Tag Archives: Let It Be

Rocks In The Attic #718: The Beatles – ‘The Beatles & Esher Demos’ (1968)

RITA#718You can hear the differences straight away. Paul’s snare beat on Back In The U.S.S.R. is punchier and his vocal ad-libs in the fade-out are much clearer. Then John’s acoustic guitar fades into Dear Prudence and Paul’s pulsing bass sounds on top of everything, front and centre.

Released yesterday to celebrate the record’s fifty-year anniversary, Giles Martin’s new 2018 stereo remix of the Beatles’ ‘self-titled’ White Album is an early Christmas present for fans of the band.

Repeating the successful formula employed on last year’s stereo remix of Sgt. Pepper’s, Martin Jr. has broken down the White Album recordings, and built them back up again. Untrained ears might not be able to tell the difference, we’re talking subtle changes. Clarity and focus are the operative words, not revisionism.

RITA#718aThe sliding, uptempo bass line in Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da transforms one of my least favourite Beatle songs into a stormer. Eric Clapton’s swirling guitar lines in George’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps feel even more hypnotic. Paul’s bassline in Why Don’t We Do It In The Road sounds funkier. Birthday sounds as insane as the band probably intended it to. Paul’s screaming salvo into Helter Skelter sounds at war with Ringo’s drums. The horns in Savoy Truffle are sharper, the electronic piano line closer to the front of the mix.

The 2014 mono remaster was previously my favourite version of this album. I didn’t think anything could beat that. How wrong I was. All in all, this new release is like listening to the album for the first time, with fresh ears. And if that wasn’t enough, the other half of the box-set is just as revelatory.

In May 1968, fresh from their Rishikesh trip, the Beatles convened at Kinfauns, George’s house in Esher, Surrey. There, they recorded demo versions of 26 of the White Albums’s 40 tracks, plus songs that didn’t make the intended album.

Glimpsed on 1997’s Anthology 3, Giles Martin has now remixed these tapes and re-sequenced them into a double-LP with – where possible – the same running order as the 1968 album.

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Hearing McCartney doing a loosely double-tracked Back In The U.S.S.R. on an acoustic guitar – complete with a sung guitar solo – is just fantastic, and really fills me with hope that there’s more material like this yet to see an official release.

The songs that were worked out in the White Album studio sessions – Wild Honey Pie, Martha My Dear, Don’t Pass Me By, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, I Will, Birthday, Helter Skelter, Long, Long, Long, Savoy Truffle, Revolution 9 and Good Night – don’t appear here in demo form. Instead we get a raft of songs intended for the album, but which appeared elsewhere: George’s Sour Milk Sea (a single for Jackie Lomax), Not Guilty (re-recorded for his 1979 record, George Harrison), and Circles (re-recorded for 1982’s Gone Troppo), Paul’s Junk (soon to be heard on 1970’s McCartney), and John’s Child Of Nature (reworked as Jealous Guy from 1971’s Imagine). Two other Lennon demos presented here – Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam would be reworked into the medley on Abbey Road in 1969.

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The demos make for a fantastic listen. Complete with between-take chatter, coughs and sniffs, the sound quality is mostly very good with the occasional bit of tape-hiss evident on some tracks. In hindsight, the Beatles probably didn’t need to go to Abbey Road and Trident to re-record these demos – they could have just released this back in 1968.

While it now seems inevitable that Giles Martin will provide similar remix duties for next year’s half-century release of Abbey Road, followed by Let It Be in 2020, I really hope he continues with the pre-Pepper albums as they begin their sixty-year celebrations from 2023.

And hopefully he’s training his son in the finer techniques of audio engineering, ready for the next generation of reissues…

Hit: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Hidden Gem: Helter Skelter

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Rocks In The Attic #414: The Beatles – ‘Let It Be’ (1970)

RITA#414I always knew Phil Spector killed that woman – he murdered Let It Be.

Do you ever wish that a record didn’t exist? If the Beatles had ended on a high – with the second side of Abbey Road, their run of albums would have been perfect. Instead we get this half-arsed bookend of a record, essentially a collection of out-takes from a project the band had enough sense to knock on the head.

That’s not to say that there aren’t great moments on here. In fact it’s nearly all great – I could just do without the junk mental state of Lennon’s songwriting (Dig It, Dig A Pony), McCartney’s gushing over-sentimentality (The Long And Winding Road, Let It Be), lazy ideas (Maggie Mae, The One After 909) and just the general way it’s (poorly) presented. George Martin’s absence in the producer’s chair is severely noted.

I don’t envy Spector’s task – putting together an LP’s worth of good material out of a seemingly endless bunch of recording sessions where the band were clearly running out of direction would have been a horrible task. Taken on their own, some of the songs are as strong as anything else in their canon – their just diluted by poor production, and cursed by a back-to-basics approach that the band was following (effectively appeasing McCartney who was trying to play leader again – a musician who had seldom flashes of brilliance after 1969, and has probably done more harm than good in that time).

Maybe the problem of Let It Be is that it’s effectively presented as a studio album – and to the average listener that’s all it is – but in fact it’s something different: half a live album (the Twickenham studios material, and Get Back from the Saville Row rooftop) and half a studio album (the Apple studios material). At least it’s daring to be different. Maybe I should stop being so hard on it.

Hit: Let It Be

Hidden Gem: For You Blue

Rocks In The Attic #281: The Beatles – ‘1967 – 1970’ (1973)

RITA#281The lines have since been blurred by subsequent compilation albums, but the Red and Blue Albums used to serve as an excellent line in the sand. Did you prefer the moptop Beatlemania of the Red Album, or the maturing experimentation of the Blue Album? The turning point chosen was the Blue Album’s opener, John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Forever­ – a key moment of evolution in studio production, and a chance for the Fab Four to try out their new moustaches.

The Blue Album is definitely a more balanced offering than its counterpart. Whereas Allen Klein topped up the Red Album’s shorter running time by including many songs from Rubber Soul (presumably his favourite album), here the tracks are more evenly spread out: four album tracks from Sgt. Peppers, three from the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack, three from the White Album, four from Abbey Road, three from Let It Be, and the rest of the songs coming from singles and b-sides. If anything you could say that the White Album is the least represented – a sprawling double-album with only three songs present – but given that this compilation collects all of their lengthier late-period songs, I guess some allowances had to be made to be able to make it a double-album, symmetrical to the Red Album. These four years could easily have been extended into a triple-album, but maybe Klein figured that a triple-album wouldn’t have had any more pulling power than a double.

I do question the inclusion of George Harrison’s Old Brown Shoe – the b-side to The Ballad Of John And Yoko. There are definitely stronger album tracks from around that period, which I would probably have substituted in its place – but I welcome its obscurity, a song that would later see the light of day on Past Masters Vol. 2, but at the time a definite hidden gem in their back-catalogue.

While I see the point of the 1 compilation – 2000’s attempt at putting all of the band’s number one singles in one collection – the Red and Blue Albums have the luxury of including album tracks. On 1, the years between 1967 and 1970 are represented by just eleven songs, while the Blue Album manages to cover the same period with twenty eight tracks (and doesn’t ever seem overlong or outstay its welcome).

For me, the only real sour note on this compilation is the inclusion of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – one of my least favourite Beatles songs. It’s definitely the catchiest track from the White Album, and probably only included here as it was such a hit single for Marmalade in January 1969 – with this single they achieved the notoriety of being the first ever Scottish band to hit number one in the UK singles chart.

Hit: Hey Jude

Hidden Gem: Old Brown Shoe

Rocks In The Attic #261: Paul McCartney – ‘McCartney’ (1970)

RITA#261I’ve written about George’s mammoth first solo album, Ringo’s crooning debut, and John’s first album proper, so this entry completes the set. Why have I left Paul’s until last? Well, on paper it might sound like a more compelling prospect than an album of covers by a drummer with a woeful singing voice, but Ringo’s offering is far more enjoyable. Arguably McCartney may be the most musically talented Beatles – depending on how you define talent – but his first outing on his own is just half-hearted at best.

Aside from Maybe I’m Amazed (a big song, and a true classic that he still performs in concert to this day), McCartney is filled with low-fi home recordings, all self-played, with the occasional “harmony” from wife Linda. It relies too much on its charm, and it’s hard to find an album charming when the inner-gatefold is a collage of photographs of said Beatle acting like a prat.

McCartney’s next album, Ram, is probably my favourite solo album by a Beatle and so it’s hard to understand why he got it so right on that one, and so wrong on this one. If you look at the timeline of events, McCartney was released just after he heard Phil Spector’s treatment of the Let It Be sessions and within a year he would file suit for the dissolution of the band, so let’s just say he had a few things on his mind other than the quality control of his work.

Hit: Maybe I’m Amazed

Hidden Gem: Momma Miss America