Let it Be. . .Naked: Yoko Ono on what John Lennon would have
thought. . .
by Rip Rense
(originally published in the L.A. Weekly)
It was January 1969, a
few months after the release of the Beatles eponymous
white album. John Lennon was Beatled-out, and Paul McCartney was trying to
elicit enthusiasm for a new project: Get Back, a no-studio-frills album, and a film
documenting the making of it. (Both were later retitled "Let It Be.") The
white-album sessions had been factionalized with Ringo quitting at one
point and only a handful of tracks featured the group working together. So
McCartney wanted to re-inspire his mates reunite them, really and as a live
band, too. Ringo was up for it, but George was lukewarm, more interested in his sudden
burst of songwriting (and disdainful of live performance, having remarked after their last
show in 1966, Well, thats it. Im not a Beatle anymore). And John,
as he later explained in interviews, was more interested in Yoko.
I think that doing something creatively
with me was something he found much more interesting, if only for the reason that it was
something new, remembered Ono. And the Beatles sessions [at that time] were
like Oh, not another sort of thing. He was used to it, so obviously it was
more interesting [for him] to do things with me, probably.
Ono, who was present at every moment of
the infamously troubled "Get Back/Let it Be" sessions, is granting no extended
interviews about the new "Let it Be. . .Naked" album, preferring to leave this
to the remaining Beatles, but she did make a few exclusive comments to this writer about
her late husband's state of mind during the sessions, and how he might have felt about the
new version of the album.
The Get Back/Let It Be project
coincided with the beginning of Johnandyoko, and the two were deeply
involved with various avant-garde recordings that were to be the basis of
their Zapple LPs, Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With the Lions and Wedding
Album. Lennons fancy was not only captured by his new love, whom he would marry
in a matter of weeks; his creative fancy was, too. Still, there were those old Beatles
hed known all his life, and the other half of Lennonandmccartney, and a
stupendously idealistic and unstable company, Apple, to support. Duty called.
John is the kind of person who is not
really on top of it and in control, said Ono. He just kind of gives up and
resigns, that kind of thing. He was kind of letting Paul take care of it, and taking an
If you want to do it, thats fine kind of attitude. John and George both,
in that sense, had a kind of peacenik mind about it.
Lennon certainly approved of the original Phil
Spectorproduced Let It Be disc, having enlisted Spector (with support from
Harrison and thenApple head Allen Klein) to do as he pleased with the raw recordings
in March 1970. Neither McCartney nor Beatles producer George Martin was consulted about
giving the tapes to Spector, who took what was supposed to be a stripped-down Beatle sound
and dressed up Let It Be, The Long and Winding Road, I Me
Mine and Across the Universe in an evening gown of orchestra and strings
(with Harrison the only Beatle present at all mixing sessions).
Why did Lennon essentially dump the
project on Mr. Wall of Sound, who had never produced the band before? The Beatles
were breaking up at the time, so was it spite aimed at McCartney, as has been rumored? It
had been Pauls project, after all, and the tapes had been shelved a year earlier
with no plan for reviving them. Surprisingly, Ono said, Lennon made the decision out of
simple concern for the music. The sessions had left him exasperated, but not uncaring.
John has a purer side, she said.
A gimme some truth kind of feeling. We dont want a tape that is
not perfect, with overdubbing this and that. It has to be perfect. So they had kept
on recording so many takes. And then how are you going to listen to all of them and find
the right one? It was like a nightmare, I think okay, dont use that word,
nightmare it was a very complex situation which had to be figured out. Thus,
Engineer Glyn Johns had first been tabbed to
turn the Get Back/Let It Be tapes into an album, and his three passes at the job
were rejected by the group (and have only recently surfaced as bootlegs), so Lennons
move was perhaps a last-ditch attempt to tie up a loose end before leaving the band. As
Ono suggests, there had been almost endless takes during the sessions, and there was the
additional pressure of director Michael Lindsay-Hoggs cameras (for what became the
Academy Awardwinning Let It Be documentary). One moment not captured in the
film found McCartney, clearly affecting the role of bandleader, saying, Okay, lads,
back to the drudgery, prompting what seems an only half tongue-in-cheek response
from Lennon: Its you whos bloody making it like that!
Then there was Onos presence, which contributed
to the strain despite her dogged attempt to be unobtrusive. McCartney said in a recent
interview that while everyone tried to make it work, it was just awkward.
You cant just say, Hey, dont sit on my amp. (Laughed
Ono: I dont think I sat on his amp!)
Not exactly helping Johns interest level, perhaps, was his
(and Onos) experimentation with heroin. I think the interest level came
first, she said. Its not taking the enhancement, shall we say, that made
him lose interest. I really think that because it was hard for him to put his effort into
another Beatles album, he was eager for enhancement. Stress relief.
The stress was so apparently relieved that
Lennon contributed only two new songs to the project: Dont Let Me Down
and the peculiar Dig a Pony. (Three, if you count the Dig It jam,
which was not without its daffy charm, but relegated to a snippet on the Spector Let
It Be album. Across the Universe was left over from February 1968.)
Dont Let Me Down, a paean to Yoko, was omitted from Let It Be
for reasons that remain cloudy. Rumors abound: The other Beatles resented Lennons
attentions being diverted by his new love; the Lennons resented the other Beatles for
resenting her; Spector thought the song too personal for the album. Ono would not comment.
As for Universe, which on the new album is denuded of everything except
Lennons voice and guitar, Harrisons tamboura and Ringos kick drum, Ono
says, It is a very major song, but never had a home, so to speak, until now.
Lennons singing and playing at the sessions
was committed, inventive and soulful. His guitar work on Get Back almost makes
the song, and his slide-guitar playing on Harrisons For You Blue is
lyrical. And both McCartney and Starr have lately said that this sad period of Beatles
history was actually more upbeat than acrimonious. Ono agreed.
One of the things that happened was the
filmmaker had to put in all the bits that would be sensational as well. The sensational
angle is always interesting. And people thought it was just a terrible session or
something, but it wasnt really that terrible.
As with the original sessions, McCartney is the
driving force behind the new ex-Spectorated version, Let It Be . . . Naked
(a Ringo-ism) which not only lacks wall of sound orchestra and chorus,
but includes many new takes. McCartney, Starr, Ono and Olivia Harrison all signed off on
the record, which was produced by Abbey Road engineers Allan Rouse, Guy Massey and Paul
Hicks. None of the principals sought major changes, although some of Lennons vocals
were given greater presence than in the original album, reportedly at Ono's request. What
might John have to say about the project being redone after (gasp) 34 years?
I think because he had an
experimental nature, he would have liked the idea of bringing out something
different, said Ono. The original is there, it didnt disappear. This is
not an improvement, its a different version. Paul did not get to do this version the
first time around, and it is karmically good for all of us that we are bringing this one
LITTLE FACTS ABOUT "LET IT BE"
by Rip Rense
Ringo wrote the set list for the famed
Apple rooftop concert right on his top hi-hat cymbal. That set list is still on his hi-hat
today, which he still uses on recordings and in concert.
Yoko Ono attended the entire "Get Back/Let it Be" session, but by her own
description, tried to avoid becoming a distraction. She did, however, participate in
music-making at one point. Shortly after Harrison quit the group in a huff (temporarily)
on Jan. 10, 1969, she engaged in an avant-garde jam with John, Paul, and Ringo. Beatles
scholar Mark Lewisohn described it as a "powerful, angry blast" in which Ono did
her trademark screaming. It is unreleased.
George Harrison's Fender Rosewood Telecaster guitar used in the "Get Back/Let it
Be" sessions and the rooftop concert sold to an anonymous collector for $434,750 at
the "Hollywood Legends, History and Pop Culture Auction," September 13.
Some songs were tested at the sessions, but never finished, only to be later recorded
by solo Beatles. Among them: McCartney's "Every Night," "Back Seat of My
Car," "Maybe I'm Amazed," "That Would Be Something"; Lennon's
"Gimme Some Truth," "Imagine"; Harrison's "Let it Down,"
"All Things Must Pass," "Hear Me Lord."
During the Apple rooftop concert, The Beatles played "God Save the Queen."
This happened while second engineer Alan Parsons---yes, the Alan Parsons---was changing
tapes, and only a fragment of it survives.
Lennon, who was suffering from Beatle burnout, which he sought to alleviate with
heroin, brought only two new songs to the sessions, "Don't Let Me Down" and
"Dig a Pony." (Unless you count his improvised jam, "Dig it.")
"Across the Universe" was recorded a year earlier, and the unfinished "Suzy
Parker," on which he sings lead, is credited to
The first album from the sessions was a bootleg which swept across North America in the
fall of 1969. It was a collection of acetates of early takes made for the band by engineer
Glyn Johns. Somehow, it was aired on WKBW in Buffalo, NY, followed by a WBCN Boston
broadcast followed suit on 22 Sep, and by fall every FM station in the country probably
owned a copy. The official "Let it Be" album did not appear until May 8, 1970.
There are now seven versions of the album: Glyn Johns' first set of acetates (the
original "Get Back" bootleg); the "Let it Be" boxed set, including
album and lavish photo book (worth a pretty penny today); the "Let it Be" album,
the three unreleased (but recently bootlegged) versions of the "Get Back" album
assembled at The Beatles' request by Johns, and now, "Let it Be. . .Naked."
Almost all of the recording sessions may be purchased as bootleg CDs, if you are
interested in listening to mostly bored Beatles doing take after take of "One After
909," "Two of Us," etc.
Apparent consideration was given to a Billy Preston album track, but it never happened.
The closest the band came to it was to tape two blues jams, "Billy's Song (1)"
and "Billy's Song (2)" on Jan 27, 1969.
George Harrison was the only Beatle present for Phil Spector's mixing of the "Let
it Be" album.
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