The new version of the Let It Be movie is now The Beatles: Get Back, and will be released on August 27th, 2021. The film was delayed a year, because of the pandemic. The director of The Lord Of The Rings, Peter Jackson, says his team was still editing the documentary at the end of December, 2020 from the film footage that was shot in January of 1969.
On December 21st, 2020, Jackson released a five minute sample of The Beatles mostly goofing around while recording the album. They’re so young (all in their 20’s), and so full of fun! When you want to watch it, here’s the link:
Earlier in 2020, there was a private screening of a portion of the film. In a news release, Paul McCartney said: “I am really happy that Peter (Jackson) has delivered into our archives a film that shows the truth about The Beatles recording together. The friendship and love between us comes over and reminds me of what a crazily beautiful time we had.”
In a March, 2021 interview, Ringo Starr said… “I didn’t feel any joy in the original documentary. I was there. We were laughing. We were having fun.” He said the new film more accurately reflects how it was when they were recording. Dhani Harrison says he was very impressed with the restoration of the film and the clarity of the images. The new movie includes rehearsals of songs that appeared on Abbey Road, which they began recording just shortly after the Let It Be sessions.
A companion book, also called The Beatles: Get Back is to be released October 14th, 2021 (moved to this date in April, 2021). The book is 240 pages. It includes transcribed conversations of the four Beatles from the film footage, and hundreds of previously unpublished photos by Ethan A. Russell and Linda McCartney. The pre-order list price is $60, but it was online for $42. I ordered it from Amazon in February, 2021.
Interestingly, there was no 50th Anniversary album remix of Let It Be. The anniversary was in May, 2020. Instead, the music in the movie was remixed by Giles Martin and Sam Okell. There will likely be a Soundtrack album released with the film.
For the Get Back film, director Peter Jackson used the 56 hours of Let It Be footage. Here’s a statement from Jackson where he says the footage is much more upbeat than the general feeling of the Let It Be movie:
“It’s simply an amazing historical treasure trove. Sure, there’s moments of drama, but none of the discord this project has long been associated with. Watching John, Paul, George and Ringo work together, creating now-classic songs from scratch, is not only fascinating, it’s funny, uplifting and surprisingly intimate. I’m thrilled and honored to have been entrusted with this remarkable footage.”
The movie is being completed and the release date set, so while we wait, let’s explore what got us to this point.
In November of 1968, The Beatles released their double album The Beatles…known forever as The White Album. At times The Beatles worked on their songs in separate studios. The bickering of The Beatles during group recording sessions caused engineer Geoff Emerick to stop working with them, and even somewhat alienated George Martin.
Paul McCartney had an idea…maybe it was a bad one.
McCartney suggested they “Get Back” to playing in the studio as a live band, instead of overdubbing the recordings. He also suggested they could film their recording sessions for a television special that would end with a live performance of the songs they’d written. What could go wrong? Actually, we’re lucky to have film of them working in the studio.
John Lennon suggested The Beatles should just break up. Ringo Starr had already left the group for a time during the recording of The White Album. After they started rehearsals at the beginning of January 1969, George Harrison left the band for a few days. It was up to Paul McCartney to try to hold the band together, but he was resented for taking a leadership role. And that was just the beginning of the Get Back/Let It Be recording sessions.
Further complicating matters…George Martin was only there for some of the sessions, and Yoko Ono was there for all of the them.
George Martin had relinquished some of his duties to producer/engineer Glyn Johns & tape operator Alan Parsons, and the sessions were less organized. Further confusion with recording takes vs filming takes created problems for assembling the album. Having a girlfriend at Beatles recording sessions was an irritant to the other band members, especially when Yoko would make suggestions.
The rehearsals and recording sessions for the Get Back album only lasted a month, January 2nd to January 31st, 1969, and of course they only recorded some of those days.
So what happened with the music? Despite all the problems, The Beatles were able to knock out “Get Back” & “Don’t Let Me Down”, and in April of 1969 released them as a strong single.
“Get Back” stayed at #1 for five weeks. Even though sessions were sometimes contentious, other great music emerged that January…”Let It Be” (#1, 1970), “Two Of Us”, “Across The Universe”, and “The Long And Winding Road” (#1, 1970).
Add to the above six songs…”For You Blue”, “I’ve Got A Feeling”, “One After 909”, “Dig A Pony”, “I Me Mine”, and maybe one of their jams, and you’d think Get Back was done. But, various mixes of the album were rejected, and the album was shelved. The television project fell through. The film footage was to be turned into a movie, but it was delayed while the producers waded through 56 hours of film.
After that troubled experience, The Beatles didn’t break up. Instead, they convinced George Martin and Geoff Emerick to produce an album like they used to make, and they promised to behave. The resulting excellent album proved to be the last one they recorded, Abbey Road, just a little later in 1969.
So how did Get Back become Let It Be in 1970? First of all, they couldn’t name the album after a single that had been released a year earlier. The title was chosen for the album’s best song, and maybe as an indication that the group was simply letting The Beatles be over.
Even on the 2009 digital remaster of Let It Be, they mentioned the “freshness” of the live performances. In fact, the production had been turned over to wall-of-sound producer Phil Spector. He added orchestration, a choir, and other major production elements, especially to McCartney’s “The Long And Winding Road”.
Maybe the song “Let It Be” is best with the Phil Spector mix (of the George Martin production), but “The Long And Winding Road” is over-the-top with “angel voices” McCartney never approved. It would be interesting to hear a version that kept the orchestra, but dropped the choir. McCartney might have been okay with that. The big productions were the exact opposite of the original intent, and while the result is a mix of good and not so good, it was mostly unnecessary.
As can be seen in the film, the original (just The Beatles) versions of “Get Back”, “Let It Be”, “Two Of Us”, and “The Long And Winding Road” were excellent long before Phil Spector was involved. George Harrison’s original non-Spector versions of “I Me Mine” and “For You Blue” sound great, with George’s voice clearer. Spector also should have chosen the simpler version of John Lennon’s “Across The Universe” that appeared on the anthology series.
Phil Spector certainly deserves credit for wading through the tapes to pull the album together, but maybe George Martin’s quip is the best description of the result. He said the album jacket should have said “Produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector.”
In 2003, Paul McCartney tried to remedy the situation with Let It Be…Naked. It does a good job of providing the unadorned versions, and it puts back “Don’t Let Me Down”, which should never have been left off the original album in the first place. But at the same time, this album wasn’t going to replace the version people had enjoyed for over 30 years. The original album won an Academy Award and a Grammy in their respective soundtrack categories.
About the film…
My wife and I saw Let It Be in a theater when it was originally released in 1970, and it was a bit shocking to see The Beatles upset with one another. We were used to seeing The Beatles having fun in A Hard Day’s Night and Help. Because the Let It Be film came out at the time The Beatles split, it’s generally believed that the movie portrays the band’s break up. Although it shows the tension in the group, the movie also shows some excellent live studio performances, plus the fun The Beatles had jamming in the studio and playing together in the rooftop concert. The real breakup came later with Allen Klein handling the business side of the group and alienating McCartney. Eventually, all The Beatles fired Klein and battled him in a lawsuit.
The new version of the film was approved unanimously by Paul, Ringo, and the wives of John & George. The basic idea was to downplay the bickering, and show more of the positive interactions, plus to greatly improve the technical quality of the film.
It’s also the plan to make a technically improved original version of the Let It Be movie available for streaming after the release of this new documentary.
So it’s come full circle. In 1969 the album/film was called Get Back. In 1970 the title was changed to Let It Be. Fifty years later we’re back to Get Back.
The Beatles: Get Back…to premiere August 27th, 2021. The waiting is the hardest part.