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Let it Be – The Documentary

There are two things you need to know about the Beatles: (1) they didn't give a hoot about what people thought of them, and (2) all that mattered to them was their music.

This is clearly evident in the newly released footage of their only recording session to be filmed. Be warned, at six hours, the film is long, and not all of it is terribly interesting. What it does exceedingly well is capture the Beatles in the act of creating.

Background: at the time–early 1969–the Beatles were at a creative peak, and planned on recording a new album that would be filmed and later released as a documentary.

What is fascinating to me is how effortlessly Paul McCartney came up with what would become some of the world's most beautiful melodies; as with Mozart, the music just seemed to flow out of him. The other fascinating thing the film captures is that John Lennon was a world-class cut-up. At one point, George Harrison becomes so frustrated that he announces he's quitting the band "We'll get Clapton," Lennon quips cheekily. The following morning Lennon had a change of heart, and encouraged the other Beatles to join him at Harrison's house to apologize, and ask him to return to the studio.

Why did Harrison walk out? Mostly because he was irritated with McCartney, who was telling him how to play his guitar, but also partly because he was tired of the constant interruptions. Throughout, the one happy camper was Ringo Star, who smiled most of the time, and never missed a beat when called upon to perform on his drums.

After about a week of being away, Harrison did return, with his friend Billy Preston, in tow. Preston, whom the Beatles originally met while performing in Hamburg, is a revelation. Without a lick of practice or knowing any of the new songs, he sat in with the band on keyboards and immediately improved their sound. This is not just my opinion, but the Beatles' as well. Lennon actually talked of making Preston a Beatle.

About McCartney, while guilty of joining Lennon in his merry mischief-making, he was clearly consumed with achieving artistic perfection, particularly with his own songs, to the point where he did indeed tell both Harrison and Ringo how to play their instruments (note: this was in keeping with his results-driven character). After their manager, Brian Epstein, had passed on, it was McCartney who pushed the others into making "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", "Magical Mystery Tour", "The White Album", this project, and "Abbey Road". During these sessions, McCartney is often heard lamenting that what the Beatles needed was a boss, someone to take control, and make them focus on the business of making records.

One of the more incredible aspects of the Beatles during the "Let it Be" sessions, was how much new material they had which, at this time, they didn't use. For example, they rehearsed "Octopus's Garden", "Mean Mr. Mustard", "She Came in through the Bathroom Window", "Golden Slumbers", "I Want You (She's so heavy)", and "Something", all of which would be recorded later, for their next and last album, "Abbey Road". Also rehearsed were McCartney's "Another Day", and "Junk", and Harrison's "All Things Must Pass", which can be heard on future solo albums, by McCartney, and Harrison, respectively.

What's curious is the many suits who stand around doing very little, while the bohemian Beatles (whose records pay everyone's salary) go about rehearsing and making a record. Among this idle group, are buttoned-down George Martin, the Beatles' long-time producer (who sat out these sessions, but would produce "Abbey Road), and Dick James, who became a millionaire as publisher of the Beatles' music. The actual producer of these sessions, was an incredibly patient recoding engineer, named Glyn Johns.

Another curious sight is the Beatles' wives and girlfriends, who drop in and out of the sessions. When the Beatles broke up in 1970, it was Lennon's girlfriend, artist Yoko Ono, who was blamed. Watching this documentary belies this fact, as the other Beatles clearly enjoy her company Among the other girlfriends is photographer Linda Eastman, whom McCartney would soon marry. She brought her five-year-old daughter, Heather, to one of the sessions, a happy, ebullient child who banged on Ringo's drums, clinked on Preston's keyboard, and very nearly steals the show.

There are two scenes that are absolutely precious, and the reason I recommend this documentary: The first shows McCartney in the act of composing "Get Back"; the second is of the band performing live on the rooftop of the Abbey Road studio, their last public performance, and a truly joyous occasion to behold.

Final note: for over 60 years the "Let It Be" sessions were said to have been the cause of the Beatles' breakup. This documentary clearly shows the Beatles enjoying each other's company. Whatever the reason for the spilt, these sessions were not it.

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