The Beatles/Let It Be (Box Set)/Ume
Few box sets have been greeted with as much anticipation as the newly revised and revisited Let It Be. Delayed due to the pandemic and now available in a variety of formats— five CDs + BlueRay, five LPs, Two CDs, a single LP, single CD, digital and even a picture disc —it offers Fab Four enthusiasts the definitive offering they’ve been waiting for over the course of more than 50 years. Granted, there have been a plethora of bootlegs to fill in the gaps courtesy of rehearsals, outtakes, and unreleased material culled from the many, many hours of filming, but as with most sets of this size, it’s always nice to have the official version with the book, artwork, and additional information.
Naturally, there are omissions. Most of the bootlegs take pains to include the cover songs the band would use to warm up and work their way into a session. Some are included here —“Save the Last Dance For Me” on the original Glyn Johns version of the album, a return to “Please Please Me,” a medley that includes “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and a fanciful version of “Wake Up Little Susie” that segues into “I Mean Mine” on the disc titled “Apple Sessions.” Mostly though, the cursory material is mostly eliminated in favor of early attempts at songs that would later show up on Abbey Road—“Polythene Pam,” “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” “Something,” and a jam that evolves out of “Oh Darling.” That particular disc, titled “Apple Sessions,” is of real value and well worth the acquisition inane of itself.
That said, hearing Glyn Johns’ mix of the album “as nature intended” makes for the most satisfying listening, given that it excludes the added embellishment of strings and effects that Phil Spector added after the fact to the consternation of Paul McCartney in particular. “Let It Be” and “Long and Winding Road” ring with a resolve that was buried beneath the wall of sound that listeners became familiar with early on. So too, the playful asides that Johns left in offering more of a flavor of what actually transpired at the time, all loose and playful sans the tension that plagued their early efforts at Twickenham Film Studios. The studio chatter is interesting as well, adding to the spontaneity and genesis of several songs, including those that didn’t make the final cut—“All Things Must Pass,” Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden” and Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” in particular.
As with most box sets, much of the attraction comes in the form of the accompanying hardcover book, and in this case, the reflections shared by Glyn Johns, the track by track description of each song in the set, and the other ancillary essays offer invaluable insights into the band’s original intent and the album’s evolution from a rehearsal for a possible live performance (which later became the so-called “rooftop concert”) to an actual stand-alone set of songs. McCartney’s foreword is especially interesting as it puts the entire effort into context.
If there’s any complaint at all, it’s the lack of more photos. After all, with hundreds of hours of footage, there could have been more visual variety. The original English release in 1970 came with a thick coffee table book filled with great visuals of the group that were culled from the filming. Sadly, the binding was extraordinarily flimsy, causing the pages to come out after even an initial examination. Some effort to replicate that book would have been nice, but perhaps the accompanying hardcover book on the making of Let It Be will make up for the scarcity of pictures that should have been shared here.
Still, taken as a whole, the Let It Be box is an essential addition to any collector’s library, a collection that documents a critical time in the final stages of the Beatles’ existence. Few albums were accompanied by such sad circumstances, but now, visited anew, the joy and jubilation are evident after all.