Who produced Let It Be?
You should have a credit saying ‘Produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector’
In January 1969, George Martin began the Get Back/Let It Be recording sessions as The Beatles official producer, a role he had held since he first signed them for Parlophone in 1962. When the LP was finally released in May 1970, Martin’s name was not on the record label. Instead there were the words ‘Reproduced for disc by PHIL SPECTOR’.
A tangled web of claim and counter claim surround the production of Let It Be. The treatment of one song, The Long and Winding Road, would prove especially contentious. The debate even reached the High Court, where it was cited in Paul McCartney’s legal petition to break up of The Beatles.
In 2013 Apple authorised a remix from the original tapes: Let It Be…Naked. Its label has two two Martins listed as ‘co-producers’ —George and his son, Giles. Glyn Johns, the man you see ‘practically arranging’ (McCartney) the recording sessions in the Get Back documentary —is credited as an ‘engineer’.
Let It Be…Naked does not feature Phil Spector or his notorious string arrangements.
After Brian [Epstein] died, we collapsed. Paul took over and supposedly led us. But what is leading us, when we went round in circles? We broke up then. That was the disintegration — from ‘Lennon Remembers’
A sour, fractious mood surrounded the recording of The Beatles, which dragged on from the end of May until October. At its core was a rupture between Paul — desperate to save the musical marriage — and John and George, who wanted out. Ringo’s preferred option — a quiet life in which they all got along — was no longer on the table.
Another source of tension was an unspoken rift between the band and their producer, George Martin. When The Beatles first auditioned at Abbey Road in June, 1962 there had been no doubt about the hierachial relationship between the eminent producer and the provincial wannabes.
The Beatles were an unpromising commercials propostion: studio novices from with poor musical technique and ‘crap songs’. Martin gambled that he could iron out technical deficiencies. This was an inspired call as they soon proved to be very fast learners. Within two years The Beatles were not only mastering the recording studio but extending its creative possiblities.
These innovations still required the technical expertise of Martin and the Abbey Road sound engineers — with Geoff Emerick playing a crucial role. Martin received critical recognition but was still a salaried employee of EMI, earning a fraction of what the band did. For their part, resentment grew within The Beatles at the idea that Martin taking too much credit.
During the recording of the The Beatles (1968) trust — and recording discipline — was breaking down. The band appeared to be falling apart.
A New Approach
In October 1968 they finally finished recording The Beatles. On Planet Beatle this meant that it was time to start again. Clearly something had to change if they were to get through another album together. Paul suggested that they attempt to recapture the the energy of their early live performances by recording ‘as live’.
George Martin pointed out that the ‘as live’ approach did not suit his skill set. Nor was he keen on recording in an unfamiliar — and from his perspective — unsuitable setting.
In 1963 Martin’s objections would have meant moving on to Plan B. Now it was greeted with teen shrugs Abbey Road was the Court of The Beatles. The suits deferred to the new money men — the four long hairs who responded with teen shrugs. Lennon was suspicious of Paul’s plans but also of Martin’s supposed studio ‘jiggery pokery’ — he gave lukewarm consent. Ditto George Harrison, who was not sold on taking the circus to North Africa (“Why can’t we do it here?”) but as ever remained more focussed on his song quota.
On paper Geoge Martin was still in charge, but he effectively delegated management of the recording seesions to a young producer, Glyn Johns.
Johns would go on to produce Led Zepellin, but he had been given an impossible job. When the mix was revealed to The Beatles it received the royal thumbs down. What to do? A single was needed and Paul worked directly with Johns at Olympia Studios to produce an acceptable version of GET BACK. Resolving other technical issues was deferred.
Instead they opted to start from fresh — a new album with George Martin back on the bridge. Personal differences were temporarily put aside and the quest for ‘authenticity’ quietly abandoned. The result was a worthy swansong: the magnificent Abbey Road.
By this point, nobody could face sorting out the Let It Be mess. The mountain of audio tape produced by the Get Back/Let it Be sessions was pushed out of sight. Instead they returned to their day job — squabbling over the terms of the impending divorce. This all-consuming business had numerous complicating factors — one being that they now different managers. John, George and Ringo had employed the legal bruiser Alan Klein while was how represented by his father-in law.
Enter Phil Spector
Klein’s mission was to make money for his clients. He pressed for a swift resolution that would allow Let it Be to be available in record shops. Lennon suggested a friend who could help out ‘Why don’t we get Phil to listen the Let It Be tapes?” (Doggett, p.104).
The Phil concerned was the legendary ‘pop-opera’’ producer, Mr P. Spector. His intervention would need McCartney’s approval. This came belatedly and reluctantly via his legal team.
With the May release date fast approaching, George Martin was summarily pushed aside to allow Spector to remix Let it Be. Later Martin would be informed by his EMI bosses that for technical reasons he could not be credited as the producer.
Not that Martin wanted to associated with the released mix, which he loathed. Others, like Macdonald, have argued that some of the changes were artistically defensible, given the poor quality of the original recordings. Lennon would always claim that his pistol-packing pal had done an exceptional job in the circumstances. In his 1970 Rolling Stone interview, he came stoutly to Spector’s defence:
He was given the shittiest load of badly-recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something of it.
Forty years later Paul McCartney would arrange for the new mix of Let it Be. The critical consensus is that the Naked is sonically superior. It is certainly closer to the intention of at least one of its creators.