Friday, January 30, 2015

The Beatles - Get Back (upgrade)

The Beatles – Get Back
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)

January 2015 UPGRADE

Side A:
1.  One After 909
2.  Dig A Pony
3.  I’ve Got A Feeling
4.  I Me Mine
5.  Don’t Let Me Down
6.  Get Back

Side B:
7.  Dig It
8.  Let It Be
9.  Maggie Mae
10.  Two of Us
11.  For You Blue
12.  The Long and Winding Road
13.  Across The Universe

This is an upgrade to my own reconstruction of The Beatles’ doomed 1969 album Get Back, what eventually was cleaned up by Phil Spector as Let It Be.  Originally intend as a throwback to the band’s early days of live in-studio recording in order to boost their diminishing morale and comradery, The Beatles set out to rehearse and record an album’s worth of material without overdubs, concluding with an actual live performance and a television special documenting the process.  Unfortunately the end result, compiled twice by Glyn Jones, was simply too rough and sloppy to be release-worthy and was shelved.  Phil Spector was later appointed to make an album out of the tapes in 1970 and even though better performances were selected, Spector infamously added his own orchestration, going against the live “warts and all” concept of the Get Back album.  This reconstruction attempts to create a cohesive Get Back album that finds the balance between Glyn Johns underproduced Get Back and Phil Spector’s overproduced Let It Be, while offering the very best band performances of the sessions. 

Upgrades to this January 2015 edition are:
  • Tracklist revised so that Side A features the Rooftop concert, while Side B collects the remaining tracks.  Specifically, “I Me Mine” and “For You Blue” are swapped, being that the former is more “electric” and the later more “acoustic”. 
  • Ambiance and dialog from the rooftop concert is used as an intro and outro to “I Me Mine”, creating a faux live performance of the track to fit with the other rooftop songs on Side A. 
  • A more energetic live rooftop version of “Get Back” (an edit of takes 1 and 3) replaces the common studio version, keeping in line with the all-rooftop theme of Side A. 
  • Side B is re-edited to more-or-less sound as a continuous in-studio performance, with chatter linking each song. 
  • “Dig It”, “Across The Universe” and the between-song chatter are taken from an alternate source of Glyn Johns’ second master of Get Back—specifically from The Barrett Tapes, an upgrade from Dr. Ebbetts' remaster previously used. 
  • “Dig It” is edited down from 2:39 to 1:58, trimming the fat. 
  • “Rocker/Save The Last Dance For Me” is omitted because they were superfluous.   
  • Remade higher-res cover art as well as reverse cover of the theoretical LP sleeve

1968 was the beginning of the end for The Beatles.  Embarking on a trip to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote enough material for their own solo albums, not to mention George Harrison writing enough to nearly fill one.  Reconvening that May to begin recording their follow-up to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, something was clearly different: rather than The Beatles functioning as a group, each were more interested in their own musical pursuits, using the rest of the band members as merely session musicians to suit their own desires.  Paired with the new business responsibilities of running their own Apple record label, attitudes, resentment and conflict began to rise, creating a dismal work environment.  The result of the strenuous sessions was The White Album, who many have claimed to sound like individual Beatle solo albums all wrapped into one double-LP. 

Recognizing a possible end to the band, Paul came up with a novel idea: write, rehearse and record an album as they first started in 1962, live in the studio without overdubs.  Going “back to basics” and abandoning their now-commonplace methodology of extraneous overdubbing would theoretically allow The Beatles to once again operate as a cohesive unit.  An album would be compiled from these sessions displaying, as John Lennon once quipped, “The Beatles with their pants down” and the January 1969 rehearsals and recording sessions would be filmed for a television special.  As the first week progressed, it was pitched to conclude the sessions with an actual live performance, although the band could not agree on where or even if it should be done at all (with George the most adamant against it).  While a good idea in theory, the reality is that this project—eventually titled Get Back—was doomed from the start, as none of the band’s issues from the White Album sessions where solved and seemed to be exacerbated by the band’s new setting: the cold, uncomfortable Tickenham film studio, working regular 9-to-5 hours, with John’s new bedridden girlfriend Yoko Ono constantly in the studio with them. 

As these rehearsals progressed at Twickenham studios—with cameras rolling and capturing the drama as it unfolded—The Beatles became undone.  Paul offered an endless amount of new original compositions, but became demanding and nearly dictated the songs' arrangements to the rest of the band; Lennon seemed distant, completely uninterested and often communicating only through Yoko Ono, himself head-deep into a writer’s block and a heroin addiction; George was resentful over John and Paul’s disinterest in his own compositions, of which there were now plenty of high quality to choose from; Ringo simply went along for the miserable ride, played solemnly and remained stoic and reserved.  George eventually quit the band after an argument with John and refused to rejoin The Beatles until they had vacated Twickenham and nixed the notion for a televised concert.

With George temporarily subdued, The Beatles returned to the basement of their new Apple Studios with engineer Glyn Johns at the helm, intending to properly record the material rehearsed at Twickenham live without overdubs.  The serious contenders for the Get Back album included “Don’t Let Me Down”, “Get Back” “I’ve Got A Feeling”, “Two of Us”, “Dig A Pony”, “Teddy Boy”, “One After 909”, “All Things Must Pass”, “Dig It”, “Let It Be”, The Long and Winding Road”, “For You Blue”, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”, “I Me Mine” and “Across The Universe”.   Sessions were again fraught with tension, often interrupted for equally tense business meetings for Apple Records.  Whatever brief momentum the sessions had at Twickenham was lost as the Apple Studios tapes seemed lifeless, full of half-hearted takes and partial renditions of 50s rock standards that generally went nowhere.  Many of the aforementioned shortlist of 16 songs were just simply not tracked properly at all (regrettably full-band Beatles versions of “All Things Must Pass” and “Across The Universe” as they were rehearsed at Twickenham), although the band felt they captured release-worthy takes of both “Get Back" on the 27th and “Don’t Let Me Down” on the 28th.  As January ended and February obligations approached, it was decided to stage an impromptu live performance on the rooftop of their Apple headquarters and on the 30th, The Beatles performed for the last time ever as a live band, recording multiple takes of “Get Back”, “Don’t Let Me Down” “Dig A Pony”, “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “One After 909”.  The following day—the final Get Back recording session—was devoted to the definitive versions of “Let It Be”, “The Long and Winding Road” and “Two of Us”; it was simply hoped that useable takes of the remaining songs laid somewhere on tape from the previous week.  The next day, The Beatles went their separate ways, leaving Glyn Johns to plow through the miles of tape and somehow make an album out of the mess. 

Johns mixed “Get Back” and “Don’t Let Me Down” as a rush-release single in April and set out mixing the entire album in March.  His version of the Get Back album featured more than The Beatles with their pants down—their knickers were dropped as well!  Johns focused primarily on recordings culled from January 22nd, a sloppy day in Get Back recording history which included an “I’ve Got A Feeling” with a disastrous breakdown ending.  He also included: the scatterbrained “Teddy Boy” which was little more than a rehearsal; a nearly four-minute version if “Dig It”, an uninspired and aimless jam; and a short, useless jam called "Rocker" paired with a sloppy and rather embarrassing rendition of "Save The Last Dance For Me".  Even though a cover photograph was taken to mimic the cover pose of 1963’s Please Please Me, the album was continually delayed as The Beatles regrouped and began work on their final and more superior work, Abbey Road; meanwhile, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg prepared a rough cut of the footage filmed during the rehearsals and recording sessions for a film.  

Johns’ initial master of Get Back was eventually rejected by December 1969 as being too rough and he was tasked to clean it up a bit.  Not only was “Teddy Boy” swiftly dropped from the album, he was also asked to include two songs that were never actually properly recorded during the Get Back sessions—“Across The Universe” and “I Me Mine”.  Both made the cut into Lindsay-Hogg’s film as rehearsal footage from Twickenham and thus needed to be included in the film’s soundtrack album despite never being tracked at Apple Studios!  Luckily Johns pulled the original “unfinished” version of “Across The Universe” from the February 1968 “Lady Madonna”/”The Inner Light” single sessions for inclusion, and the remaining Threetles (as John was on holiday, most likely already done with the band anyways) regrouped in January 1970 to record “I Me Mine” properly.  Ultimately, this slightly-more concise Get Back would also be scrapped as well, it’s inherent weakness inescapable. 

With both John and George developing a working relationship with Phil Spector for their own eventual solo projects, in March the pair invited the legendary American producer to finish what Glyn Johns could not.  Spector abandoned the notion of “live only” performances and had free reign to alter the mastertapes as he saw fit.  Although Spector ultimately chose better takes of the material than Johns, specifically focusing on the Jan 30th rooftop performance and the Jan 31st basement session, he made a number of unforeseen alterations to the material that The Beatles had simply stopped caring about: extra vamps were edited out of “Dig A Pony”; “Dig It” was edited down from 4 minutes to under 1 minute; George’s acoustic guitar was mixed out of “For You Blue”, save for the intro; “Let It Be”, “I Me Mine”, “Across The Universe” and “The Long and Winding Road” were all treated with orchestral and choral overdubs, turning the songs into overproduced schlock.  Spector did attempt to retain the “pants down” ethos by including some studio dialog and chatter—most notably “Get Back”, simply to distinguish it from its otherwise identical studio version.  And perhaps the biggest crime in the eyes of Beatles fans, “Don’t Let Me Down” was excluded from the album entirely as Spector did not want to include a song that was already a b-side.  And with that Get Back was now Let It Be. 

While George seemed ambivalent to the project and John seemed to think Spector’s work was an improvement, Paul hated the result and felt Spector had ruined his material, notably “The Long and Winding Road”, and attempted to halt Let It Be’s release.  By then it was too late and the album was eventually released in May as the final album from The Beatles, months after the band had already broke up anyways.  But the legacy of the Beatles’ Album That Never Was has haunted fans for years—as well as McCartney himself!  In 2003, he commissioned a remix of the album entitled Let It Be Naked, which attempted to strip away Phil Spector’s overproduction (who was involved in a second-degree murder case at the time… coincidence?) and present the album as The Beatles originally conceived it.  Eleven of the key tracks all received modern centralized stereophonic remixes and the material benefited from the clever ProTools production available in the 21st Century.  Despite a bit overly compressed master, the mixes never sounded better and the producers chose superior versions of “The Long and Winding Road” and “Don’t Let Me Down”, previously unavailable.  Unfortunately, both “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It” were excluded and all tracks featured irrationally quick and obviously unnatural fade-outs to avoid any studio chatter, destroying album coherence.  Can this be fixed?  Is there a middle ground to be found between Get Back and Let It Be?  Well everything has got to be just like you wanted to… 

Side A of my Get Back reconstruction attempts to present the rooftop concert from January 30th 1969 in its entirety as a singular performance.  This will theoretically offer the listener the final taste of the Beatles as a live band, fulfilling the band’s intention of a live performance to conclude the Get Back sessions.  Beginning is the Let It Be Naked mix of “One After 909” with the opening live ambiance taken from Glyn Jones 2nd Get Back mix (sourced from The Barrett Tapes bootleg) and closing live ambiance taken from the 2009 remaster of Let It Be.  Next is “Dig A Pony” taken from Let It Be Naked, again with opening and closing ambiance taken from Let It Be.  Following is “I’ve Got a Feeling” taken from Let It Be Naked (which is actually an edit of both takes from the rooftop concert) with closing ambiance from Let It Be.  The fantastic Let It Be Naked “Don’t Let Me Down (which is, again, an edit of both rooftop takes) is surrounded by live ambiance from the rooftop show taken from The Last Licks Live bootleg.  The side concludes not with the common studio version of “Get Back”, but with a composite edit of the superior and more energetic takes 1 and 3 of the rooftop performance of “Get Back” (sourced from the A/B Road bootleg, who in turn sourced from Anthology 3 and a rip of the Anthology DVD).   

But if you do the math, you can see we are one song short of an LP side, since we only have five unique songs performed on the rooftop.  To fill the gap, I have chosen the one Harrisong sounding the most “live”—“I Me Mine” from Let It Be Naked, surrounded by live rooftop ambiance taken from The Last Licks Live bootleg and overlayed with the count-in introduction taken from Glyn Johns 2nd Get Back.  The effect is a faux live-performance of “I Me Mine”, theoretically performed on the rooftop!  How realistic is this?  How did they drop their electric guitars and pick up acoustics in 15 seconds?  Did Billy Preston really have a pipe organ installed on the roof of Apple Studios?  While you could be asking me this, you should really be asking yourself: is this something that any 60s band would have tried to pull on us listeners?  Yes of course!

Since Side A featured the entire rooftop concert (even “I Me Mine” was miraculously performed!), Side B represents the remaining tracks recorded live in-studio (thus making my Get Back reconstruction having electric and acoustic sides of the LP).  Much like The White Album, the songs are all crossfaded and feature linking studio chatter.  Beginning with “Dig It” from Glyn John’s 2nd Get Back edited to fade-in as Phil Spector had done, but allowed to continue to under 2 minutes, it goes directly into the superior Let It be Naked version of “Let It Be” (which corrects Paul’s stray piano chord in verse three).  Concluding, John thinks that was rather grand and wants to take one away with him (from Anthology 3), going right into someone who was taken away as well: “Maggie Mae” from the 2009 remaster of Let It Be.  It is edited into the intro of “Two of Us”, taken from Let It be Naked but with closing dialog from Johns’ 2nd Get Back.  That is in turn crossfaded into the proper mix of “For You Blue” and the serene “The Long and Winding Road”, both from Let It Be Naked, with dialog from Anthology 3 connecting the two.  The album concludes with the fuller Glyn Johns mix of “Across The Universe” which features Lizzie Bravo & Gayleen Pease’s creepy backing vocals otherwise mixed out of the Let It Be Naked version, something I felt was somehow needed to make the song just a bit less sparse.  And with this answer, we can finally let it be. 

Sources used:
A/B Road – Complete Get Back Sessions (CD bootleg, 2004 Purple Chick)
Anthology 3 (1996 Capitol CD)
Last Licks Live (CD bootleg, 2005 Dr. Ebbitts)
Let It Be (2009 Capitol CD remaster)
Let It Be… Naked (2003 Capitol CD)
The Barrett Tapes (CD bootleg, 2005 JBJ Records)

flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR, Audacity and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
* md5 files, track notes and artwork included