The Beatles’ back-to-basics album, which was released on May 8, 1970, is technically the band’s last, but it also lives in a bit of a chronological limbo. The song “Across the Universe” was recorded in Feb. 1968, and the band’s final song for the record, “I Me Mine,” was tracked in April 1970. In between, of course, the group released its penultimate album, 1969’s “Abbey Road,” which features a song called “The End.”
But it’s fitting to group together the band’s final two albums. While “Let It Be” is a bit of a sonic outlier in the Fab Four’s catalog thanks to the post-production of future-murderer Phil Spector (not to mention its raw feel that comes from recording live in-studio and live on a roof), both records have in common that they are less experimental than “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” and more band-oriented than the White Album. The primarily straightforward style of the final two LPs feels like as a pre-cursor for the classic rock era.
George Martin, the initial “Let It Be” producer, saw a much more focused and disciplined band on “Abbey Road” and implemented more then-contemporary production techniques. This is in contrast to “Let it Be,” about which John Lennon admitted the tracks are “badly-recorded s*** with a lousy feeling…”
The album overcomes Lennon’s at least partially fair remarks though, in part, because of its uniqueness. The record features interludes and chatter between songs, touches added by Spector, which often come courtesy of Lennon’s sense of humor. The partial songs “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae” are far from the Beatles’ best, but those tracks and the chatter give the album a quirky sense of flow and personality.
Ultimately, the Beatles’ greatness lies in their songs, and “Let It Be” does exemplify that.
“Get Back,” “Let It Be” and the charmingly overproduced “Across the Universe” are obviously excellent, and enough has been written about them. But what cements this record as one of my favorites from the band is how well the Beatles pull off songs that shouldn’t work.
“Dig a Pony” is pure nonsense, but its “All I want is you” chorus, endearing imperfections and great vocal melody sell the song.
The first live performance of “One After 909” happened in 1962, prior to the release of any of the band’s proper singles or albums, but it manages to not seem out of place on their final album. Stylistically, it’s a fun love letter to the band’s early influences that essentially bookends the Beatles’ run.
What I would deem as weaknesses on the album aren’t necessarily true weaknesses. I would pick “The Long and Winding Road” as one, only because its type of ballad is already done better earlier on the album with the title track. Similarly, “For You Blue” is not a bad song, but it’s too similar to another Harrison song, “Old Brown Shoe,” a b-side that is a better tune with a poorer recording.
Ultimately, “Let It Be” is a weird juxtaposition: an attempt at going back-to-basics that was prepared for release by Spector, one of the most notorious over-producers in the history of recorded music. It’s also an album that was released a month after McCartney’s first solo album, “McCartney.” And while “Let it Be” was an album that was initially pushed aside to make way for the admittedly superior “Abbey Road,” it’s probably a better album than you think. The LP is one that has excellent replay value, and though it was released 50 years ago, it still feels fresh – creating a studio album that is also a live album is still a unique concept in 2020.