Enter Phil Spector

The Get Back project languished some more until 23 March 1970, when Phil Spector began work on what would become Let It Be. Spector listened only to the songs already selected by Johns, to avoid having to work through the many hours of session tapes from Apple and EMI studios.

When Spector came around, it was like, ‘Well, all right, if you want to work with us, go and do your audition, man.’ And he worked like a pig on it. He’d always wanted to work with The Beatles and he was given the shittiest load of badly recorded shit – and with a lousy feeling to it – ever. And he made something out of it. It wasn’t fantastic, but I heard it, I didn’t puke. I was so relieved after six months of this black cloud hanging over, this was going to go out. I thought it would be good to go out, the shitty version, because it would break The Beatles, it would break the myth. That’s us with no trousers on and no glossy paint over the cover and no sort of hype. ‘This is what we’re like with our trousers off. So would you please end the game now?’ But that didn’t happen, and we ended up doing Abbey Road quickly and putting out something to preserve the myth.
John Lennon, 1970
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

Spector’s involvement in Let It Be became one of the most contentious episodes of The Beatles’ story. He was invited to work on the project by John Lennon and George Harrison, without the knowledge of Paul McCartney or George Martin.

I cannot bring myself to listen to the Phil Spector version of the album – I heard a few bars of it once, and was totally disgusted, and I think it’s an absolute load of garbage. Obviously I’m biased, because they didn’t use my version, which upset me, but I wouldn’t have minded so much if things hadn’t happened in the way they did. First of all, after The Beatles had broken up, John Lennon, as an individual, took the tapes and gave them to Phil Spector, without the others even being aware of it, which was extraordinary. I think Spector did the most atrocious job, just utter puke.
Glyn Johns
The Record Producers

Spector’s editing, mixing and recording for the album lasted until 2 April 1970. The most controversial of these sessions took place on 1 April, when orchestral and choral parts were added to ‘Across The Universe’ and ‘The Long And Winding Road’, and an orchestra to ‘I Me Mine’. The parts were arranged by Richard Hewson, who had worked on Mary Hopkin’s ‘Those Were The Days’, and later orchestrated Paul McCartney’s Thrillington album.

Other changes made by Spector included editing out the “All I want is…” vocals which opened and closed ‘Dig A Pony’, and extending ‘I Me Mine’ from 1’34” to 2’25” by repeating a section.

Spector also left out ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, despite its inclusion in the Let It Be film. An edit of the two rooftop performances of the song was eventually released on 2003’s Let It Be… Naked, in place of ‘Dig It’ and ‘Maggie Mae’.

I like what Phil did, actually. He put the music somewhere else and he was king of the ‘wall of sound’. There’s no point bringing him in if you’re not going to like the way he does it – because that’s what he does. His credentials are solid.

Paul McCartney’s reaction

In April 1970, when Paul McCartney effectively announced The Beatles’ split by issuing a self-interview in a press release, he was still referring to the Let It Be album as Get Back.

Q: The album was not known about until it was nearly completed. Was this deliberate?
A: Yes, because normally an album is old before it even comes out. (aside) Witness GET BACK.

Q: Were any of the songs on the album originally written with the Beatles in mind?
A: The older ones were. JUNK was intended for ABBEY ROAD, but something happened. TEDDY BOY was for GET BACK, but something happened.

In particular, McCartney took exception to Phil Spector’s additions to ‘The Long And Winding Road’, which turned a simple piano ballad into a soaring orchestral epic.

The album was finished a year ago, but a few months ago American record producer Phil Spector was called in by John Lennon to tidy up some of the tracks. But a few weeks ago, I was sent a re-mixed version of my song ‘The Long And Winding Road’, with harps, horns, an orchestra and women’s choir added. No one had asked me what I thought. I couldn’t believe it. I would never have female voices on a Beatles record. The record came with a note from Allen Klein saying he thought the changes were necessary. I don’t blame Phil Spector for doing it but it just goes to show that it’s no good me sitting here thinking I’m in control because obviously I’m not. Anyway I’ve sent Klein a letter asking for some of the things to be altered, but I haven’t received an answer yet.
Paul McCartney, April 1970
Evening Standard

McCartney’s requests were ignored by Klein, and Spector’s version of Let It Be was released in May 1970. George Martin shared McCartney’s dismay at the results.

It was always understood that the album would be like nothing the Beatles had done before. It would be honest, no overdubbing, no editing, truly live… almost amateurish. When John brought in Phil Spector he contradicted everything he had said before. When I heard the final sounds I was shaken. They were so uncharacteristic of the clean sounds the Beatles had always used. At the time Spector was John’s buddy, mate and pal… I was astonished because I knew Paul would never have agreed to it. In fact I contacted him and he said nobody was more surprised than he was.
George Martin
Rolling Stone

The back cover of Let It Be gave a note of thanks to George Martin, although it didn’t list him as a producer. Martin later drily noted that the credits should have read: “Produced by George Martin, overproduced by Phil Spector.”

For his part, Spector remained unrepentant in the face of the criticism:

Paul had no problem picking up the Academy Award for the Let It Be movie soundtrack, nor did he have any problem in using my arrangement of the string and horn and choir parts when he performed it during 25 years of touring on his own. If Paul wants to get into a pissing contest about it, he’s got me mixed up with someone who gives a shit.
Phil Spector

In November 2003 a new version of the recordings was issued as Let It Be… Naked. Remixed and remastered under McCartney’s direction, it was intended to sound closer to the original vision for the project.

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