Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Worthy Actioners

The magnetic tapes of Glyn Johns' original acetate of the "Let It Be" sessions, originally known as "Get Back," survive and allow future generations to hear the original versions of what was supposed to be the Beatles' return-to-their-roots record, after the over-produced "Sgt. Pepper's" and the over-determined "White."

"Abby Road" would come later, perhaps the most fingered and massaged record in their career, disarmingly named simply for the location of its creation with a cracked brick sign on the back, disingenuously suggesting that it was humble and authentic, but indeed close to "the end."

There are over 100 hours by most accounts of the reference tapes made by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg's crew during the filming of the "Let It Be" sessions. They were done on monaural Nagra machines with room mikes at Twickenham, and have an audible "beep" every minute for syncing, audio "cues" regardless of what future Beatle or past Chuck Berry classic is being played.

These also still exist, and have been bootlegged in various forms over the last 35 years. The coating on these magnetic tape has lasted. Every fight, missed note, snippy comment and cigarette break has been preserved. The old masters of the "Yellow Submarine" originals allowed a remix of that soundtrack 9 years ago that sounded better than any playback technologies back in 1968 could demonstrate.

But Glyn Johns may not have been the best fit for the greatest pop band in the world. He had been producing the greatest rhythm & blues band up to that time and created 3 different versions of the Get Back record, none of which met the Beatles' approval. The tangled history of the Get Back mixes include getting leaked and bootlegged, and becoming a blunt object that came between them while they were trying to figure out how to stop being Beatles themselves.

This allowed "Abbey Road" to be recorded and released in the meantime, until finally Phil Spector took what was supposed to be a stripped-down and naked collection of improvs and dressed it up in hooker's make-up to get it out of the house one last time.

No one was happy, except maybe Capitol/EMI. The damn label didn't even have the right color apple on it.

The complete rooftop concert on January 30, 1969, some of which ended up on the Spector mix, became its own unique version of the "Get Back" sessions. Filmed and recorded specifically for the film, with most of the songs performed twice ("Take two" - the best takes landed on the record.), it has its own integrity and historical circumstances. Not only is it the last Beatle "concert," it has these provocative production realities embedded within it to create a subtext beyond the shortened playlist.

30 years later, 2 Beatles were dead and Paul finally intended to pull those Spector strings off "Long and Winding Road" that had been bugging him the last 3 decades. With the original tapes, he spearheaded a final and Beatle-authorized version of the sessions, once and for all.

The resultant "Let It Be...Naked" has a different song order, with the half-assed improvisations such as "Maggie Mae" gone along with the incidental talking that always seemed precious and a little fussy. Instead are only Beatle songs, in democratic order (John, Paul, George, Paul, Paul, John, George...).

They even "fixed" a sour guitar note in "Dig a Pony" and edited the first half of one "Don't Let Me Down" on the roof to the second half of the other.

This most recent version, "naked" and without Johns' or Spector's superfluous influences or attempts at authenticity, exists due to the longevity of the original tapes and the ability of new digital tools to manipulate the information on a granular level.

The original performances, drunken or strung-out, never properly played, captured or released in the spirit in which they were intended, come to us a 4th time, this time due to action of one of the participants, the resilience of the original recordings, and 35 years of hindsight.

In many respects, it's the most manipulated version of all.

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