Let It Be
50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
January ’69: Nixon assumes office. That grouchy old bastard Rupert Murdoch took control of News of the World. In an effort to disrupt North Vietnamese supply lines, Operation Barrier Reef began in the Mekong Delta. The NY Jets actually defeated the Baltimore Colts. Lorraine Hansberry’s play To Be Young, Gifted & Black premiered in NYC. The world wide shit storm is just revving up.
Except for Nixon and the Jets, the rest all happened on January 2, my fourteenth birthday. On that same day, John, Paul, George and Ringo clocked into Twickenham Studios without a clue, just like the rest of us.
It will eternally be their most contested recording. Let It Be, Get Back whatever the hell they were going to call it. They didn’t know it at the time and neither did we. But as history has proven time and time again, those four sons of Liverpool were ahead of the curve.
If we consider their first twenty-nine days of ’69 as a microcosm of the three hundred and thirty five days that were to follow, it was like looking into a crystal ball. Unsure if they were making a new album, planning a live concert, a TV special, fighting, hammering, laughing, filming it, living it. And the scabs would show, like they would throughout the world. For as the year ground on outside Twickenham, then consequently outside Apple Studios, Mickey Mantle retired. The Concorde took its maiden flight. Sirhan Sirhan pled guilty. James Earl Ray pled guilty. Race riots raged in Kuala Lumpur. Governor Reagan declared martial law on UC Berkley. The Cuyahoga River burned. Apollo 9. Apollo 11. The Zodiac Killer. Chappaquiddick. Woodstock. Altamont. Bitches Brew. Abbey Road. Wait! What am I telling you all this for?
Sure, this lavish five CD set tells the tale of creation, chaos, and destruction from the sunnier side of the tracks, then the original Let It Be. Michael Lindsay Hogg’s film Let It Be (to which I won tickets for the NYC premiere from WABC radio) reveled in revealing the bickering, the shouting, the uglier side. Engineer Glyn Johns’ alternate take on Get Back, heard on this new set for the first time but known by bootleggers forever tells one tale. McCartney’s 2003 attempt to retell the story by stripping away producer Phil Spector’s sonic mire Let It Be . . . Naked pretty much proved nothing. The upcoming six hour series Get Back, directed by Peter Jackson and due to premiere on Disney+ on Thanksgiving weekend, reportedly gives a broader version. But truth be told, it will be all these iterations, and the 150 hours of bootlegs audio and video, all the books, (if you’d like a list, give me a shout) that will tell the true story. The human story.
So you’ve got to be wondering by now when I’m going to get to the music and I don’t blame you. Remastered and remixed by way too many different audio configurations to list here,
the music is impeccable. Rarely, (except Dylan’s Basement Tapes – sessions of which Harrison had been an eager witness) have we been as much a part of the creative process.
Old cover songs are mined for inspiration. Pub ditties offer moments of hilarity from the skiffley “Fancy Me Chances,” to the mischievous “Maggie Mae.” From tentative jam to train-rolling riff comes “Get Back.” “Two of Us” be it take 9 or 20 or any of the mashups, emerges more as the final word on the Lennon/McCartney partnership than a love song to Paul’s bride to be, Linda Eastman. George tries to get a few songs in: “Something” and “All Things Must Pass” notably but they’re set aside in favor of whatever ditty Paul and John might be struggling with. The tension sets in. . . George quits. Lennon suggests Clapton replace him. Brothers fighting brothers.
Part of the magic of course is you’re there at ground zero for Abbey Road (recorded after these endless sessions but released nine months prior to the first Let It Be) “O Darling,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Octopus’s Garden,” “I Me Mine.” Songs that would appear post-Beatles: Paul’s sappy “Another Day.” John’s biting “Gimme Some Truth.” George’s epochal “All Things Must Pass.”
In many ways the history of January 69 overshadows the music. That’s why chasing down hyperbole for this song or that eventually becomes a fool’s errand. Let It Be is the tale of the tape: The good, the bad, the ugly. It’s great fun to binge listen even though you know how it ends.
Mike Jurkovic is the president of CAPS Publishing and Poetry Reading Series and is a prolific writer and reviewer for Lightwood and other venues.