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Did The Beatles release ‘Let It Be’ at the wrong time?

The Beatles are one of the few acts that could be described as having a flawless discography. Even though an album like Yellow Submarine did not necessarily have as much heart put into it as something like Sgt Pepper, there was a certain degree of quality that no group could match since their break up in early 1970. If anyone were to make an argument that the group was flawed, Let It Be does make a pretty compelling case.

When looking at the album, it actually isn’t supposed to exist. The entire premise that the Fab Four had in mind was to scrap these sessions and make way for something more ambitious when they put Abbey Road together. So when the label needed another album to send everything off on, it felt like a few demos they had dusted off the shelf from the past few months.

If anything, a lot of the production sounds that way as well. Outside of Phil Spector’s massive wall of production on tracks like ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and ‘Across the Universe’, a lot of the tracks feel like you’re a fly on the wall watching the group work, either through hearing them dip out of different jams on ‘Dig It’ or making a simple back-to-basics song like ‘Two of Us’.

But considering Abbey Road as the group’s final statement, does Let It Be really warrant being released directly afterwards? I mean, they had already made their definitive statement and had moved on to their own solo acts, so this just feels like airing the dirty laundry that no one wanted to revisit at all.

At the same time, there are still some great moments that could be considered the greatest of their later career. Paul McCartney’s ballads like ‘The Long and Winding Road’ are still immaculate, and the title track is still one of the greatest hymns for a better world that any rock artist has ever come out with.

The only problem has more to do with the layout than the actual production. A lot of tracks that could have been great either got to be standalone singles or relegated to B-sides, meaning that a lot of fans missed hearing tracks like ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and even a handful of George Harrison solo tracks like ‘All Things Must Pass’ in a Beatles context. It’s one thing to keep songwriting limited to different people, but what kind of argument are you trying to make by saying a track like ‘For You Blue’ deserved to be on the album more than ‘All Things Must Pass’?

In fact, the whole reason why Let It Be looks strange these days is because of how it stands next to Let It Be…Naked. Released by McCartney after being dissatisfied with the initial mixes of the album, the 2000s reimagining is exactly the kind of album that fans would have been hyped about in the 1970s, featuring songs that were a lot more fleshed out and thematically appropriate for their rootsy approach.

So, in a perfect world, Let It Be…Naked should have been when fans first heard those songs, right? Well, not exactly. Because despite the many technical flaws on the original version of Let It Be, that’s exactly what gives every song character when they come on. For a group that was always used to sounding perfect whenever they put something down on record, hearing them being themselves and having a few rough edges is part of the album’s charm.

Nowhere is that better shown in a piece like ‘One After 909’. While this corny bit of rock and roll could have been easily forgotten as one of the few tunes that Lennon and McCartney deemed not good enough in their early days, hearing them dust it off just feels like them actually rediscovering what it meant to be fans of rock music when the genre first started.

So, while The Beatles’ flawless history does have a bit of an asterisk next to it with Let It Be, having it released almost like an afterthought still deserves a place in their history. It was definitely just a way to get a whiff of Beatlemania, and no one in the group was ever completely satisfied with it, but what fans are seeing here isn’t The Beatles that they saw in press junkets all the time. This was them being infinitely human, and few public figures since have been able to take themselves off that pedestal that gracefully.

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