It's hard to believe that the Beatles final album, Let It Be, was released 50 years ago. The album came out on May 8 and the documentary of the same name was released a week later in theaters in the US and two weeks later in the UK.
The story of the album is well known: Paul McCartney, at this point the de facto band leader, wanted to create a "back to basics" album, originally known as Get Back. Instead of the psychedelic studio production wizardry of Sergeant Pepper's, or the tension-filled solo recordings of The White Album, this was to be the four of them, playing new songs in a live television concert special.
In early 1969, the band started rehearsing at Twickenham studios. Film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg was invited as a fly-on-the-wall, to film all of it. He shot over fifty hours of footage, which resulted in the cinéma vérité documentary.
The film tells no story, has no plot and other than when the Beatles are playing live, is not very good. It shows the lads rehearsing, playing cover songs, arguing, goofing around, etc. There's a strange scene where McCartney talks non-stop for several minutes to Lennon who doesn't say a word. It's hard to determine who is more bored: Lennon or the audience.
The film has an undeserved reputation as capturing the band's break up. There are a couple of moments where you see the tension, but there are far more scenes, especially when they're playing, where you get to witness the magic of four people connecting, playing live with some of their most famous songs.
The original film has been out of circulation for decades. I managed to see it in college in about 1980 and then more recently downloaded an, ah, archival copy. For Beatles fans it is still remarkable to see them play songs such as "Two Of Us," "Let It Be," "Dig a Pony" and others. You also get to witness the famous rooftop concert featuring "I've Got A Feeling," "Get Back," and "One After 909" I had forgotten a very funny scene where Lennon flubs the lyrics in the otherwise heartfelt "Don't Let Me Down" in a most creative fashion.
The album is good, if a bit of mixed bag. Following the rooftop concert, several mixes were made by Glyn Johns and rejected by the Beatles. The band lost interest and then proceeded to begin work on the much stronger album Abbey Road. The Get Back project sat on the shelves for months. Phil Spector was called in to rescue the album and added orchestral strings and choir overdubs to four songs. The album came out more than a year after it was recorded under the new name Let It Be.
Although McCartney disliked Spector's final mix, Lennon defended Spector's work a 1971 interview saying:
"...he was given the shittiest load of badly recorded shit, with a lousy feeling toward it, ever. And he made something out of it. He did a great job."
Not one to leave well enough alone, in 2003 McCartney remixed the album as Let It Be... Naked, excising Spector's embellishments and substituting two tracks. It's different, but you'd be hard pressed to say it's better.
As of yet, there has been no 50th anniversary remixing of Let It Be, as we have had for Sergeant Pepper's, The White Album and Abbey Road. There is a new documentary film The Beatles: Get Back, being created by director Peter Jackson, Although originally expected in September 2020, the film has now been delayed by almost a year. The film uses Lindsay Hogg's original footage as well as over 140 hours of audio to create a new documentary. My hope is that there will be a new Deluxe album to go with it.
I just wish it wasn't going to take so long.