Most records find their reputation improving with the passage of time, but Let It Be – the last album released by The Beatles but recorded before Abbey Road – has had a longer wait than most.
The NME’s original review called it “a cardboard tombstone, a sad and tatty end to a musical fusion which wiped clean and drew again the face of pop music” and while its best songs – the title track, Get Back, The Long And Winding Road – have become staples of late-era Beatle playlists, as an album it’s long been considered something of a mess, ranging from Phil Spector-produced grandiosity to annoying jams.
Paul McCartney even had it remixed as Let It Be… Naked in 2003 (let it go, more like) while the movie of the sessions remains unavailable, instead being replaced by a Peter Jackson documentary apparently showing how happy The Beatles were at the time as they played at dawn in cold film studios on songs they loved so much that they wouldn’t release them until after they’d split up. But time and reissue campaigns are great healers, and even Let It Be has its fans.
As a document it’s essential, and with such items as the band’s rooftop (final) concert and the Glyn Johns-mixed Get Back album to consider (as well as hours and hours of rehearsal material), there’s a lot worth revisiting: which is what this Special Edition does.
Five discs (one of which is an EP) of live songs, rehearsals, significant between-songs chatter, and – at last – the Johns LP make it an essential purchase for fans (and a chance to own another remixed Beatles album for people who thought the originals weren’t good enough at the time).
We are, perhaps sadly and perhaps not, spared the audio from the film reels, which means we don’t get Suzy Parker or the Lennon-sung Get Back (and related easily-misjudged out-takes), but we do get the birth of Something (“like a cauliflower”), an early Gimme Some Truth and many, often superior takes of Let It Be songs.
At no points does the listener throw up their arms and shout, “My God! Let It Be is the greatest Beatles album ever made!” but this larger, panoramic overview does wonders for the record, giving us a bird’s-eye view of the sessions. Buy it and you’ll play it a lot.