At the end of the last song on the final Beatles album, John Lennon cracked wise. “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.” More than 50 years later, they’re still trying to get it right.
This week sees the long-awaited debut of The Beatles: Get Back, Peter Jackson’s three-part documentary series on Disney+ that covers the convoluted making of the band’s 1970 much-mythologized album Let It Be. Broadcast over the American Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 25 to 27, the nearly eight-hour series expands on (and uses material from) Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s original 1970 documentary on the album’s making and the band’s famed rooftop performance in London.
Accompanying Jackson’s docuseries is a lavish box set of a Let It Be album that had already undergone a controversial revision with the 2003 release of Let It Be... Naked. As well, Apple Corps Ltd. has released a coffee-table book (also titled The Beatles: Get Back) that purports to present the “real story” behind the album that has always symbolized – possibly inaccurately – the band’s breakup.
All to say, for something called Let It Be, the album hasn’t been allowed much stagnancy over the years.
What follows is a primer for all things Let It Be and Get Back, as well as a guide to the related products supporting the release of the docuseries.
Get Back (the working title for the album that became Let It Be): The material for the proposed album with a working title of Get Back was recorded in early 1969. The idea was for a stripped-down format: “Get back to where you once belonged.” The single Get Back was released in April, 1969, and while the album was pressed and sent to radio stations, it was shelved while the Beatles began work on another album, Abbey Road, which was released in September, 1969.
Let It Be (the album): In May, 1970, the Beatles released their final album, Let It Be, mostly compiled from the original Get Back sessions that included live material captured on the roof of Apple Corps headquarters in London. Studio songs including The Long and Winding Road and the title track were subject to overdubbed orchestrations by producer Phil Spector.
Let It Be (the documentary): Released in 1970 just after the album of the same name hit record stores, the 90-minute film by Lindsay-Hogg documents the band’s fractious rehearsing and more joyful rooftop recordings.
Let It Be... Naked (the 2003 remix of Let It Be): Long unhappy with the original Let It Be album, Paul McCartney initiated a remixed variation that cleaned up the 1970 version and stripped away much of Spector’s ornate production choices. Two throw-away tracks (Dig It and Maggie Mae) were thrown away; Don’t Let Me Down was added.
The Beatles: Get Back (the book): This lavish coffee-table tome is billed as the “band’s authorized account,” of the creation of the 1970 album Let It Be. Transcribed conversations are culled from original sound recordings; photographs came from restored footage and the cameras of Ethan Russell and Linda McCartney.
Let It Be (the box set): This is newly mixed by producer Giles Martin (son of famed Beatles producer George Martin). Three formats include a super deluxe special edition that is packed with five CDs (plus one Blu-ray) of previously unreleased outtakes and studio jams, along with a scrapbook-style book of photos, handwritten lyrics, session notes and Beatles correspondence. Double-CD and single-CD packages are also available.
The Lyrics – 1956 to the Present (the new book, written by McCartney): Irish poet Paul Muldoon spoke to McCartney for more than 50 hours over five years in order to explain the process and meaning of the prolific songwriter’s oeuvre. Some 900 pages are spread over two volumes filled with lyrics, photos and memorabilia. McCartney talks about the death of his mother, Mary, who appears in the song Let It Be: “When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me.”
The Beatles: Get Back (the documentary): Originally planned for theatrical release, the film by The Lord of the Rings director Jackson will now be presented in three episodes, airing on the Disney+ network, Nov. 25-27. While Lindsay-Hogg’s original Let It Be film is remembered as a sad portrait of the band’s bickering breakup, sneak peeks at Jackson’s docuseries suggest a rosier picture.
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