"Let It Be...Naked" rearranges classic Beatles album

by Lindsay Barnes | 1/6/04 6:00am

Ever since its initial release in 1970, "Let It Be" has been something of a bastard stepchild in the context of the rest of the Beatles catalogue. In spite of being made up of some of The Beatles' best songs like the title track and "Across the Universe," its broken origins and abandonment by its creators made it illegitimate in the minds of many critics and fans.

Initially conceived as a combination album and film project called "Get Back," it was to feature the world's greatest band getting back to its stripped down rock'n' roll roots. But, for reasons too innumerable to mention here, the album was put on hold and eventually abandoned altogether. While The Beatles would go on to make "Abbey Road" as their swan song together, the best takes from the "Get Back" sessions were pieced together by Phil Spector, among others, and released as "Let It Be" after "Abbey Road" hit shelves, effectively making it the last Beatles album and, to some, an afterthought.

Now, some 30-plus years after the music was made, producers Paul Hicks, Guy Massey and Allan Rouse have dug up those famous/infamous tapes once again and put out "Let It Be Naked."

Billed to be closer to the raw rock 'n' roll album The Beatles originally imagined, the trio has drastically revamped the original 1970 release with the blessing of surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

The result is an album that is vastly different from the original "Let It Be." The track order is wholly different, two songs were removed in favor of one new one and all of Phil Spector's orchestrations are gone.

What hasn't changed is that all the great musical moments that existed on the original LP have been preserved. Now, thanks to modern technology, they sound clearer and better than ever, even if they are differently sequenced.

The best part about both releases is that despite all the in-fighting of the past The Beatles at least sound like they were truly a band again, reunited by the rock'n' roll that first inspired them as teenagers in Liverpool.

Throughout the album, the listener catches glimpses of The Beatles seeming as if they are actually having fun again. On "For You Blue" George Harrison calls out to John Lennon, "Go Johnny, go!" as Lennon plays a spirited, if rudimentary, slide guitar solo.

"One After 909" sounds like it could have been recorded at the Cavern Club when The Beatles were a band gladly playing rollicking Chuck Berry-style songs at the Cavern Club for peanuts.

"Don't Let Me Down" is a roaring soul ballad with ragged, full-throated vocals from Lennon and McCartney.

It even sounds as if the famously feuding songwriting team were getting along on the cheery "Two of Us." Listening to John, Paul, George and Ringo making like old friends should bring a smile to any Beatles fan's face.

The spirit of camaraderie holds true on "I've Got a Feeling," the new song added to "Let It Be Naked," which makes it a tasty new ingredient that blends well into the old recipe. This mid-tempo rave-up showcases McCartney's rock 'n' roll scream alongside a counter-melody sung by Lennon.

To hear Lennon and McCartney synthesize like that is to recall what had been missing since "Revolver:" Lennon and McCartney singing, playing and collaborating like, well, Lennon and McCartney, the greatest duo in rock history.

But it isn't an out-and-out return to form for The Beatles. They had come along way since the world had first met them in 1964. Their maturity is reflected in the more peaceful songs, all of which have reached "standard" status since they were recorded. McCartney's tender title track and "The Long and Winding Road" are every bit as freshly beautiful today as they were 30 years ago.

Lennon's meditative "Across the Universe" has aged with equal grace. In the 21st century, it does not come off as flower child fodder but as a song of wonderment.

But is it better than "Let It Be?" That all depends on what's important to each individual listener.

For example, the album kicks off with the classic rocker "Get Back," instead of with the more folksy "Two of Us." The track clearly benefits from modern day technology, with every instrument coming through with stunning clarity.

However, the song is shorter as the "get back home Loretta" coda has been cut and instead goes right into "Dig a Pony," now the second track.

"Get Back" is still a wonderful song, but is it better shorter? Should it be the first track? Should it be followed by "Dig a Pony?" All of these questions of revision make the album hard to judge as a work on its own.

There are only four songs significantly altered on "Let It Be Naked," and in all four cases, the phenomenal songcraft is more evident than the changes in the arrangements.

Of the four, "The Long and Winding Road" is most improved by the absence of an orchestra, with the song now sounding like the quiet reflective song McCartney heard in his mind when he wrote it sitting down at the piano.

The title track is just as good as before, now with Billy Preston's organ more prevalent and the choral vocals mixed further into the background. "Across the Universe" is only slightly different, sounding less psychedelic, with only Lennon's acoustic strumming and Harrison's faint sitar on the track. "I Me Mine" is less ornate and now more of a straight-ahead rocker like the rest of the album.

So should you move your old copy of "Let It Be" up to the attic with Vanilla Ice and Color Me Badd? Hardly. In the end, "Let It Be Naked" is neither better nor worse than "Let It Be." Instead it is simply a different, and equally good, collection of great material from rock and roll's greatest band of all time.