When George Harrison returned from visiting Bob Dylan and The Band, who were happily holed up in Upstate New York and busy inventing Americana by the end of 1968, he described the situation to which he was returning as “the winter of discontent that was The Beatles”. That’s pretty harsh. But things really were that bad, with relations between the principals having deteriorated over the course of the year. Nineteen-sixty-nine didn’t promise to be very much more bearable for The Beatles. And it wasn’t!
No one could say they weren’t busy, though. They’d made a film and had a lousy time of it. They’d recorded hours and hours of material for a new record but no one wanted to do the necessary with the tapes in order to turn it into an album. Internally, the whole Beatles thing was a giant pain in everyone’s ass by early 1969. This isn’t even counting the money-hemorrhaging business pursuits of their company Apple Corps, or the fact that discussions around future management of the band and its catalogue were becoming more and more heated and unproductive.
In the middle of all this, they really were trying to get back to where they once belonged. They wanted to kick all the psychic crap they’d accumulated just from being Beatles to the curb and make a stark, honest, and liberating rock n’ roll record without any studio trickery just like they’d done in their early career. The result is the only Beatles album I don’t love; Let It Be.
Don’t get me wrong! There are songs on this album I certainly do love. But it doesn’t really sound like a Beatles album that fits with the others. This is in very large part thanks to producer Phil Spector who has a decidedly different approach to production compared to George Martin. Released after 1969’s fully-realized Abbey Road, Let It Be was more like a cobbled-together coda, a post-script for a band who had ceased to be when the record came out in May 1970. By that time, the band had crumbled under the weight of various forces which had been present for years both internally and externally. Those forces were certainly in place while the band was recording material for this record over intermittent periods from early 1968 to the spring of 1970. The Beatles were only just limping along as a group, having lost the vital connections between each other due to disagreements over management, related money issues, unresolved personal conflicts, and individual lives that were taking them out of their roles as they’d known them as Beatles.
Maybe that’s another reason I don’t love Let It Be as an album. Underneath some truly great individual songs, that sense of estrangement and a distinct whiff of inevitability seems to hover over the proceedings like the atmosphere in a home where Mum and Dad have stopped talking to each other. If Abbey Road was the Arthurian journey to Avalon, Let It Be is the one to divorce court.
So, what’s in store for this, our last ever episode of A Year With The Beatles? Bickering and railing along with my friend Graeme and me on this final episode of our limited podcast is our beloved Shannon Dohar who likens The Beatles’ story in the end as a Bildungsroman; a classic coming of age tale to which so many generations can relate, perhaps explaining why the story of The Beatles endures as much as their music does. Graeme and myself argue over Spector and his production on “The Long And Winding Road” in particular. I threaten to quit the band. And we try to tie everything up in the end.
You can see how well we do with that by listening to the episode right here.
It is a sad and happy thing when something special ends; true of The Beatles, and true of our humble podcast. So thank you, Graeme for the idea and for asking me to join you. Thanks to Shannon, and to all of the other super-awesome guests who joined in over the course of the year and who helped to make it one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been involved with. And of course, thank you readers and listeners for listening, reading, and downloading.
To you, I say a simple: