Let It Be has been going through changes since the album and film started as Get Back in January of 1969. This article covers those changes, including all that’s happened recently in 2022. (There are links at the end of this article to: a review of the new box set, a review of the new film, and a review of the new companion book.)
The fresh version of the Let It Be movie is The Beatles: Get Back. It was released in November 2021 as an 8-hour three-part documentary on Disney+, and was then released on DVD & Blu-ray on July 12th, 2022.
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 producer 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 over a week. 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 engineer Glyn Johns & tape operator Alan Parsons, and the sessions were less organized. Having a girlfriend constantly at Beatles recording sessions was initially an irritant to the other band members. The new film shows they ultimately accepted Yoko, and there were visits from all the Beatles’ girlfriends and wives.
The rehearsals and recording sessions for the Get Back album only lasted a month, January 2nd to January 31st, 1969, with about 21 days of writing, rehearsing, and recording.
So what happened with the music? Despite 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 (their first stereo single).
“Get Back” stayed at #1 for five weeks. 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 (by The Beatles), 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.
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.
The production of the album was turned over to wall-of-sound producer Phil Spector in early 1970. He added orchestration, a choir, and other major production elements, especially to McCartney’s “The Long And Winding Road”. The overdubbed 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 was seen in the Let It Be 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. 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.” Still…the original album won an Academy Award and a Grammy in their respective soundtrack categories.
A little about the original film…
My wife (of 5 months) and I saw Let It Be in a theater when it was released in 1970, and it was a bit jarring to see The Beatles upset with one another. Since 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.
All of the raw footage from the Let It Be film project was turned over to Director Peter Jackson. He and his team spent years digitally upgrading the film quality, and editing together the 8-hour documentary Get Back.
A 100-minute version of the new Get Back film was used for the U.S. and U.K. premieres on November 18th, 2021. Those events were attended by The Beatles family members. In London, it was Paul McCartney and his daughter Mary, George Harrison’s son Dhani, and Ringo’s sons Zack and Jason. Ringo Starr didn’t attend, because of COVID precautions. In L.A., attending were Olivia Harrison, Paul’s daughter Stella, and John’s sons Julian and Sean.
After the event, Julian Lennon released a statement. “The one true thing I can say about it all, is that it has made me so proud, inspired & feel more love for my/our family than ever before…and the film has made me love my father again in a way I can’t fully describe. Thank you to all who had a hand in bringing this project to fruition…Life Changing.”
Dhani Harrison said his father, George, would…”be very happy with what Director Peter Jackson came out with.” He said there is some squabbling, but the documentary…”creates a new dynamic, and anyone who gets to see the whole thing will see that the behavior changes, and they really come together.”
Paul McCartney said: “The friendship and love between us comes over and reminds me of what a crazily beautiful time we had. Overall, I think it proves that there was a great loving spirit in The Beatles that entered into the music and everything we did.”
Earlier in 2021, Ringo Starr said… “We were laughing. We were having fun.” He said the new film more accurately reflects how it was when they were recording.
All 43-minutes of the rooftop concert are in the new documentary. The performance was really a public recording session, as the group did multiple takes of the songs… “Get Back” (3 takes), “Don’t Let Me Down” (2 takes), “I’ve Got A Feeling” (2 takes), and one take each of “One After 909” & “Dig A Pony”. The entire audio performance is available on streaming services.
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.
Update: (March, 2022) Get Back won the Producers Guild Award for best non-fiction television.
Bonus: A 5-CD plus Blu-ray box set of Let It Be was released on October 15th, 2021 (a 5-record vinyl set too).
Both sets come with a 100 page hardcover book that has extensive song notations, comments from Paul McCartney, Giles Martin, Glyn Johns, and more. Plus there are unreleased photos of The Beatles, handwritten lyrics, tape boxes, etc.
There is a Deluxe 2-CD set (below) that has the remixed album and selected highlights from the rest of the box set. The remixed album is also available as a single CD or record.
The Let It Be remix was the #1 selling album (48,000 physical sales in the U.S.) the week of its release. Sales got another boost after the Get Back movie started streaming.
Here’s the link to the review of the Let It Be Remix: https://ontherecords.net/2021/10/let-it-be-2021-box-set-review/
Here’s the link to a review of the Get Back book: https://ontherecords.net/2021/10/the-beatles-get-back-book-review/