THE BEATLES, Let it Be: Special Edition (UMG/Apple Corps Limited). Countless words have been written about this album, the last official release from The Beatles (though not the last recorded, which was Abbey Road). Many of those words were written not so much about the band, but the influence of producer Phil Spector, who oversaw the mix of this album, including the addition of some of this famous “wall of sound” touches, much to the chagrin of many Beatlemaniacs.
Those fans were happy to hear Let it Be … Naked in 2003, which came closer to capturing the “live in the studio” aesthetic Paul McCartney had sought to capture when the album was originally released in 1970. in 2009, the album was re-released again with a fresh remaster, which gave the album even more presence. With the new Let it Be: Special Edition box set, things are taken up yet another notch, thanks to a fresh remix by Giles Martin. And there’s so much more.
Martin’s new mix is more “in the moment” than ever, featuring a bit more separation between the instruments and voices, and a nice touch of “air” that gives the listener a chance to feel like he’s in the room with the band. As has been the case with Martin’s other remixes, we are treated to more details we couldn’t hear or were buried by previous mixes. It’s nice to hear a 50-year-old mix sound like it was recorded last Friday.
The box contains six discs total, which includes two remarkable CDs worth of rehearsals and jams that help point the way to not only this album, but Abbey Road as well. Disc Four is the Get Back LP mixed by Glyn Johns. It provides yet another interesting point of view for this project, but it can be understood why The Beatles opted not to use it. It’s not bad. It’s just not quite … it.
Disc 5 is the Let it Be EP, which offers up different takes and angles from the songs included on the final LP. Once again, we are allowed to feel like we are part of the process as we listen to the band chat with one another as they seek to get the music to go where they feel it needs to go. It’s a fascinating listen. Disc 6 offers up the album via blu-ray. And to top it all off, the package also contains a fantastically detailed hardcover book destined to keep readers quite busy indeed.
Like any box set, Let it Be is geared primarily toward completists with musical FOMO (fear of missing out). That being said, it would be a shame to skip over the new mix believing one has heard all that is required of this album. It is well worth checking out.
ZAPPA, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Zappa Records). How does one encapsulate a 100-plus album career into four sides of vinyl? Where the official soundtrack of Alex Winter’s documentary of Frank Zappa is concerned, not too badly at all!
This is not to say this collection is complete or comprehensive. It isn’t. What it does do, however, is give new fans a chance to follow the career arc of one of the most important composers of the 20th century, from his first doo-wop sounding recordings — which come off as relatively simple — to his highly sophisticated classical compositions being played by talented orchestras just before Zappa died in 1993. And most points in between.
The LPs are well-paced, as it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of music available in the Zappa catalog. The first two-and-half sides are all about giving the uninitiated time to settle in and absorb the music’s increasing complexity and sophistication. The real transition occurs when the finale of The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky makes its presence known, followed by a soundbite from Zappa himself explaining that he has essentially dismissed rock music as a listener. From there, we’re off and running!
There’s more than enough music here to help a casual listener decide whether or not to become a fan. Meanwhile, fans have a chance to remember why Zappa’s music is so meaningful. Record 5 contains the music written for the film by John Frizzell, which is quite lovely primarily because he does NOT try to emulate Zappa. The last word is given to Frank via a beautiful rendition of “Watermelon In Easter Hay.” It’s poetic that the track — recorded live — fades rather than ends, because Zappa’s music is forever. The inference here is that this composition goes on without end. Perfect.
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