For this blog post, I will be reviewing the original version The Beatles’ 12th studio album “Let It Be” titled “Let It Be… Naked” (2003). Paul McCartney compiled of the original recordings tracked live at Twickenham Film Studios and at Apple HQ Studios for this album (having disliked Phil Spector’s production on the original album). I will be analysing the recording and mixing techniques and will be using “The Long and Winding Road” as an example from the album.
“Let It Be” was the result of a bunch of recordings that were supposed to be rehearsals for upcoming live performances and television specials. The album (originally titled “Get Back” at the time) was initially recorded by the band’s manager Allan Klein at Twickenham. The audio was recorded on Nagra reel-to-reel 1/4″ mono tape machines given that it had to sound appropriate for a film or tv programme.
In the basement of Apple Studios, the songs were recorded on a 3M 8-track recorder which was hooked up to a 72-channel mixing console. For guitar recording, John Lennon used his Epiphone Casino, George Harrison played his 1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard and Paul McCartney used the 1963 Hofner 500/1. Vocals were recorded using the Neumann KM48i condenser microphone. Ringo used a Ludwig drum kit and the drums were recorded in stereo to give them a more modern feel.
For the recording of “The Long and Winding Road”, McCartney got Billy Preston to play the Rhodes piano as George Harrison had temporarily quit the band – he also significantly contributed to the other songs on the album. The song was recorded during their live performance at Apple Studios. As the songs were recorded live, no baffles or any material were used to remove spill.
During the rooftop performances, the M48i was also used due to it being unobtrusive. Another engineer, Alan Parsons placed pantyhose over the microphone clippings to prevent wind noise. Filters and EQs were used to remove plosives as well as further wind noise. As the producer, George Martin oversaw all recordings.
Glyn Johns was the original mixing engineer and the band asked him to take the tapes of the resulting live recordings and compile them into an album. Johns mixed the tracks at Olympic Sound Studios and made multiple stereo mixes as it was supposed to be mixed as a stereo album. His recordings ended up being the first bootlegs of the Apple sessions. However, the band rejected his mixing and Lennon hired Phil Spector to mix and overdub the recordings resulting in the original “Let It Be”. Nevertheless in 2002, Paul McCartney got Abbey Road engineer Allan Rouse as well as staff engineers Paul Hicks and Guy Massey, to essentially capture his original vision. The instruction was to remove all of Spector’s overdubbing and effects to ensure a clear reflection of what The Beatles could play live.
The recordings were transferred into Pro Tools and the takes were analysed by the engineers to see which ones truly reflected a live performance. If an instrument did not sound right e.g. a pitch bend on a guitar, the engineers would replace it with a better sounding one. Ultimately, Paul McCartney was very happy that the vision of a true Beatles live studio album was achieved.
Listening to the naked version of “The Long and Winding Road”, the vocals are in the front and centre while the piano has been stereo panned slightly. The drums are also centred except for the hi-hats. As a result, the song does give the impression that it has been performed live. While the mix may not be as clear and crisp as a Phil Spector studio recording, it certainly captures the emotion and soul of the performance, exactly what McCartney had intended.
33 1/3 Let It Be – Steve Matteo