t think it was ever intended to be used.”
“The Long and Winding Road” (Hicks): Perhaps the greatest achievement on the album is the improvement to this track, easily accomplished by removing Spector’s overblown orchestra. Actually, though, the master on “Let It Be…Naked” is not even the one used by Spector; it’s the only take on the album that was changed in its entirety. The group returned to the Apple basement the day after their rooftop show to record three more songs, this one among them. Says Rouse, “Spector had used one take recorded five days earlier.” “This version, recorded on January 31, we felt was a stronger basic performance,” says Hicks. “There’s also a slight lyric change,” adds Rouse, who suggests that, this being the later recording, it represents McCartney’s final lyric choice.
As a listening experience, it’s a first for Beatles fans to hear them play the song instead of an orchestra. The recording features McCartney on piano, Harrison playing lead guitar through a Leslie speaker, Lennon on a newly acquired Fender Bass VI and Ringo Starr keeping light time with his hi-hat.
“Two of Us” (Massey): The same master used by Spector, also from January 31, 1969, features Lennon and McCartney on acoustic guitars, Harrison on electric and Starr providing a simple bass drum/snare/tom beat. By the way, Starr’s drums were typically recorded onto a single track, precluding mixing them into stereo. Small amounts of de-essing (removing sibilance, we presume) and rumble filtering were also performed.
“I’ve Got a Feeling” (Massey/Hicks): A rooftop recording, this song was edited by Massey before being mixed by his colleague. Massey used the best of each of two rooftop takes of the song, creating a version, Hicks says, with the most energy. And while Johns had opted for a studio recording of the song for his version of the album, there was no beating the live performances. Notes Hicks, “I don’t know if it was just the fact that they were playing live and knew it or just because they were so cold, but there was just so much more energy in the live recordings.” Sonically, he notes, the live recordings — minus the wind and pops — are not much different from their studio counterparts, making a surprisingly good match when listening to the album.
“One After 909” (Hicks): Another rooftop performance, though, interestingly, the team did consider using a studio version. “We did research to see if there was another version,” says Hicks. “But it was just much slower, and it had a completely different feel. There was no contest, really. It’s one of the more up-tempo numbers, so we went with the live one.” Hicks is proudest of his drum sound, bringing Starr out to the fore. “We found so many details we wanted to bring out, which we tried our best to do. Everything is a lot more focused.”
“Don’t Let Me Down” (Hicks/Massey): Though not included on Spector’s album, this song was a product of those sessions. A studio version from January 28, 1969, was released as the B-side to the “Get Back” single. This version, however, is an edit of the two rooftop versions. The Beatles recorded a second take because Lennon forgot the lyrics during the first take.
“I Me Mine” (Massey): This song was not originally recorded at Apple in January 1969, though Harrison is seen in the film playing it briefly at Twickenham. In January 1970, Harrison, McCartney and Starr recorded a studio version of the song, with Harrison playing acoustic guitar and singing a guide vocal, McCartney on bass and Starr on drums for the master take. Electric piano, electric guitar, lead vocal, backing vocals, organ and a second acoustic guitar were added as overdubs. The recording was a brief 1:34 in length, so before adding his orchestra, Spector lengthened it by repeating one of the verses, resulting in a 2:25 final master. The Naked team decided to leave in the overdubs — which made the recording complete as The Beatles had envisioned it — and Spector’s edit. “We were originally going to do it unedited,” says Massey, “but if you listen to it at that length, it’s just far too short.” Jokes Rouse, “That was our one concession to Mr. Spector.” Massey also built up the mix as the song progressed by adding elements of the mix as the song enters the second verse.
“Across the Universe” (Massey): Again, while no studio recordings of this song were made at Apple, Lennon is seen playing the song at Twickenham in the film. “Across the Universe” was actually recorded a year earlier, in February 1968, at the same Abbey Road sessions that produced “Lady Madonna” and “Hey Bulldog.” The basic track featured Lennon on acoustic guitar, his vocal and a tom-tom (all recorded onto one track), with Harrison playing a tamboura. At the time, George Martin had added background vocals and animal sound effects. Spector’s version removed the latter two parts, as well as the tamboura, replacing them with an orchestra and a choir.
The new mix features Lennon’s guitar and vocal, Starr’s drums and the tamboura. “Again, because the concept was whatever the guys could play live onstage, we took everything else away,” says Rouse. The ending has been given a spiritual touch, with a building echo (via real Abbey Road tape delay) added.
“Let It Be” (Massey): another recording from January 31, 1969, the day after rooftop, with McCartney on piano, Lennon on Fender Bass VI, Harrison on lead guitar (through a Leslie), Starr on drums and Preston on organ. Three months later in April, Martin added a new electric guitar lead from Harrison, and in January 1970, added backing vocals from McCartney and Harrison, brass and cellos and yet another pass at a Harrison lead. Martin produced the single release of the song, issued in March 1970 (pre-Spector), featuring the April 1969 guitar solo. Upon Spector’s arrival, the song was lengthened by repeating a chorus and issued featuring the January 1970 guitar lead.
The new version features the same master and uses a few edits from other takes, most notably the Harrison guitar solo that came from the take of the song that appears in the film. “We’d always thought that the guitar lead in the version in the film was just really soaring,” says Massey. “We edited it in, just as a trial take, and we all thought it sounded great.”
The Beatles Bible
Matt Hurwitz, Mix Magazine 1 January 2004: “The Naked Truth About The Beatles’ Let It Be Naked”