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Recording: Across The Universe, The Long And Winding Road, I Me Mine

Studio One, Studio Three control room, EMI Studios, Abbey Road
Producer: Phil Spector
Engineer: Peter Bown

Of all Phil Spector’s decisions for The Beatles’ Let It Be, none would become as contentious as this, the orchestral and choral overdubs to ‘Across The Universe’, ‘The Long And Winding Road’ and ‘I Me Mine’.

This day’s recording was significant for one other reason: it was the final recording session to feature a member of The Beatles; at least, until the Anthology recordings of the 1990s. Ringo Starr was the only Beatle to participate on this day, playing drums on each of the three songs alongside the orchestra.

The musical scores for ‘The Long And Winding Road’ were arranged and conducted by Richard Hewson, while ‘Across The Universe’ was done by Brian Rogers. John Barham scored the vocals for ‘The Long And Winding Road’ and ‘Across The Universe’.

In addition to Ringo Starr, there were 18 violins, four violas, four cellos, one harp, three trumpets, three trombones, two guitarists and 14 singers. In all there were 50 musicians in Abbey Road’s studio one, which cost EMI a sum total of £1,126 and five shillings.

The first task of the day was to create reduction mixes of each song. The four-track tape of ‘Across The Universe’ was copied onto three tracks of a new eight-track tape, with two sets of backing vocals – by The Beatles and two fans – omitted.

Violins, cellos, acoustic guitars and a harp were then added to tracks four and six; more violins were recorded onto track five; trumpets, trombones and Starr’s drums onto tracks six and eight; and the choir on tracks seven and eight. Some of the overdubs involved replacing ones recorded earlier in the session.

‘The Long And Winding Road’ originally had Paul McCartney’s lead vocals and piano on separate tracks, John Lennon’s bass guitar, George Harrison’s guitar, Billy Preston’s electric piano, two tracks for Starr’s drums, and a spare track for backing vocals.

Phil Spector reduced these seven tracks to five by combining one of the drum tracks with Lennon’s bass guitar, and Harrison’s and Preston’s instruments on another. Although it has been reported that he erased part of McCartney’s vocals, this did not happen, although he did omit a half-spoken section from the final mix.

Ringo Starr with Phil Spector and Pete Bennett, 1 April 1970

Ringo Starr with Phil Spector and Pete Bennett, 1 April 1970

Spector overdubbed strings onto track six, brass and drums onto seven, and the choir on track eight. The finished version was an edit of two mixes, which were created on the following day.

He wanted to hear it, while it was being recorded, exactly the way it would sound when finished: with all the tape echo, plate echo, chamber echo, all the effects. This was horrendously difficult in studio one which is, technically, quite primitive. Spector was on the point of throwing a bit wobbly – ‘I wanna hear this!’, ‘I must have that!’ – when Ringo took him quietly aside and said, ‘Look, they can’t do that, they’re doing the best they can. Just cool it.’ Ringo didn’t need to do that but I think he could see that Spector was getting towards the end of his tether and was giving everybody a hard time. He wanted everyone to know who he was, he liked to assert himself.
Brian Gibson, engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

Although the session musicians had been booked in to record just two musical parts, Spector had other ideas.

Out of the blue he distributed these extra parts, without intimating that there would be any extra payment. I warned Phil that he’d never get away with it, and of course the orchestra got up and walked out. I worked with these musicians often and knew them well, so I went into the control room, put a wedge under the door and tried to keep out of it. I got home very very late, well after midnight, and took the phone off the hook because I knew Spector would try and call. The moment I put it back Spector was on the line, asking me to return to the studio and continue, which I did. The musicians got their extra payment. This session was on the first of April 1970 – but it was one April Fool’s joke which did not come off.
Peter Bown, engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

The final day’s work was for ‘I Me Mine’. Spector freed up space on the tape by combining tracks one and six, which had contained electric piano and organ; and tracks two and four, on which had been recorded lead guitar and vocals, and acoustic rhythm guitar.

The reduction mix freed up space on tracks four and six. Brass and drums were overdubbed onto track four, and strings were added onto track six.

The precise end time of the session isn’t known, but it was in the small hours of 2 April. Later that day the final stereo mixes and edits were made for the songs, after which Let It Be was complete.

Last updated: 24 March 2023
Paul McCartney reacts angrily to a letter from John Lennon and George Harrison, delivered by Ringo Starr
Mixing, editing: The Long And Winding Road, I Me Mine, Across The Universe
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