Review of “Let It Down” (The Beatles)
The best way to approach ‘Let It Down’ is to imagine the Beatles walking into a small tavern and taking the stage, and then jamming for a couple of hours. Composed of 50 songs — roughly a third Beatles classics we know, another third covers of songs by other popular artists, and several songs never heard before which are of surprisingly good quality — this is one of the best bootleg albums to surface with recordings from one of their most productive periods.
It’s a really good time to be a Beatles fan. More than a half-century after the group’s final implosion in 1970, we’re now about to experience a renaissance of Beatles recordings and rebirth of retrospectives — most notably acclaimed Oscar-winner Peter Jackson’s highly-anticipated redux of the epic Let It Be recording sessions from early 1969, just as things were disintegrating to a four-way divorce and ugly breaking point.
But the internal divisions and pretty bickering so evident in the film and later chronicled in the band’s post-breakup autopsy is nowhere to be heard in their music, which is magical. Many of the Beatles’ most energetic compositions come from this transformative discord. It was also a prolific period of songwriting and recording for each of the four Beatles, resulting in dozens of half-finished songs and hundreds of alternative recordings and outtakes. Many are way too raw for any commercial release and of interest only to the most hard-core Beatles fanatics. However, quite a few of these recordings have been compiled into bootlegs, of mixed artistic merit and quality.
One of the very best bootlegs from this robust period is Let It Down, which has recently surfaced in its entirety on YouTube.
The best way to approach Let It Down is to imagine the Beatles walking into a small tavern and taking the stage, and then jamming for a couple of hours. Composed of about a third Beatles classics we know, covers of songs by other artists, and several originals never heard before which are of surprisingly good quality. Some songs last no more than a minute, and that’s okay, okay too, The most interesting material consists of alternative arrangements of songs we know, which are slowed down or sped up. And the shocker is a large amount of blues-infused songs which were never crafted beyond the formative stages. Too bad, this might have made another amazing album.
As was the case for all the officially-sanctioned Beatles’ albums, vocals are mostly John Lennon and Paul McCartney, though George Harrison and Ringo Starr also appear on this bootleg.
Pay particular attention to these tracks, which I think are standouts:
“Watching Rainbows” — This song just needed a little more refinement. It was the basis of one of the first and most popular bootlegs from the early 1980s (which I purchased). I presume we’re hearing Billy Preston on the electric piano, but that could also be McCartney. Very catchy track.
“Good Rockin’ Tonight (Drugs, Divorce and a Slipping Image)” — Rollicking jam session with Lennon on lead vocals, doing a cross between Elvis and Dylan. Fun to listen to.
“Love Me Do” — Once a song was on vinyl and out to market, the Beatles rarely went back and played their old standards (“One After 909,” one of the first songs written jointly by Lennon-McCartney is an exception that appeared on the Let It Be album). Mostly, they were bored with the 1963-1966 songs from touring tirelessly and playing them so many times. So, no one within the group was fond of regurgitating history, even in rehearsals. Here’s a very notable surprise as the Beatles take one of their very first hits and make it more bluesy with the electric piano.
“Don’t Let Me Down” — Very rough but interesting alternative take on Lennon’s unforgettable classic. Guitar riffs are very catchy.
“All Things Must Pass” — This would become the title song of George Harrison’s three-disc masterpiece released in 1971, but the recording’s origin dates back two years earlier. One can sense Harrison wasn’t getting equal respect nor attention from his bandmates or much studio time at this point, so once uncaged he produced a flurry of original output once he went solo. It’s stunning that this song never made it onto a Beatles album.
“I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” — This blues-heavy number made it onto the Abbey Road album, but the earlier raw funkier version appears here, likely recorded about 7 months earlier. It’s terrific. Shocked I’d never heard this alt. recording before — it’s a must-listen. Billy Preston is on backing vocals… it’s worth a listen for this outtake alone. One of the album’s very best tracks.
Click on to any of the timeline marks to go straight to the song:
01 Get Back (John and Paul) 0:00 02 I’ve Got A Feeling (Heavy Blues) 3:15 03 All I Want Is You 4:02 04 Lowdown Blues Machine 5:29 05 Oh Julie, Julia 7:28 06 Watching Rainbows 9:46 07 For You Blue (Electric) 14:16 08 A Case Of The Blues 16:19 09 Too Bad About Sorrows 16:57 10 There You Are Eddie 17:57 11 Her Majesty 20:24 12 Madman 22:40 13 Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (Fast) 27:32 14 Harry Pinsker 28:14 15 On A Sunny Island 29:41 16 Commonwealth-Enoch Powell 33:15 17 Get Off 37:16 18 Good Rockin’ Tonight (Drugs, Divorce and a Slipping Image) 43:08 19 Across The Universe (Fast) 46:04 20 Across The Universe (Rehearsal) 47:01 21 When I’m Sixty-Four 48:29 22 I’m So Tired (Paul Vocals) 49:46 23 Lady Madonna 52:14 24 Love Me Do 56:03 25 Two Of Us (Bass Heavy) 58:29 26 Get Back-Water Water 1:01:38 27 Sun King-Don’t Let Me Down 1:03:59 28 Mean Mr. Mustard-Madman 1:07:45 29 Old Brown Shoe 1:11:51 30 Shakin In The Sixties 1:14:54 31 Penina 1:15:33 32 Through A London Window 1:16:39 33 Suicide 1:17:44 34 Greasepaint On Your Face 1:18:31 35 Windows, Windows 1:20:08 36 Hot As Sun 1:21:05 37 All Things Must Pass (Rehearsal) 1:22:33 38 I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (with Billy Preston) 1:26:58 39 Oh! Darling (Echo Delay) 1:32:40 40 Golden Slumbers-Carry That Weight 1:36:13 41 The Back Seat Of My Car 1:40:16 42 Something (Rehearsal) 1:44:27 43 I Shall Be Released 1:47:10 44 Song Of Love 1:48:56 45 Improvisation (Feeling Deep Inside) 1:51:29 46 Let It Down (George Only) 1:52:24 47 Let It Down (Band Version) 1:54:09 48 The Palace Of The King Of The Birds (Short Version) 1:55:35 49 Isn’t It A Pity 1:56:06 50 (Those Soundproof Walls) 1:58:39
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