Graded on a Curve:
The Beatles,
Let It Be (Super Deluxe Edition)

Fans of The Beatles have been waiting a long time for the official re-release of the Let It Be film which came out in 1970. The movie has been out of print and circulation for years and has never been released on DVD, Blu-ray or for streaming. The new Peter Jackson-directed Get Back movie from Disney rectifies what was thought to be a seemingly endless delay in putting this material out in some fashion.

Jackson’s participation began back in 2017, at a time when Apple was already thinking about the album’s 50th anniversary, and still in the process of finding missing audio material from the period. Along with Jackson’s new three-part, six-hour TV series, there have been some other related projects released to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the Let It Be album and film. Due to the virus and perhaps the natural evolution of Jackson’s filmmaking process, all of the related projects had been delayed.

It’s important to remember that the music from the Get Back/Let It Be musical period was already reissued in 2003 with the release of the Let It Be… Naked project. It presented what has come to be known as a de-Spectorized version of the Let It Be album, by eliminating most of the Phil Spector post-production work he did on the album. Previously, four mixes of the album by engineer and producer Glyn Johns were completed and all went unused.

The new Let It Be album music reissue series is available in various configurations. The configurations include a single CD, a double CD, a single standard vinyl album, an LP vinyl picture disc, a five CD/Blu-ray box set and a 4LP/12-inch EP vinyl box set. The latter two sets include a hardcover book, a die-cut slipcase and the exact same track list, except the newly mixed album is duplicated on the Blu-ray, which can be listened to in PCM Stereo, 5.1 Surround Sound or Dolby Atmos.

Some versions of the release offer different bonus items from various retailers. For our purposes here, the 4LP/12-inch EP vinyl set will be reviewed, which was cut from hi-res digital files, mastered at half-speed at Abbey Road Studios, and pressed on 180-gram vinyl. The Glyn Johns disc and the first two songs on the EP were remastered from archive stereo tapes.

In 1968 Johns had worked on a previous project, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus which, like Get Back/Let It Be, also enlisted film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg and photographer Ethan Russell, who took the iconic photos that make up the cover of the Let It Be album.

First off, this is a beautifully packaged set and, like its three Apple reissue predecessors – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (2017), The Beatles (the White Album) (2018) and Abbey Road (2019) – there is little or no quibbling about the presentation. This time around, though, the deluxe vinyl version comes with a hardcover book. In the past, only the deluxe CD sets came with one.

The first album of the box is the original, 12-track album with the new stereo mix and like nearly everything in this box, except the Johns disc and parts of the EP, it was produced and mixed by Giles Martin, engineered and mixed by Sam Okell, and mastered by Miles Showell, all at Abbey Road Studios. Albums two and three, presented as a gorgeous, two-LP gatefold package, consist of what’s entitled Get Back – Apple Sessions on one album and Get Back – Rehearsals and Apple Jams on the other album, totaling 27 tracks.

Album number four is entitled Get Back LP – 1969 Glyn Johns Mix and features 14 tracks. The “Let it Be” EP is a 12-inch, four-song disc, playable at 45 RPM. It includes “Across the Universe,” mixed by Glyn Johns in 1970 of the February 1968 recording of the song; “I Me Mine,” the last track recorded by the Beatles on January 3, 1970 (excluding John Lennon who was on holiday in Denmark), also mixed by Johns in 1970; “Don’t Let Me Down,” recorded live at Apple on January 28 with a new mix by Giles Martin; and the “Let It Be” single with a new mix here by Giles Martin. The hardcover book is 105 pages.

Once again, Giles Martin and his team have done an excellent job coming up with a new mix of an album from The Beatles. The mixes Martin did for Abbey Road and especially his new stereo mix for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (best heard on the double vinyl album) still are the most worthwhile to date, but other than a few questionable choices in the use of echo or reverb, the new mix here provides a rich, detailed sound, that clears up some of the muddiness and sloppiness of the original Let It Be album mix, yet retains the charm of the original album, that was completely lost on the Let It Be…Naked remix. As on recent remixes of albums from the Beatles and the recent remixes of solo albums from John Lennon and George Harrison, lead vocals are brought closer to the fore and now figure more prominently in the mix.

The Sessions, Rehearsals, and Apple Jams albums offer mostly previously unreleased multi-track recordings from the makeshift recording studio in the basement of the headquarters of Apple Records, located at 3 Saville Road in London, as well as mostly previously unreleased recordings from the 16-minute audio tape reels in mono of the two Nagra tape recorders used during filming. The Nagra recordings were edited by Kevin Howlett from the Twickenham soundstage rehearsals located at St. Margaret’s outside of London.

The Sessions album consists almost entirely of songs, that in one form or another would show up on the Let It Be album or related singles. The two exceptions are a snippet of “Please Please Me” and a snippet of “Wake Up Little Susie,” made popular by the Everly Brothers, whose influence informs the lovely harmony interplay between John and Paul on “Two of Us.”

On the Rehearsals and Apple Jams albums, there are some tracks that would show up in one form or another on Let it Be, including “I Me Mine,” “Get Back,” and “Let It Be.” Several other tracks would appear in one form or another on Abbey Road: “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” “Polythene Pam,” “Octupus’ Garden,” “Oh Darling!,” and “Something.” There is also a version of “All Things Must Pass,” which would become the title track of George Harrison’s three-record solo set released in November of 1970, as well as a version of “Gimmie Some Truth,” ultimately to appear on John Lennon’s 1971 Imagine album.

Also of interest are a snippet of a cover of “The Walk,” a hit in 1958 for Jimmy McCracklin, and the gorgeous “Without A Song,” featuring Billy Preston, with support from John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Oddly enough, a finished studio version of that song would show up on Preston’s 1971 album I Wrote A Simple Song, which was his debut album for A&M, after his two albums for Apple.

Some of the songs here have showed up on previous reissues in various forms. On the Sessions discs of the Abbey Road deluxe reissue, there were versions of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” “Polythene Pam,” “Octupus’ Garden,” “Oh Darling!,” and “Something.” Going back to the deluxe reissue of the White Album, there was a version of the song “Polythene Pam” on the Esher Demos, and on the Sessions section, there were two Let it Be era songs: “Let It Be” and “Across the Universe.”

The Glyn Johns 1969 Mix album is probably the most anticipated disc of this set. It is beautifully packaged with an update of the group’s debut album cover shot at EMI’s Manchester offices by photographer Angus McBean, which was previously used on the cover of the compilation double album 1967–1970, often referred to as the Blue album.

The Glyn Johns album is a very different affair from the 1970 Phil Spector official release of Let It Be. This mix and running order probably more faithfully reflect the original roots approach that the Beatles envisioned for the Get Back project. The album contains a running order different from Let It Be. It includes the cover “Save the Last Dance For Me,” a hit for the Drifters in 1960, which is part of a medley with “Rocker” (a loose take on “I’m Ready,” by Fat Domino) as well as “Teddy Boy,” Paul McCartney song that would appear in a different form on the debut McCartney solo album in 1970. It does not include “Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine,” which appeared on the original Let It Be album.

This disc has come under some scrutiny. Mike Carrera, writing in the Daily Beatle on October 22, indicated that the disc released throughout the world except in Japan, is actually not the 1969 mix from Johns, but a selection of his mixes from both 1969 and 1970. The only way to get the entire 1969 mix is to buy the super deluxe CD SHM box from Japan. Oddly enough, Carrera stated that while the Japan box is a rarity, the sound quality of the 1969/1970 mixes in the rest of the world are superior and it would appear that is why they were selected.

It is also important to note that sometime during his involvement with the project, Johns did a stereo mix of the rooftop concert. According to the notes by Kevin Howlett in the book that comes with the deluxe sets, that tape is missing. The involvement of Johns in this project was quite unique, in that George Martin had for the most part been the group’s sole record producer throughout the group’s entire career. Add to that Phil Spector’s coming aboard in the 11th hour to resurrect the shelved project and essentially you have three producers involved.

If one would like to go even one step further, budding engineer and future super producer Alan Parsons was also present for the Get Back/Let It Be project as tape-op. It’s this variety of production contributors that has both made the album be perceived as somewhat muddled, and left the door open for it to be reimagined twice officially and through the seemingly infinite number of bootlegs that have surfaced for the past 50-plus years.

The source of the first bootleg of that period that was ever released was the acetate Johns prepared, with Lennon’s copy inadvertently the culprit. It is also possible that it is an acetate that Johns brought to America, at the request of Harrison for Denny Cordell to hear and to be used in a production he might do for Joe Cocker. Posters, Incense and Strobe Candles is a bootleg, most likely from one of these acetate sources, that was played on WBCN-FM in Boston on September 22, 1969, that chronicles the first public airing of some of this material and makes for a fascinating curio.

The “Let It Be” EP has also caused a lot of controversy among fans, collectors, and the media. While it seems superfluous in the CD box, given how much music can fit on a CD, as a vinyl release it works, because these mixes are superb and at 45 RPM they have superior fidelity. Also, the two songs on side one are taken from stereo tapes, making those two pure gold.

The other technical issue to tackle is that fact that while these albums, like the previous vinyl stereo reissues since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 2017, are cut from half-speed masters and pressed on 180 -gram vinyl, they are not cut directly from analog tapes, but from digital files, except for the Glyn Johns mix disc and side one of the EP, which are remastered from archive stereo tapes. This has been the case since the stereo vinyl reissues in 2009, with all of those albums also from digital files. However, like in the past, not all sound sources were from multi-track tapes and/or stereo mixes. The material taken from the Nagra reels is presented here in mono was edited by Kevin Howlett; the transfer was engineered by Matthew Cocker.

The only available stereo reissues of albums from The Beatles on vinyl, where the music was taken from analog tapes, are the 2014 reissues of the Red and Blue albums. Many fans, collectors, audiophiles, and members of the media are perplexed as to why Apple has not released any of the albums by The Beatles, on vinyl, in stereo, from the original analog tapes.

It is really important to note how important Billy Preston is to this project. The Beatles had known Billy Preston since they met him in Hamburg in 1962 when he was playing with Little Richard. He was in England in September of 1968 playing with Ray Charles at the Royal Festival Hall and returned again in January to tape his own BBC television special, hosted by Lulu. He was only 22 at the time. Harrison originally connected with Preston at the Ray Charles concert and then again when he was back in London in January. It was at that time that he told Preston to drop in at Apple and Preston was subsequently asked to sit in for the sessions.

This Let It Be reissue ultimately is a winner and fans particularly like that now they have the option of buying either a deluxe CD or a vinyl set and will get a hardcover book with both. The main sticking point still remains why the entire rooftop concert was not included in this audio set. It appears the reason is that those involved in creating the reissues feel the rooftop concert is best seen, and without visuals it seems unnecessary. It also would have been nice to see more of some of the other cover songs the Beatle attempted, but perhaps Apple felt that the project could become too big and too expensive.

It almost seems that no matter how many different ways this project is released, the fans, the media, the skeptics and even The Beatles simply won’t let it be.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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