The Beatles in LET IT BE (1970) – And in the end…

BritishInvadersbeatleshelp2017

The following is my entry in The 4th Annual British Invaders Blogathon, being hosted by Terence at his blog A Shroud of Thoughts from Aug. 4-6, 2017. Click on the above banner, and read blogs about a wide variety of British-based and -themed movies!

letitbepostersquare_1

I’m really glad that most of our songs were about love, peace and understanding.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology, 1995

“This is what we are like with our trousers off, would you please end the game now?” – John Lennon’s take on Let It Be, 1970

There are several good reasons that Let It Be has not been released on DVD or other recent home viewing formats.

One is that it’s a just-plain-sloppy documentary. You have to be at least an intermediate Beatles buff to understand or have any perspective on the movie. Initially, it was to have been made as a TV documentary that would accompany a live concert. When the Beatles then nixed the concert idea, the movie’s format was changed to theatrical so as to become the final film required under the group’s contract with movie studio United Artists.

The movie shows the band rehearsing songs at both Twickenham Film Studios and their Apple Records studio, and the film ends with their performing the once-requisite live concert during a London lunch hour on the rooftop of Apple. But again, you have to be a Beatles buff to know any of this.

The film does nothing to identify any of the surroundings, or even The Beatles or others within the movie. Songwriter/performer Billy Preston performs with the group throughout the movie, and the soundtrack album took the unprecedented step of crediting him along with the group — but the movie does not. We also see Yoko Ono (then a fairly fresh presence in John’s life), Paul’s adopted daughter Heather, and the group’s music producer George Martin, all unidentified. It’s as though they were merely movie extras flitting around the Beatles’ orbit.

The movie’s biggest debit, though, is that it fairly justifies John and George’s later complaints that, after their manager Brian Epstein died in 1967, the other group members spent much of their time serving as “sidemen” for Paul. The movie’s first third shows the group rambling through early rave-ups of songs from this movie’s soundtrack and Abbey Road, as well as some rock-and-roll chestnuts. And they perform so lackadaisically that, if you didn’t know that these were the famous Beatles, you might wonder why they were even the subject of a documentary.

The group finally manages some solid performances, but mostly of songs by Paul. Other than a duet with John on “Two of Us,” the middle section is Paul’s show all the way, with him lovingly performing “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” to the camera as the other members drudgingly provide backup.

John finally gets some wind in his sails (literally — it looks awfully cold on that rooftop) during the final concert, as he rips through “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “One After 909” (both with Paul) and a soulful “Don’t Let Me Down.” But even that concert feels strange. Considering, in the late 1970’s, how hopefully anticipated a Beatles reunion concert had been, here most of the public onlookers seem to regard these guys as freaks who are simply being rude to interrupt local business.

As always with The Beatles, their music is enough to carry the show, half-baked as some of it is. (The movie won the group a “posthumous” Academy Award for Best Original Song Score.) But if A Hard Day’s Night depicts The Beatles at their sunniest and most vibrant, Let It Be makes everyone but Paul look as though they’re ready to be somewhere else.

SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND 50th-Anniversary Edition (2017) – The Beatles with subtext

61suVf7XXWL._SX355_

I was six years old when The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was first released. My sister, who is 10 years older than me, was the ultimate Beatlemaniac up to that point, snapping up all of their records and screaming every time The Fab Four showed up on TV.

I listened to all of my sister’s Beatles albums and so became a Beatlemaniac by proxy. That’s quite ironic in that (a) I have no recollection of the first time I listened to Sgt. Pepper, and (b) that album was the beginning of the end of my sister’s Beatlemania. The Fabs had just gotten too psychedelic and far-out for her.

Having since bought and re-bought all of The Beatles’ albums — either because my original copies wore out, or they were issued on newer formats such as compact disc — I resisted buying the 50th-anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper for as long as I could, finally succumbing to the rave reviews this updated version has received. Still, I figured there was no way that an album I’d been listening to for 50 years (!) could ever surprise me again.

But having earwormed the album into my head for the past two days, I think I feel the same way that awed Beatles fans did when they first heard the album in the summer of 1967. It sounds fresher and more relevant than ever.

Surely, part of this is due to the breathtaking re-mixing done to the album by Giles Martin, son of Sir George Martin, the original producer of Pepper and nearly all of The Beatles’ other group albums. Like an aural archeologist, Martin fils has dug around in each of the album’s compositions and found sounds that you either never heard before or that sounded muddily buried in the background. More than ever, the album sounds like the ersatz bandstand concert that The Fabs always intended it to resemble.

But the real revelation is in the special edition’s bonus disc, “The Sgt. Pepper Sessions.” First, it includes beautifully rendered stereo versions of the Beatles hits “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” It’s now Beatles legend that these two magnificent songs were intended to be placed on the original album, but EMI was so anxious for a long-awaited 45 RPM single that John and Paul made the sacrifice with these two masterworks.

But best of all is the second disc’s alternate takes on all of the album’s songs, most of which could easily stand on their own. In particular, the instrumentals on “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Penny Lane,” and “A Day in the Life” are lush and joyous. If the original album is solid as ever, these alternate versions are like beautiful flowers wriggling up through cracks in the concrete. (Proof of The Beatles’ inventiveness? Their outtakes alone sound better than a lot of rock groups’ final products.)

(Also of note is the second disc’s unveiling of “A Day in the Life’s” original ending. The song was to have ended with the Fabs endlessly humming the same note. On the original album, the hum was replaced by the now-famous, apocalyptic piano-note slam, but the hum has been resurrected here. The Beatles obviously made the right choice, but in retrospect, the hum doesn’t sound so bad either.)

Having listened to Sgt. Pepper for decades (and yet long after its heyday), I found myself just as judgmental about the original album as anyone. It didn’t seem as perfect as, say, Revolver, and it had at least a couple of tracks that were just too flower-powery for me. (Sorry, George and “Within You Without You.”)

Now, having heard the album in every ounce of its intended glory, I feel as love-stoned as any hippie from ‘67. If I don’t end out this week wearing tie-dyed shirts and flowers in my hair, it’ll be a miracle.

Beatles