Friday, March 12, 2010

Towards a Compromise Between Get Back and Let It Be

I've been a fan of the Beatles for as long as I can remember. They were the first band that I "inherited" from my parents. I've actively listened to them consistently throughout my life, I've learned to play most of their oeuvre, I've collected their bootlegs, I named my solo act after one of their songs, I've seen their films, and I've obsessed over the life and music of John Lennon. They're one of my favorites, and their mass popularity somehow hasn't turned me off from them. Despite the seemingly endless plethora of written and other information, I'm going to try to add something.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the Beatles music still remains today Let It Be, or Get Back, as it was originally intended. Although all of the latter-day Beatles albums sound pretty different from each other, and very different from their first albums, Let It Be stands out. The only album of theirs not produced by George Martin, it sounds a bit rough, despite the obvious, heavy overdubbing in several tracks, and it features studio chatter and two odd little jams and improvisations. Their last studio album to be released, it sounds like their last – even more so than on the White Album or Abbey Road (recorded after Let It Be but released before it) – because of the very different styles of composition by the members, and especially the harsh "I Me Mine".

Of course, there's a long story to explain all this, and I'll save myself the trouble of repeating it; plenty of others have done it before. I'm concerned here just with the music itself. See, although I really liked it, Let It Be never sounded quite right to me. Like many other people, including some of the Beatles themselves, the album felt a bit... mangled, shall we say, by Phil Spector's production. Don't get me wrong: I think John Lennon wasn't lying when he said something to the effect that Spector took a loose assemblage of half-baked rehearsals and came out with a finished, marketable product. But to me, there's no doubt that Spector went too far in his overdubbing.

The only other original source of songs from the Get Back / Let It Be project are the singles from the album and the "Wildlife" version of "Across the Universe", all of which are these days conveniently collected on the Past Masters compilation. I've always liked these versions, but it's not a whole album, just a few tracks presented in different mixes (and produced by George Martin). The same can be said of the alternate versions released on the Anthology. Most of them are loose alternate versions, although a few interesting takes certainly do turn up.

The first and only official alternative version is Let It Be... Naked, released in 2003. This version certainly de-Spectorizes the album, but some of the mixes and alternative versions are almost too different, and several little things are missing, like the chatter and jams. It often feels too clean and smooth.

Of course, there are bootleg versions of Glyn Johns' mixes of the album when it was still known as Get Back. The two best and most common versions are his May 1969 mix and his final version from January 1970. Both feature a different set of tracks, practically no overdubs (as was originally intended), and an even rougher and looser feel, but they suffer in their lack of general production quality. There's no doubt that Spector did a better version of mixing things together to create a higher-quality sound. (Spector didn't get famous for nothing, but to be fair, Johns' goal wasn't to get a clean sound.)

And this is not all: there are plenty of other bootlegs to find more alternative versions from. It is possible to find recordings of everything the band put to tape during the Get Back sessions (including, of course, the takes from the Let It Be film), but the audio quality really suffers, and it's nearly impossible to actually find better versions there. However, the Anthology Plus bootleg features a few particularly interesting versions, and the bootleg of the live rooftop performance is also of special note. (Several of the songs were used in some form on Get Back, Let It Be, and Let It Be... Naked.)

After listening through all of this material over the years, it seemed natural to me to try to sit down and pick out my favorite versions. For some reason, I never got around to doing this... until now! I would now like to present to you my ideal mix of Get Back / Let It Be, with tracks borrowed from most of the sources I mentioned above.

01. Two of Us (early version from Anthology Plus bootleg)
02. Get Back (Get Back May 1969 version)
03. Don't Let Me Down (Get Back single b-side, also Past Masters)
04. Dig a Pony (remixed live version from Naked)
05. Maggie Mae (Get Back January 1970 version)
06. I've Got a Feeling (remixed live version from Naked)
07. One After 909 (original live version from Let It Be)
08. Dig It (original edited version from Let It Be)
09. Let It Be (single version, also Past Masters)
10. For You Blue (remixed version from Naked)
11. Teddy Boy (Spector's outtake version from 1970, a bonus track on the Get Back January 1970 bootleg)
12. Two of Us (original from Let It Be)
13. The Long and Winding Road (alternate take from Naked)
14. I Me Mine (remixed version from Naked)
15. Across the Universe ("Wildlife" version from the World Wildlife Fund charity album and Past Masters)
16. Get Back (live version from Anthology 3)

You may be surprised that I chose 16 tracks, of which two are duplicates and one was never released by the band, and that I changed up the tracklist a lot. It would be my pleasure to explain these choices, as well as why I chose each source for each track, and of course, why I left out certain other tracks. As far as the length of my version, it's actually under 48 minutes, and it contains just as many tracks as Glyn Johns' final mix. And now to the specific track choices:

01. Two of Us (early version from Anthology Plus bootleg)
Originally, "Two of Us" was a chugging, faster-paced, guitar-based rocker. This is the best version that I'm aware of that original version, but it breaks down after two minutes. I really like this version, and the loose feel of the track fits in with the whole; as the opener it sets the stage for what's to come. All versions of the album start out with more rocking songs; Let It Be starts with this song, and both versions of Get Back feature several very loose jams in their first few tracks.

02. Get Back (Get Back May 1969 version)
Very similar to the single version, and not at all far from the Let It Be version, since they were all based on the same master take. I prefer this early mix (even over Johns' final 1970 mix) because of the louder, more reverby drums and the rougher edges. Somehow I think the quality is high even in its less-produced stage. And personally, I really like the coda. The fact that both Let It Be versions drop it (even if it wasn't originally there) is to me a loss. I like having this song early in the album, as with Naked, although I also like the idea of a reprise at the end of the album as with the Get Back versions. More on that later.

03. Don't Let Me Down (Get Back single b-side, also Past Masters)
One of my absolute favorite tracks from these sessions, it was left off of Let It Be since it was the b-side of the Get Back single, although I agree with every other version of the album in including it anyway. However, my favorite version remains the b-side version; it's clearly the best take, and even if the live version cobbled together for Naked has some power, this version has yet more. This is approximately the location of the track on both versions of Get Back and Naked. For a slowish but impassioned rocker, third in line seems to work fine.

04. Dig a Pony (remixed live version from Naked)
Most versions are about identical and generally fairly good, especially the original Let It Be version, but I find the Naked version was remixed quite well. This is the strongest version I could find. This was also the approximate placement of the track in each version of the album.

05. Maggie Mae (Get Back January 1970 version)
All versions are nearly identical except for the lead-in and fade-out. I disagree with Naked's removal of the track; I think it's important to the overall loose and "fun" feeling of the album. Plus it's kind of funny in how it doesn't fit with the band. I chose this version because it includes the line "and so we leave the little town of... London, England" at the start, lacking from Let It Be. (However, that version does have a slightly better fade-out; this version starts to fade out just a bit too early.) My placement follows Let It Be in that it precedes "I've Got a Feeling".

06. I've Got a Feeling (remixed live version from Naked)
The Let It Be version is pretty good; it's a powerful song in any version, but the live rooftop takes are especially strong. Although the heavy editing done to this track on Naked may go against the original intentions, I find the mashing of the two live takes to be the absolute best version I've heard. This is also the approximate placement in every version but Let It Be. I like the live versions in general because of their sheer spontaneous power, and this is a perfect example. To me, the rooftop concert embodies the spirit of this album, and hence, except for "Don't Let Me Down", I choose live versions in every case possible.

07. One After 909 (original live version from Let It Be)
The standard Let It Be version suits me best, as does it's placement after "I've Got a Feeling" (the sequence is also used on Naked.) I prefer Spector's production of the live version over Get Back's weaker mix, whereas the remix looses some of its feeling – and the "Danny Boy" tease at the end, which is, of course, extremely important.

08. Dig It (original edited version from Let It Be)
"Dig It" has to be immediately before "Let It Be" because of Lennon's great line "... and now we'd like to do... 'Hark, the Herald Angels Come!'" I prefer the edit over the full take heard on both versions of Get Back, because, honestly, the full version isn't very good and it gets old. The edit features the best lines ("... like the FBI / And the CIA / And the BBC / B.B. King! / And Doris Day! Matt Busby!") but cuts the less interesting parts. Naked mistakenly cuts the song entirely, but I think it's important to the the general atmosphere, and especially to contrast the almost-too-overt "Let It Be". There is a bit of a problem in that the fade-out from "One After 909" into the fade-in of this song takes way too long, and manual editing is probably necessary to shorten the gap.

09. Let It Be (single version, also Past Masters)
This is the version of the song I always think of. Even if the lyric is a bit too heavy-handed for me, I still like the song; the emotion is pure. This is also one of the most controversial songs of the whole project, but I agree with many when I say that the strings, horns, choir, and tape echo on the drums of the Let It Be version are just too much. Too much Spectorism for me. Other versions (from Naked, Anthology 3, and Get Back) just don't make the cut: the production is either too weak or the guitar solo isn't quite right. The single version is well-produced, has the tom-toms in the latter half (which I actually like for the nice syncopation they create), and has the best guitar solo (especially since you can hear the second-best solo somewhat more quietly in the other speaker). The one downfall is that the guitar solo over the last part is too low in the mix (which the Let It Be version has higher up), although in every other way, this is the mix for me.

10. For You Blue (remixed version from Naked)
All album versions feature the same master take, but Naked has the best mix. The Get Back versions have some studio chatter that is relatively uninteresting and thus I'd rather have the version that sounds the best. I like that the Anthology 3 version has a more prominent piano, but the take is weaker on the whole. The placement after "Let It Be" follows Johns' 1970 mix's ordering.

11. Teddy Boy (Spector's outtake version from 1970, a bonus track on the Get Back January 1970 bootleg)
This might be a bit of a surprise, but this song appeared on Johns' early mix, and he did another mix with George Martin that didn't make the cut; Spector also did this version despite leaving it on the floor. McCartney later did a solo version, but this version fits with rest of the session, and I love Lennon's random square-dance section. This song was apparently always something of a contender, and I like it enough to include it. The Anthology 3 version is a bit cleaner, but it's also edited, and I actually like Spector's work on this version. The other versions sound far lower-quality. I follow Johns' 1969 mix in having it follow "For You Blue" and precede "Two of Us".

12. Two of Us (original from Let It Be)
Still one of my favorite tracks from the project, I think Spector did a fantastic job with this song, which mostly meant just letting it be. (Heh.) The Naked version is a pretty straightforward remix, but I prefer this version, partially because of Lennon's opening banter. Having that dialog so late in the album is a bit weird, but as far as the song goes, I like the sense of progression you get from beginning with the early version and getting to this more thought-out version by this point in the album.

13. The Long and Winding Road (alternate take from Naked)
Almost certainly the most controversial track from the whole project, I again agree with many in finding Spector's extensive overdubs simply too much. Most other versions, though, I find to be simply poorly produced, and most feature a spoken bridge that Spector edited out of his version. I agree with his decision to remove it; I prefer the sung version. This version of the song sounds good and is actually a different take with nice subtle guitar and organ touches. I agree with every other version of the album, though, in having it near the end of the album.

14. I Me Mine (remixed version from Naked)
Another example where the Spectorism is just too much, but his general production values were top-notch. Copying half of the song to make it a brief two and a half minutes instead of a super-short 1:45 was a good idea, but the strings just don't belong. The Naked version reaches a very acceptable compromise. I like the placement near the end, as was done on Naked and Glyns' 1970 version (where it also follows "The Long and Winding Road").

15. Across the Universe ("Wildlife" version from the World Wildlife Fund charity album and Past Masters)
I love this song, but I prefer the psychedelic tendencies way over the cheesy choir and strings from the Let It Be version. The strings themselves would be fine, actually, and the female backing vocals in this version are almost a bit too much, but this take is the best compromise. No version is perfect. The Anthology 2 and Naked versions are both wonderfully psychedelic, but they cut or lack John's own extra vocals, the cool bass riff at the end, and the maracas, all of which I really like. This version has the slightly annoying wildlife sounds (although the opening sounds can be manually cut and the sounds at the end aren't too distracting) and could be more psychedelic, but to me it gets closest to the point. If the wildlife sounds and female vocals are too much for you, then take the great alternative version from Anthology 2. I copy Johns' 1970 version and Naked in placing this song second-to-last before a version of "Get Back".

16. Get Back (live version from Anthology 3)
As I said before, I really like the idea of having a reprise of this song, and it's a great song to end the album on. However, the reprise version used for both Get Back versions is too weak for me. I prefer this historically interesting live take, cleaned up for Anthology 3. It's the last song the band played on the rooftop, and thus the last live performance of the Beatles: what better way to end the "last" Beatles album? You can hear the guitars cut out at one point when the police start pulling plugs, and you can hear the nervousness or tension in Paul's voice and the guitars (although the English winter might have also been a factor). It's really not a bad take at all, and Paul starts ad-libbing some funny lyrics at the end, which is a nice balance, since most of the funny comments on the album are from John. I do wish that this version had the banter from the end of the Let It Be version ("I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves [sic], and I hope we passed the audition", a fantastic line to close the album on), although I could always edit it in.

My version leaves out "Rocker" and "Save the Last Dance for Me", found on both versions of Get Back, but they are very scattered, incomplete takes, and I think the rough, early version of "Two of Us" and the other little jams and bits of banter cover the same task better. Otherwise, every other track on every version of the album is present in some version, and I generally went for versions that didn't stray too far from the version that everyone knows best, Let It Be (except for excising the gratuitous Spectorisms), and I largely borrowed track ordering from somewhere between Get Back and Let It Be. There were plenty of other songs performed during the sessions, many of which ended up on Abbey Road or various members' future solo albums, but none of them (except "Teddy Boy") neared completion or garnered enough attention to be thoroughly produced, and therefore I've left them off.

I don't feel comfortable in breaking copyright laws to upload my mix for public download, but if you own the legitimate albums, I find no sin in downloading bootlegs of unreleased material, and these bootlegs are very easy to find. It shouldn't be too hard to piece this together on your own, although I wouldn't be surprised if you have your own preferences and tweaks. Feel free to let me know what your favorite mixes are!

[Edit 3.16.2010: I also left out "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)", released as the b-side to "Let It Be", since it was recorded originally around the time of "All You Need Is Love" and The Magical Mystery Tour and finished during the Abbey Road sessions; hence I don't think it fits here at all.]

2 comments:

keagan fuller said...

this is pretty awesome for people like me.

Patrick said...

It was a lot of work and quite a nerd-fest but I found it rewarding.