Fab Four faceoff: What's your favorite song from 'Let It Be'?
With the official release of the remastered Beatles catalog now done and dusted, Pop & Hiss persists in asking the musical question: What would go on your Beatles mix tape?
As my final weigh-in about what's tops on each of these remastered treats, this entry considers "Let It Be," which you'll find at the bottom of your box if you purchase the stereo set.
Sob, smile or snicker when I nominate.....
This choice surprised me, even as I made it. Going into this game I thought for sure I'd end with a sweeping note by praising one of Paul's grand-finale ballads. I was leaning toward "Let it Be," though personally I've always preferred "The Long and Winding Road" -- I like the slightly tongue-tied nature of that song, the way Paul's almost childlike words work against the hugely overstated production Phil Spector slapped on it.
"Let It Be," however, can't be denied as a universal hymn, one that works in a forthright gospel reading like Aretha Franklin's, or if, like Nick Cave for example, you live a few doors down from the churchyard. It's the winner from a sentimental perspective -- Paul's misty-eyed goodbye to his mates, his declaration to carry on in hard times, a great funeral song for the end of an era.
But who wants to go out that way? Instead, let's relish the other side of Paul's mood during the difficult "Let It Be" sessions: not his sorrow at being unable to preserve the collaboration that defined his life, but his resolve to try, despite John's rapid exit into another picture, George's understandable exasperation, and Ringo's....well, Ringo seemed OK.
"Get Back" does what it says. As aficionados know, Paul wanted to call this whole project by that name. He organized the sessions that eventually surfaced on the "Let It Be" album to reignite the Four's old spark, using live performance as lighter fluid. The Beatles hadn't toured for years; they weren't spending time together in the studio either, instead just passing in the hallway as they each did their own overdubs. Paul's idea of a second honeymoon full of fun jams and laddish jokes didn't really pay off, but this song is like that golden hour during a painful date night, when you and your drifting domestic partner actually reconnect.
Billy Preston helped. In film footage of the "Get Back" sessions, he's captured doing a funky little dance -- the keyboardist, brought in by George to help brighten the mood, performed cheerfulness well enough to get them through the sessions, apparently. He definitely earns the singular credit he gets here as a co-performer on a Beatles hit. His playing takes "Get Back" beyond a choogle, adding wit and bacon grease; on film, even John cracks a smile once the jam really gets going.
Then there are the lyrics. Paul apparently borrowed the title from a George composition, but like any good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll song, "Get Back" cribs from all over the place. You could cite James Brown, the Velvet Underground, the Kinks, Tommy Tucker and Benny Hill as source material. (A famous early version of "Get Back" also included some political satire, in the form of a fake anti-immigration rant.) Yet it's such a simple, goofy set of verses that it's totally believable that the Beatles made them up on the spot.
Outside the parameters of this song, the Beatles couldn't get back. "Let It Be" offers many sublime moments, but it's mostly a sad account of frustration and miscommunication, the inevitable moment when rock's most glorious four-way street ran into a dead end. The sadness surrounding this project makes this one burst of joy all the sweeter -- a fitting way to end our little debate about what's best by the best band ever.
Thanks for reading, commenting, playing along. Let's do it again sometime.
-- Ann Powers
Photo credit: Apple Corps