This book differs from nearly all of the other first eleven in this series in that instead of involving a detailed look at the songs and the music involved, given the artistes involved here are the Beatles, the author wisely focuses on the history around the recordings instead.
In so doing, Matteo has produced a little gem. Working chronologically he covers how and why the recordings occurred starting with the sessions at the Twickenham sound stage and the possible idea of a live concert at a site in North Africa to follow, progressing to the subsequent recordings made at the new Apple Studios aimed at avoiding the controls of Abbey Road, and the final Saville Row rooftop concert. The book closes with the consequences of how under different producers the incomplete recordings fell into limbo to be "rescued" by Phil Spector and the subsequent history of numerous bootleg tapes from the sessions, culminating in the release of "Let it be...Naked", a missed opportunity in the author's eyes.
What Matteo does in this story telling is include a lot of factual evidence from the thorough research he has done through interviews for the book (but it seems with none of the Beatles) and technical data garnered from many other books. But more importantly he also demyths a lot of prior held mis-perceptions along the way. His covering of the growing disillusionment of Harrison and Martin as the sessions devolve into chaos offsets the more well known stories of Ono and McCartney outbursts. From all the evidence presented, the different sessions were not the gloom and doom often conveyed subsequently especially through the released film and individual Beatles retrospective comments. Despite the growing apart that had started when recording the White Album amongst band members and Lennon's growing drug problems, a high level of fun and the sheer level of songs recorded and tested, including many that surfaced later on "Abbey Road" and solo albums is testament to the creativity that was still occurring.
The two biggest new truths for me after reading the book, are that the maligning of Allen Klein due to his business practices may have been warranted in part but are offset by the simple fact that the financial disciplines he introduced at Apple probably saved the Beatles from individual financial ruin, and that given all the hard evidence on show that this group would not stay together, the subsequent Abbey Road" recording stands as a truly iconic finale and group effort.
Let It Be was initially conceived as a warm-up for the Beatles to return to live stage gigs with the first to be a lavish show in a ruined Roman Amphitheatre in Tunisia and in actuality became just one show - the legendary rooftop concert, the Beatles' last live gig together. Originally titled Get Back to highlight the band returning to its roots, the rehearsals were filmed for an accompanying documentary and showed a band on the verge of breakup, and it was retitled Let It Be, as a fitting epitaph to the fractured group. Though the album would be the last released under the Beatles name, it was recorded before their actual last album, Abbey Road.
Steve Matteo writes wonderfully about the creation of the troubled recordings, interviewing the many engineers, documentary crew, and Apple staff who witnessed the work, and using quotes from the Beatles themselves, giving us an insight into the process and the band's personalities rather than in-depth interpretations on the songs themselves, like other books in the 33 1/3 series sometimes do.
Despite John's increasingly troubling drug problems (he and Yoko were snorting a lot of heroin at the time) and George's discomfort at Paul's overbearing attitude, the recordings over several weeks were very fruitful with the band enjoying playing music together and in addition to the songs that appeared on Let It Be, half of the songs to appear on Abbey Road would be written during this period and others would appear on John, Paul and George's solo records.
Matteo provides detail of the equipment used and recording process without being too didactic, gives us a compelling image of the chaotic atmosphere of the Apple offices, and even manages to write about the complex bootleg cottage industry spawned in the years following the scores of tapes of these sessions disappearing. He follows the record into the 21st century when a Phil Spector-less production of the record appeared called Let It Be...Naked, up to Phil Spector's murder trial (which he would later be found guilty of).
Let It Be certainly isn't The Beatles' best record but it contains some legendary classics and captures an interesting time in the group's existence, namely what it was like near the end. As someone who hasn't read a lot of Beatles books and wasn't looking for an overlong account of this time, this 130+ page small book was exactly what I was looking for and perfectly sufficient for general readers interested in the subject. It's a fascinating story, well-researched and written by Steve Matteo and a highly enjoyable read.
Overall the pace of the book is good and it details most of the key aspects of the Get Back/Let It Be project. Unlike many works on the Beatles it doesn't get bogged down in pages of authorial over-analysis or the type of supposition that can often creep in. It sticks pretty much to the facts as they are known, although there's also a good balance of quotes taken from the author's own interviews or quotes from the time. These add some welcome depth.
The most important conclusion reached? That the Get Back/Let It Be sessions were probably not as bad as the Beatles' or their team remembered them. Indeed, one could say there was an awful lot achieved on those cloudy, cold days in early 69. Indeed, much of what would surface on Abby Road or the first post-Beatles solo albums was given an early outing here. Still, the process probably wasn't as fun as earlier Beatles sessions, and none of the Fab Four really wanted to get into work at 10 am for the Twickenham studio work (a start time that was soon broken). But the real hassles were mainly outside the studio and related to business, which Matteo lists as the primary reason for their self-destruction.
The author is also deft at assessing the morass of bootleg material that stemmed from this period, while also noting release of Let It Be...Naked, partly an effort by Paul to re-balance the project and strip much of Phil Spector's production from the final 1970 release. But as the author notes, it was something of a missed opportunity: the jam sessions, the banter and the oldies that the Beatles were keen to run through were left in on the shelves, which gives the album something of a sterile feel compared with the 1970 release. I'd suggest fans get both versions to compare..
There are two weaknesses to the book. Firstly, there's not much analysis of Billy Preston's contribution, which was extremely important (earning him something of a 5th Beatle title for 1969). Secondly, I would have liked much more detail on Spector's contribution and certainly the impact this would have - particularly with reference to his later collaboration with Lennon and Harrison.
Finally, it might be nice for this book to be updated as it's been just over ten years since its release. As Matteo notes, the Let It Be album has a weird shelf life where it keeps on being re-assessed by fans and musicians alike. It might be good to know where it stands among the wider public just over 10 years since this book was released and 45 years (time flies!) after the album came out almost in tandem with the group's split.
If you like 'let it be', the album that was slated by many critics at the time of it's release, then this is a worthwhile purchase. I have always been fond of this album, warts and all, and this little book gives terrific insight to the planning and making of a collection of songs that should have culminated in their last proper concert. It corrects some of the accepted facts about the time in the studio, and upholds other theories and opinions of what was clearly a moment in time when the enthusiasm that McCartney wanted to generate was seeming to disappear after a decade spent in each others pockets. I would definitely recommend this.
At first reading this book seems quite thorough in it's content,with lots of little hidden gems regarding equipment,amplification etc.There were,unfortunately some little errors,like,for instance,Apple being situated at 3 Savile Road,Magic Alex's surname given as Madras,rather than Mardas,John and Yoko being married on the mystical ISLAND of Gibraltar,and Ringo using a multicolored kit at the Rooftop concert(it was Maple coloured).I probably missed some more,but these aside,a damn good read.Finished it in 1 day.
This book (part of the 33 1/3 series of monographs about classic albums) is a finely constucted critique of the last release, during their lifetime, by the world's greatest group. 'Let It Be', while not the greatest of the Beatles albums (that's 'Revolver and anyone who thinks otherwise is frankly wrong!) but it is culturally very significant and documents, almost accidentally via it's back to basics approach, the fragmentation of the band. This book wonderfully lets you join that ride.