By John Mendelsohn
June 11, 1970
To those who found their work since the white album as emotionally vapid as it was technically breathtaking, the news that the Beatles were about to bestow on us an album full of gems they’d never gotten around to polishing beyond recognition was most encouraging. Who among us, after all, wouldn’t have preferred a good old slipshod “Save The Last Dance For Me” to the self-conscious and lifeless “Oh! Darlin'” they’d been dealing in?
Well, it was too good to be true — somebody apparently just couldn’t Let It Be, with the result that they put the load on their new friend P. Spector, who in turn whipped out his orchestra and choir and proceeded to turn several of the rough gems on the best Beatle album in ages into costume jewelry.
Granted that he would have preferred to have been in on the project from its inception rather than having it all handed to him eight months after its announced release date (in which case we would never have been led to expect spontaneity and his reputation would still be intact), one can’t help but wonder why he involved himself at all, and wonder also, how he came to the conclusion that lavish decoration of several of the tracks would enhance the straightforwardness of the album.
To Phil Spector, stinging slaps on both wrists.
He’s rendered “The Long and Winding Road,” for instance, virtually unlistenable with hideously cloying strings and a ridiculous choir that serve only to accentuate the listlessness of Paul’s vocal and the song’s potential for further mutilation at the hands of the countless schlock-mongers who will undoubtedly trip all over one another in their haste to cover it. A slightly lesser chapter in the ongoing story of McCartney as facile romanticist, it might have eventually begun to grow on one as unassumingly charming, had not Spector felt compelled to transform an apparently early take into an extravaganza of oppressive mush. Sure, he was just trying to help it along, but Spectorized it evokes nothing so much as deweyeyed little Mark Lester warbling his waif’s heart out amidst the assembled Oliver orchestra and choir.
“I Me Mine,” the waltz sections of which reminds one very definitely of something from one of The Al Jolson Story’s more maudlin moments, almost benefits from such treatment — it would have been fully as hilarious as “Good Night,” after all, had Spector obscured its raunchy guitar with the gooey strings he’s so generously lavished on the rest of it. As he’s left it, though, it, like “Winding Road,” is funny enough to find cloying but not funny enough to enjoy laughing at.
Elsewhere, Spector compounds his mush fixation with an inability to choose the right take (it is said that nothing on the “official album” comes from the actual film sessions, mind you). Inexplicably dissatisfied with the single version of “Let It Be,” for instance, he hunted up a take in which some jagged guitar and absurdly inappropriate percussion almost capsize the whole affair, decided that it might be real Class to orchestrally embellish the vocal, and thus dubbed in — yes! — brass. Here the effect isn’t even humorous — Spector was apparently too intent on remembering how the horns went on “Hey Jude” to listen closely enough to this one to realize that they’re about as appropriate here as piccoloes would have been on “Helter Skeltre.”
Happily though, he didn’t impose himself too offensively on anything else, and much of what remains is splendid indeed:
Like John’s “All Across The Universe,” which, like “Julia,” is dreamy, childlike, and dramatic all at once and contains both an unusually inventive melody and tender devotional vocal.
Like the two rough-honed rockers, the crudely revival-ish “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “One After 909,” both of which are as much fun to listen to as they apparently were to make. “C’mon, baby, don’t be cold as ice” may be at once the most ridiculous and magnificent line Lennon-McCartney ever wrote.
Like John’s crossword-puzzlish “Dig a Pony,” which features an urgent old rocker’s vocal and, being very much in the same vein as such earlier Lennonisms as “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” nearly makes up for the absence of “Don’t Let Me Down” and “The Last Dance.” And especially like everyone’s two favorites, “Two of Us.” which is at once infectiously rhythmic and irresistibly lilting in the grand tradition of “I’ll Follow the Sun,” and the magnificent chunky, thumping, and subtly skiffly “Get Back,” which here lacks an ending but still contains delightful comping by John and Billy Preston.
All of these are, of course, available on the bootleg versions of the album, a further advantage of which is their pure unSpectoredness and the presence of various goodies that didn’t quite make it to the official release.
Musically, boys, you passed the audition. In terms of having the judgment to avoid either over-producing yourselves or casting the fate of your get-back statement to the most notorious of all over-producers, you didn’t. Which somehow doesn’t seem to matter much any more anyway.