Let It Be is the first Beatles album I heard historically rather than at the time. Ironically it was a contractual obligation soundtrack, which was exactly the kind of industry manoeuvre they seemed to have rendered redundant back in 1963, seven years earlier. My response at the time was that this was an expensive boxed set of left overs put together to promote a film I wouldn’t bother going to see.

I didn’t get to hear Let It Be as an album until two years later as my story explains. I was visiting South Wales miners in Maerdy, to report on the 1972 miners strike, and my colleague, friend and boss Terry had brought a tape of Let It Be to keep us company in the days when cars had no soundtrack beyond road noise. I wasn’t enamoured of playing music on the clunky Philips piano key mono tape player which we had at the time, but the long, low-slung journey needed something.

I was intrigued though. I’d loved the singles Get Back and Let It Be, which itself always seemed an appropriate end to the Beatles. But I was buying jazz and progressive rock at the time and preferred artists who played live. But here was an unheard Beatles album, which was interesting; very interesting! Fortunately the Beatles ability to create memorable harmonies cut through our lack of decent sound equipment and Let It Be become the backing track for the visit that weekend.

In fact Let It Be is a comfortable album, one that you will like listening to if you like it; not great but good enough. It is also an album that doesn’t make demands on the listener like Sgt Pepper does, yet offers up its treats if you let them find you. Conceptually it doesn’t hang together with the beautiful Across The Universe, written before Rishikesh, just added by John at the last minute, and the elegaic Let It Be awkwardly placed in the middle of the album. The rooftop concert proves the concept could have worked, but the Beatles work quickly and hanging around a film studio, rather than Abbey Road, whilst in dispute with their mates was a failing formula. Without a manager outside the group to act as a lightning rod Paul’s organizing efforts just made him the whipping boy. With modern filming equipment they could have made the “Get Back” album in a month or less at Abbey Road and accidentally invented punk rock.

On the other hand I do agree with Paul that Let It Be…Naked is the more intriguing incarnation. It has a stone cold classic, the hugely under-rated I’ve Got A Feeling, and lets you hear the inspiration that they felt from The Band’s accidentally low-fi, “back to basics’ album Music from Big Pink. At the time however, in the middle of the future rush which Progressive Rock represented, Let It Be sounded sadly retro. On …Naked I eventually heard a band with all the Beatles creative skills tackling a set of rootsy rock songs which combined an early Beatles rock sound with late Beatles lyrics and innovation. The rooftop concert, boosted by the presence of Billy Preston and recorded shortly after their wonderful performance of Revolution for David Frost, reveals Paul’s “great little rock band”, unfortunately too famous and too wordly-wise about their status ever to tour and play live again. The Beatles were our sixties and that was forty years ago; time for the rest of us to be creative.

This blog takes its title from One after 909 a pre-Parlophone Lennon and McCartney song that George Martin didn’t rate in March 1963 but on Let It Be it just sounds like joyous fun, and they played it to cheer themselves up. Ironically, given that the impossibility of the Beatles playing live again helped them split, they were already playing live individually and creating new musical careers by time Let It Be came out. The Plastic Ono Band sounded instantly great, George stunned us with a classy triple album, McCartney maybe amazed us with a solo album at the same time, and Ringo released two solo albums by the years end. Let It Be; they passed the audition, time to let them go home.

There is a longer YouTube version of this post on A Beatles YouTube Album.

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