Review Summary: All things must pass
Recorded shortly after the release of The Beatles' critically acclaimed White Album
but released as their last studio work, even though Abbey Road
was recorded afterwards, Let It Be
marked the death of the the Fab Four. Originally planned by Paul McCartney as a backlash to the layering and overdubs that had come to dominate the whole of The Beatles catalog starting with 1966's Revolver
, the stripped down approach taken on Let It Be
was born out of McCartney's desire to play live and the band's enjoyment of the recording of "Happiness is a Warm Gun", where due to it's multiple sections and shifting time signatures forced the foursome to revive their skills as playing together as a band, not just as individuals. The Beatles started the rehearsals for what they planned at the time to be a series of live concerts, but would eventually become Let It Be
, at the Twickenham Studios sound stage, and from the beginning it was apparent that the personal disconnect between them wasn't going away. Lennon had developed a heroin habit that saw him withdraw even further from the band, McCartney dominated the sessions with an iron fist, and Harrison, fresh off of a string of jam sessions with Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton respectfully, was resentful of his treatment by Lennon and McCartney, insomuch that after receiving patronizing instructions on how to play the lead on "I've Got a Feeling" Harrison walked out of the sessions with intentions to quit the band.
A week after Harrison's impromptu walk out, the band reunited as a four piece and moved their practice sessions to the Beatles' Apple Studios. With the focus still on playing live, keyboardist Billy Preston was invited to the sessions to supplement the live aspect of the music and to act as a buffer zone between Harrison and the rest of the band. This would lead to what would be The Beatles' final live appearance in the legendary Rooftop Concert, where the band debuted the songs "Dig a Pony", "I've Got a Feeling", and "One After 909", all of which appeared on Let It Be
. As the sessions continued The Beatles wrote and jammed out not only the whole of Let It Be
, but the ideas for almost all of the songs on Abbey Road
and even some songs that would find their release on solo albums from after the Beatles break up, such as "All Things Must Pass".
As previously stated, the sound that The Beatles were aiming for on Let It Be
is a stripped down rootsy sound, firmly grounded in Rhythm and Blues. The dense recordings filled with a cornucopia of overdubs, tape loops, and eastern instrumentation that are associated with the band's middle period are abandoned in their entirety. Let It Be
begins with "The Two of Us". "The Two of Us" is as back to basics as the Beatles could get. The mainly acoustic number is an updated version of the lovey-dovey attitude presented on the Beatles earliest of works, but instead of the insipid and straightforward teenie bopper anthems that brought about Beatlemania, "The Two of Us" shines with a mature understanding of want and shared memories that is far deeper and, while not as sonically abrupt, outshines those early recordings in the same vein. "Across the Universe" is the first track on Let It Be
that showcases Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" production technique, with its lush string arrangements that weave in an out of the background and foreground spaces along with the psychedelic flair of the effects driven lead guitar work, making the whole song sound like it was recorded in a Leslie cab. "The Long and Winding Road" also sees Spector's use of orchestral arrangements in full force. The strings and brass beautifully swell to accentuate the emotional depth and longing of McCartney's tender love ballad with the sections of choral work to push it to the top.
Let it Be
also contains some of the Beatles most "rocking" numbers. The most famous of these is the album's last song "Get Back". "Get Back" is rooted in the rhythm section. Ringo's fast shuffle, and Paul's bluesy bass lines allow George and John to add that classic British take to American Delta blues. Even Paul's vocals take on the necessary grit required to make the song work. "One After 909" further brings out the Beatles blues influence. George and keyboardist Billy Preston steal the show as George basically free-solos over the Preston's jangly Rhodes for two minutes and forty five seconds of the song's two minute and fifty one second run time. Not all of Let It Be
's rock-oriented moments are upbeat takes of British style Rhythm and Blues. "I Me Mine" and "Dig a Pony" are a bit more subdued yet drive just as hard with Paul's walking bass-lines, and the powerful guitar work of both John and George. Both also hint at (or hearken back to, depending on your stance on which came first) the guitar tone and style of Abbey Road
, sounding like Abbey Road
offerings "She's So Heavy" and the medleys respectively.
The highlight of Let It Be
is its moving center piece, the title track. The track is introduced by Lennon in a high pitched voice saying "That was 'Can You Dig It' by Georgie Wood, and now we'd like to do 'Hark The Angels Come'," before the melancholy cadences of the piano of the main verse welcome in Paul's voice. Soon the piano is met by drums and Spector's trademark orchestral production with some light brass before it bursts into George Harrison's beautifully uplifting guitar work. McCartney's lyrics perfectly complement the somber instrumentation, weaving strong Catholic imagery with the bubbling spirit of hope ingrained in the times. "Let It Be" reaches its moving peak at the final verse when Paul sings "And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me/shine until tomorrow, let it be/I wake up to the sound of music, mother Mary comes to me/speaking words of wisdom, let it be".
A month before Let It Be
was set to be released, Paul McCartney announced his split from the Beatles, marking an end to the one of Rock and Roll's most iconic acts. Following the demise of the Beatles, all of the fab four went on to more than successful solo careers. John Lennon released the iconic albums John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band
, Paul McCartney went on to join Wings, George Harrison released the classic All Things Must Pass
, organized the Concert for Bangladesh and founded Dark Horse records, and Ringo Starr went on to release a slew of charting albums, the most notable being his 1973 self titled album that contained the single "It Don't Come Easy", and also did some television work, including a role as the narrator to the childrens show Thomas the Tank Engine. Even with all of the former member's post-Beatle material, none would see the same amount as adoration and influence as the albums they released while together.