Let It Be - The Beatles
The project that came to be known as Let It Be began at a Beatle rehearsal in the fall of 1968. The boys were looking for new ways to package their material, perhaps as a live show, television date, or some kind of special event. Finally, Paul McCartney suggested making a documentary movie — a diary of the next Beatle album in progress. Camera crews could follow the boys through every phase of production, and, in the end, there’d be an intimate record of just how musical magic was made.
John, George, and Ringo agreed to this idea, and on January 2, 1969, filming began at Twickenham Film studios. Things did not go well, and George quit on the 10th, only coming back when it was agreed that filming would resume at the new Apple Studio on Saville Row on Jan. 21. Among the tunes performed was the title theme, which Paul had written as a quiet tribute to his mother, Mary, although the “mother Mary” in the song has often been interpreted in a religious light. Paul sings a solo vocal and plays piano. John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr all play their regular instruments (lead guitar, bass guitar and drums) and Billy Preston, one of the Beatles’ old pals from Hamburg, guest stars on organ.
Just for fun, the Beatles decided to record a number called “Get Back” on the roof of the building, where giant speakers echoed the sound for miles across London.
Complaining neighbors summoned policemen, and in fact, you can see the bobbies in the picture, trying to break up the session and restore the peace. “Get Back” would be released as a single in May 1969, and spend five weeks at the top of the U.S. charts.
Over the weeks that Let It Be was in production, through Jan. 30. 1969, the Beatles were constantly tripping over cameras, lights, and moviemaking people. Paul McCartney kept his composure, but he turned out to be the only one who did. Tempers grew thin, and as days rolled into months, there were wrangles — even punch-ups — in the studio.
John, by that time, appeared to be perpetually stoned and, to the others’ great annoyance, was inseparable from Yoko Ono. He also argued continually with producer George Martin over content, musical style, and even the recording technique. John insisted that Let It Be should be an “honest” album, without overdubs, mixing, or even editing. “I want them to hear us, warts and all,” he said. That was the original idea, agreed upon by the whole group, and each of them stood by the “no editing, no overdubs” approach throughout the sessions…not just John. There were just a few overdubs later. Thirty hours of music were put on tape before everyone agreed that that approach was simply not going to work.
At that point, George Martin left. Producer/engineer Glyn Johns was given first crack at the tapes after the January sessions ended. He compiled the “best” takes and presented them to the band members in early 1969. They were not pleased with what they heard, and were ready to put the experience behind them. They decided to record one last proper studio album, with George Martin producing like “the old days.” This became Abbey Road, released in September 1969.
In April, 1970 — as the film Let It Be was nearing completion — John argued for Phil Spector to work on the tapes for the accompanying soundtrack album. Phil offered to “salvage” the tapes, and the boys — sick of the whole thing — gave him their blessing. He immediately went to work, adding strings, horns, celestial choirs — in short, the whole Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” — to four songs. The rest benefited from his sharp editing, combining elements of various takes into good final versions, and there were no overdubs on the majority of the tracks.
The release of Let It Be was held up until the album, single, and movie could all be ready at the same time. In the interim, three more 45s were issued: “Get Back,” “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” and a two-sided hit, “Come Together,” backed with “Something.” There were also two other albums: Hey Jude, a patchwork compilation; and Abbey Road, the Beatles’ last collaborative effort.