Let It Be … Naked is an easy purchase to justify, as it’s something that i’ve wanted to hear for almost my entire life: Let It Be without Phil Spector.
For those of you not of the Beatlemaniac persuasion, the short of the story is that The Beatles completed the studio work used on Let It Be as a potential soundtrack to a groundbreaking live performance, but then shelved both the idea and the recordings. After Abbey Road was released, Spector was brought in to spruce up the comparatively unpolished studio takes for public consumption.
Naked ditches the Phil Spector polish of orchestras and choirs, as well as the multiple spoken segments and the brief “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It,” while adding a warmly analog digital conversion and a classic “Don’t Let Me Down” (currently found on Past Masters 2).
Spector-rectification aside, the restoration of the basic tracks is subtle but remarkable; rooftop concert vocals are all crisper (notably on “Dig A Pony”), guitar tones sound truer across the board, and Paul’s piano is more balanced on “Let It Be” and “Winding Road.”
The latter two songs also benefit the most from their remixing; “Road” is less periodic and more poignant without it’s loping string section, and with the added bonus of hearing more of the excellent piano work from Paul. “Let It Be,” on which the excess was less obtrusive, holds together fine with the quartet of Beatles ahhing in harmony without a backing choir. “For You Blue” sounds worlds different with the benefit of precise stereo mixing and digital EQ. Also noticeably different is “Across The Universe,” never slated for Let It Be in the first place before Spector stepped in, sped up to its original key and stripped of the airy scales and runs that had cluttered it.
Other revisions are less revelatory, though equally welcome. Aside from their vocals, “I Me Mine” and “One After 909” have a perceptible added crispness, with the former losing much of its organ part — a faithful but jarring choice. “I’ve Got A Feeling” loses a touch of analog fuzziness but otherwise sounds the same.
The changes are questionable on only two tracks. “Get Back” is mastered phenomenally, but it still ends without the refrain present on the Past Masters version — a less objectionable choice on Naked with the song rightfully tracked in the first slot. Original opener “Two Of Us” sounds like it’s gained a slight boost to Paul’s harmony, though it could just be the effect of a clearer mix. Though this choice is consistent with Paul’s lead on the bridge section, the song is not as charmingly self-referential with a reduced Lennon vocal.
Let It Be … Naked is remastering done right — it is a boon to the casual fan, and absolutely essential to the serious collector. It is of a higher caliber than the at-times slapdash Anthology discs, and its omissions and inclusion are purposeful rather than arbitrary or sales-drive. Most importantly, though, Naked presents a picture of what The Beatles actually sounded like at the end of their career, with production that favors the clarity of their performance rather than any commercial or personal gain. Other Beatles discs may be completely retracked or remastered in the future, but Let It Be is surely the last truly essential Beatles release.