The back cover of the Beatles' final album, released on the 8th of May, 1970 states: "This is a new phase BEATLES album... essential to the content of the film, LET IT BE was that they performed live for many of the tracks." This new phase was very short-lived, as the Beatles had essentially broken up by the time the album was released. Nevertheless, it's a phase to be celebrated.
Critics may forever condemn Phil Spector's infamous 'wall of sound' on the studio tracks (a wall that was torn down in 2003 for the alternate version of the album, Let It Be... Naked), but the live performances had the band, in spite of, or perhaps because of its quarrelling egos, performing masterfully with great harmony between them. If the Beatles had instead attempted to get through more studio sessions with George Martin and his meticulous self, everything could have fallen apart before the music was recorded. These songs could have ended up on solo albums instead of being the Beatles classics they are. Let It Be needn't be as celebrated as a few other Beatles albums are, but it's existence is every bit a miracle.
Here is the track-by-track commentary:
- Two of Us is a song that proves why the acoustic guitar will always be cool. Paul McCartney wrote it for his new bride and future co-songwriter, Linda. He shares nearly equal vocal duties with John Lennon on it, and it's clear that John loves the song too. The Beatles bring it home together with a fun beat and a freewheelin' feel.
- Dig a Pony is pure Lennon. It's an emotional out pour. It's a lyrical conundrum. It makes you sing along even if you don't understand it, and it rocks you.
- Across the Universe is one of Lennon's finest magic spells. Enough said.
- I Me Mine is a clever contribution from George Harrison. It switches from a woeful waltz to a hard rock song and back with ease, as George sings about the nature of identity. Neat.
- Dig It is there because it wouldn't be a Beatles album without a serving of weird. That's my guess.
- Let It Be is the first Beatles song I can remember hearing as a child. The words and melody jumped out of my mother's car radio and grabbed my attention, eternally. At the song's zenith, a church organ gives way to an even more divine instrument: the electric guitar. Paul's inspiration for this song was his mother, Mary McCartney, who passed away when he was only 14. It's a song that can bring you to tears if you let it.
- Maggie Mae is another odd interlude, courtesy of Lennon. It's comic relief, whether it was needed or not. I dig it.
- I've Got a Feeling is great fun. Paul screams and shouts. A lot. Meanwhile, John's vocal line during the outro is low-key and cool. So cool. Ringo knows exactly what to do with the groove. George lets loose on his guitar. They made a joyful noise that will live forever.
- One After 909 keeps the party going. The Beatles are having a lot of fun here with a return to the skiffle music of their youth. John wrote this song when he was a teenager playing with the Quarrymen, but in 1970, the Beatles play it like seasoned pros. 5th Beatle Billy Preston makes it 25% more pro with his keyboard playing, as he does on about half of the album's tracks. We're talking 125% pro.
- The Long and Winding Road must be one of the songs that Billy Joel listened to over and over again as a young man. It is the most schmaltzy of Beatles songs. The indulgent use of orchestra and choir make it more grandiose than anything on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or Abbey Road, but with half the effect. However, with an arrangement this lush, and with Paul's vocal being spot-on romantic, if you're listening to the album at home, it provides a golden opportunity to grab your significant other for a drunken slow dance. Can't hate it.
- For You Blue keeps up the lovey-dovey mood while bringing the experience back down to earth for a bluesy, but upbeat frolic, thanks to Harrison. George has totally found his voice at this point in his career, and it's a good for thing for him, as he was going to need it really soon.
- Get Back, a bonafide Beatles classic, is Paul's song, but it's hard to imagine it without John's lead guitar work and the way he sings "get back to where you once belonged" using his low voice, or without the sound of Billy Preston's piano playing, George's jangly chords or Ringo's smashing cymbals. At that moment, it's where they all belonged.
Let It Be is an album that makes me feel better whenever I need it in my life. It's a wonder that so much turmoil existed within this band at the time of its recording. It's also odd to me that it wasn't well received by critics at the time of its release. Were they as sick of the Beatles as the Beatles were of themselves? As someone who wasn't alive when it was released, the mood of the times could never factor in to my experience of the album. To me, it's a relic from another era that still has a presence in the present tense. Its tracks still get radio play, so it's not just me. Some little kid will hear one of them today and, like me, become a Beatles fan for life.