Magical History Tour: The Beatles In LET IT BE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Magical History Tour: The Beatles In LET IT BE

Chris Morley is speaking words of wisdom...

The fifth stop in our journey through the cinematic and filmed endevours of The Beatles sees us arrive firmly in the lead-up to the messiest of creative divorces, captured on film as Paul McCartney led an attempt to recapture the old magic at least one last time with Let It Be.

Following on from the stresses of recording The White Album, the decision was taken that any next project should plonk the four most famous feet on the planet back on the sort of ground they'd started out stomping on in the first place. While McCartney's plans to tour any new material were quickly shot down by his three comrades, they were a lot happier to record in the studio minus any of the sort of embellishments they'd made their own since they took the decision to come off the road in the mid-Sixties & return to being more of a straightforward rock & roll band. The type they had been both on home soil at The Cavern and in the clubs of Hamburg.

Originally intended as a TV documentary accompanying a concert, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg was employed to record the band rehearsing new material for the concert, but in doing so he managed to shed rather a lot of light on the slow-burning tensions between John, Paul, George & Ringo which would eventually lead to the implosion of The Beatles.

The band assembled at Twickenham Film Studios on January 2nd 1969, accompanied by the film crew, and began rehearsing. Cameraman Les Parrott recalled:
"My brief on the first day was to 'shoot The Beatles.' The sound crew instructions were to roll/record from the moment the first Beatle appeared and to record sound all day until the last one left. We had two cameras and just about did the same thing."
The cold and austere conditions at Twickenham, along with nearly constant filming and sessions starting much earlier than The Beatles' preferred schedule, constrained creativity and exacerbated tensions within the group almost from the off when a rehearsal of I've Got A Feeling threatened to descend into farce as McCartney criticises one of Harrison's guitar parts, probably reawakening George's feelings of being something of a junior partner in the enterprise.....

"I'll play whatever you want me to play, or I won't play at all if you don't want me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I'll do it.“
Sincerity, or sarcasm? The editing makes it unclear, but already the scene is set with that infamous exchange between McCartney and Harrison occurring on Monday 6th January. Four days later tensions came to a head and Harrison told the others that he was leaving the band, something which was entirely omitted from the final film. Harrison later recalled:
"I thought, 'I'm quite capable of being happy on my own, and if I'm not able to be happy in this situation I'm getting out of here.' So I got my guitar and went home and that afternoon wrote 'Wah-Wah'."
Wah Wah later appearing on his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass.

Rehearsals and filming continued for a few more sessions without Harrison, although again the finished film only uses a small amount of footage from this period. While he was gone, the others considered replacing him with guitarist Eric Clapton, an idea that particularly appealed to Lennon, who was captured on tape saying that:
"If George doesn't come back by Monday or Tuesday, we ask Eric Clapton to play”
George was persuaded to return, but he would do so only if the elaborate concert plans be dropped and that work would resume at Apple's new recording studio. The Beatles then reunited on January 21st 1969 at the basement studio inside Apple headquarters on Savile Row in London. Harrison invited keyboardist Billy Preston to the studio to play electric piano and organ, recalling that when Preston joined them,
"...straight away there was 100% improvement in the vibe in the room. Having this fifth person was just enough to cut the ice that we'd created among ourselves."
Before Harrison's nixing of the idea, everywhere from a disused Roman amphitheatre in North Africa to an ocean liner and an abandoned flour mill made the shortlist for The Beatles live performance. In the end, of course, the roof of the Apple building stood in as a venue for their landmark final concert...

The original rough-cut of the film was an hour longer than the one which premiered in May 1970. With "too much dirty laundry" on display it was drastically cut. After viewing the released version, Lennon said he felt that:
"The camera work was set up to show Paul and not to show anybody else. The people that cut it, cut it as 'Paul is God' and we're just lyin' around ..."
In early 1970 it was decided to change what had been the planned name of the film and the associated album from Get Back to Let It Be, matching the group's March 1970 single final single release. Just like the film, not all The Beatles were exactly fans of the album release either, McCartney especially. George Martin, who'd agreed to return as producer only if the men he'd schooled in studio technique allowed him to do his job, was hardly a happy bunny either as his work behind the mixing desk had been "over-produced" by Phil Spector after the interference of the-then Beatles manager Allen Klein.

Of Phil's additions, Martin would later say,
“That made me angry – and it made Paul even angrier, because neither he nor I knew about it until it had been done. It happened behind our backs because it was done when Allen Klein was running John.

He’d organised Phil Spector and I think George and Ringo had gone along with it. They’d actually made an arrangement with EMI and said, ‘This is going to be our record.’

EMI came to me and said, ‘You made this record originally but we can’t have your name on it.’ I asked them why not and they said: ‘Well, you didn’t produce the final thing.’ I said, ‘I produced the original and what you should do is have a credit saying: “Produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector”.
Paul himself would add that...
“Allen Klein decided – possibly having consulted the others, but certainly not me – that Let It Be would be re-produced for disc by Phil Spector.

So now we were getting a ‘re-producer’ instead of just a producer, and he added all sorts of stuff – singing ladies on The Long And Winding Road – backing that I perhaps wouldn’t have put on.

I mean, I don’t think it made it the worst record ever, but the fact that now people were putting stuff on our records that certainly one of us didn’t know about was wrong. I’m not sure whether the others knew about it. It was just, ‘Oh, get it finished up. Go on – do whatever you want.’ We were all getting fed up.”

In November of 2003, McCartney released a stripped back version of the music recorded during the Get Back session, the result being Let It Be Naked, distancing himself & by extension the Beatles from Phil Spector's work on the original record. The additions of studio chatter & choral overdubs among the offenders Paul wanted gone so listeners could hear the album as originally intended minus Spector's famed Wall Of Sound.

And like that album, the Let It Be film itself is getting a revisit itself, from no less than Peter Jackson, with a little help from McCartney & Starr as executive producers. Making use of around 55 hours' worth of Lindsay-Hogg's original Let It Be footage, Jackson 's "The Beatles - Get Back" is due for release in August 2001 and aiming to show the friendlier side of the creation of their final album.

Jackson himself says the aim is simple,
“The ultimate ‘fly on the wall’ experience that Beatles fans have long dreamt about — it’s like a time machine transports us back to 1969, and we get to sit in the studio watching these four friends make great music together.”
And it gets Ringo's seal of approval too.
“There were hours and hours of us just laughing and playing music, not at all like the version that came out. There was a lot of joy and I think Peter will show that. I think this version will be a lot more peace and loving, like we really were.”
Isn't that nice? Next time we'll take a look at what another big-name director - in this case Ron Howard - did with his own slightly earlier archive footage-led look back at the touring years in Eight Days A Week. Girly screaming optional!

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