Never Just Let It Be: Five Magic Outtakes from the Beatles’ Swan Song

Let It Be gets reissued while Get Back gets a TV series and a book (photos: thebeatles.com, Disney+).

For chronic Beatlemaniacs, is this whole Let It Be/Get Back revisitation the last hurrah?

After all, we’re at the end of the long and winding road. The one that finished off the most celebrated and dissected rock group the world ever knew. The trailhead we circled back to with a bittersweet taste. The epitaph that ensured the Fabs would never dwindle into tired mediocrity — they split before they got around to it.

Some listeners have opined that the Let It Be album is tired mediocrity … but now we can reconsider, thanks to the new remixed and expanded edition of the record, the coffee-table Get Back book — with hundreds of unseen photographs and transcripts — and Tolkien+history+horror maestro Peter Jackson’s three-part Get Back docuseries airing November 25–27 on Disney+.

It’s a brave new dive into the vaults. As Jackson related on 60 Minutes:

“After 50 years, you’d have every right to believe that everything with The Beatles had been talked about. Every bit of film had been seen, every bit of music had been heard, there were no more surprises with The Beatles.”

But then he plowed through the 57 hours of stored footage from January ’69. “This is not a band that’s breaking up,” Jackson says. “That’s not what happened.”

So what did happen? (Can’t wait to see the Get Back doc! Great previews! They’re showing the entire rooftop concert!)

You can spend buttloads on the new Let It Be box set … or you can Spotify it (photo: thebeatles.com).

For non-Beatlemaniacs, the nonstop mania may be baffling. We’ll soon have six more hours of Fab film; Ringo’s released his new EP Change the World (he’s steady if not prolific); and Paul is everywhere.

Paul raves about the Get Back doc and joins an insider red-carpet premiere. Paul ruminates about songwriting in his double-tome The Lyrics. Paul waxes methodical with uber-producer Rick Rubin on Hulu’s McCartney 3, 2, 1, following his lockdown album McCartney III. Paul puts out another children’s book about Granddude. Paul sits with David Remnick for a probing profile in The New Yorker. Paul longs to tour again (corporate sponsor: Energizer?).

Paul also reiterates it wasn’t his idea to break up the Beatles, that John said “I want a divorce.” (Any true Beatlemaniac knew that — Lennon & McCarney both came clean back in 1970, before John crooned, “The dream is over.”)

The 1970 Let It Be cover depicted the Fabs in their own spaces (photo: thebeatles.com).

Let It Be Revisited

Then there’s the music. As an album, Let It Be was always paradoxical. The week it came out, I’d been with my buddies doing chaos and creation in the backyard of my neighbors’ place where I was babysat after school (we’re talking second grade), and then this new album spun on the turntable while I studied its cover — that funereal black square with four faces, separated in their cubes and looking rather sad (except for George’s grin). The music sounded gloomier than other Beatles stuff. Even as kids, we knew the band had broken up. One of my friends said, half-erroneously, “They just got together again briefly to make a bit more money.”

Talk about paradox:

  • This was the only Beatles album to sit on the shelf more than a year.
  • The only Beatles album to be mixed three different times (make that four, counting Paul’s do-over Let It Be … Naked in 2003).
  • The album where they couldn’t agree on the song list.
  • The one Paul called “very sticky,” George called “the winter of discontent,” and John called “the shittiest load of badly recorded shit.”

The only Beatles album not credited, “Produced by George Martin.” He’d been subbed by Glyn Johns, because Martin didn’t have a union card for the film work — but Martin was mostly there anyway. The final mix infamously was tasked to Phil Spector.

Martin’s suggestion for the credit: “Produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector.’’

During the 1970 movie run of Let It Be (directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg), I desperately wanted to see it — I knew it was playing at theaters in Miami, where I was visiting my dad and his side of the clan. My family elders insisted it wasn’t worth seeing: “It’s depressing,” one said. Not having the means, I didn’t see the film … until a decade later at a bar when I was in college—before it was jerked from the market. Turns out it (mostly) was depressing.

The thing is, you’re supposed to leave ’em laughing when you go …

Bootleg As Nature Intended included Glyn Johns’s first mix, now in the box set (photo: discogs.com).

Ever Present Past

The Get Back/Let It Be project spawned myriad bootlegs—and outtakes, as evidenced in the Beatles Anthology series — thanks to its live-in-the-studio approach. For a month, they basically recorded everything.

Unlike, say, the golden-anniversary reissues of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, the outtakes are not layers from the final cake—they’re different versions of the cake.

The result is (not unlike the preceding White Album) a big glorious mess—one with lots of gems in the rough.

The Let It Be remix—helmed by George Martin’s son Giles — breathes new life into an album that is, as Dubya might say, “misunderestimated.”

At the outset, Giles Martin explains, McCartney agreed to use the Spectorized versions: “The feeling is you can’t change history. So he wasn’t necessarily reluctant, he just asked me if I could turn the harp down a bit in ‘The Long And Winding Road.’”

Martin & Co. did, and they have honorably fixed the mix — sprucing up the contours, leavening Spector’s wall of sound — while giving us fascinating bits with the bonus material: intimate glimpses of the quartet’s creative process … which was initially the whole point of the project.

To wit: Five Fab Outtakes from the Super Deluxe Edition of Let It Be.

The Beatles’ final concert on the Apple rooftop, January 30, 1969 (photo by Ethan Russell / © Apple Corps. Ltd.).

John: Don’t Let Me Down (First Rooftop Performance)

Arguably Lennon’s best song from the period — the B-side of the ’69 “Get Back” single — “Don’t Let Me Down” was sadly left off Let It Be. Scholars attribute this to manager Allen Klein because he put the tune on Capitol’s Hey Jude filler album, which gathered previous Beatles non-album singles, a few weeks before Let It Be appeared. (Somehow “Get Back” escaped this fate because its single and album versions slightly differed.)

Rolling Stone writer Rob Sheffield calls this B-side “the whole Beatles story in one song.” It’s the Yoko-inspired creation where the others forget about Yoko’s pesky-sidekick role and let John roll out his love.

John & Yoko bared their bodies, he bared his soul (photo: discogs.com)

The very best take of “Don’t Let Me Down” is the band’s first rooftop version, when they’re fabulously focused. But there’s a glitch: John flubs the words on a verse — he comes in with gibberish lines resembling: Et no le vici got le blue gee goo! In the video John and Paul exchange smiling glances.

It’s no big deal — no less sensical than “The Walrus”’s Goo goo ga joob, the latin drivel of “Sun King” or half the words of “Come Together” — but it nixes the whole take. (On Let It Be … Naked, this version is spliced with another take to get around the flub.) Why oh why, lord, did this turn out like it did? The whole world needs to hear this version of this song.

Now they can.

Macca at the mic (photo © Apple Corps Ltd.).

Paul: Oh! Darling (Jam)

“‘Oh! Darling’ is a great one of Paul’s that he didn’t sing too well,” said John of this awesome power ballad in 1980. “It was more my style than his. If he’d have had any sense, he would’ve let me sing it.” On this outtake jam we can glimpse what might have been — the two lead Beatles harmonize while Billy Preston plays fluid keys and the others lock in on their natural instruments. It’s a smoother, funkier contrast to the more stilted, layered track on Abbey Road (where Paul screams like a kid trying to sound like John). Part of this version, way too loose to be final, appears on Anthology — including an ad-lib verse by John after he gleefully announces, “Just heard Yoko’s divorce has gone through.” John was right about singing this one, or at least harmonizing. Ah lads, woulda-coulda-shoulda …

Harrison walked out, causing a change in scenery—and attitude—upon his return (photo © Apple Corps. Ltd.).

George: All Things Must Pass (Rehearsal)

The Quiet Beatle chose action over words when he quit the Get Back sessions on January 10 with the quip, “See you ’round the clubs.” Just days earlier, Harrison had demoed his latest Taoist truthism, “All Things Must Pass,” with a request for it to sound “very Band-y” (George had spent recent holidays in Woodstock with Dylan and the Band). He added, “If there’s people joining in, I’d appreciate it.”

For this loose take, the Beatles did just that — breaking into three-part harmony not heard again till Abbey Road’s “Because.” Yet soon the band passed on “All Things Must Pass” — George later made it the title song of his solo Grand Statement (sans three-part harmony). Ah lads, woulda-coulda-shoulda … once again.

Ringo was the first to quit, in summer ’68 (photo © Apple Corps Ltd.).

Ringo: Octopus’s Garden (Rehearsal)

Here Starr bangs out “the Octopus one” on a piano while the gang snickers at its unfinished charm (someone mutters “Give it up” to the poor drummer). It’s the song Ringo started on Peter Sellers’ yacht back when he left the band half a year earlier. George kindly chimes in with some chord changes and the others move it along. “I think Paul would want to do drums,” John quips, “I’m not getting on that kit without a ciggy.” That’s assuming Ringo would play piano — which of course he doesn’t do when the band later circles back on Abbey Road to make this a real song. Ringo’s second one.

Keyboardist Billy Preston livened up the music and lightened up the mood (photo © Apple Corps Ltd.).

Billy: One After 909 (Take 3)

My “Fifth Beatle” nominee: Billy Preston. He’s the only guy who ever shared credit on a Beatles single (besides Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers, but that doesn’t count).

Preston played fab keys on said “Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down” single, after he was brought in by George Harrison to brighten the proceedings, as an old Hamburg buddy. He shines throughout — never more so than when he plays killer-diller piano on a basement-studio take of “One After 909,” the vintage Lennon song that lends the whole project authenticity.

Everyone wanted more rooftop takes, so they used one of those where Billy plays an electronic keyboard. But down in the basement, man, can this kid whale on a real piano!

Eat your heart out, Jerry Lee Lewis.

Jack Crager is a writer and editor based in New York City (jackcrager.com).