I played The Beatles' album 'Let It Be' this evening. I've recently picked up the 2009 remastered version, sounding (along with all the recent remasters) punchier and more intimate than the older CD versions but not that different overall. Much as you would really expect, for the older versions were done pretty well for 1987 and all that has really improved with recent mastering technique is a better balance of highs and lows bringing the sound forward, as it were. At least the temptation to over-saturate the signal was resisted – no 'loudness' issues with these versions. As an aside, it's a great paradox to me that many CDs mastered in the 1980s are markedly superior in sound quality to many mastered in the 2000s despite the great improvements in technology over the interim. The older versions may seem weirdly quiet to ears used to the current trend for volume, but they are far more musical in their preservation of natural dynamics.
I originally bought 'Let It Be' in 1973, about three years after its release. A vinyl 12" record. At the time, three years seemed like a century in the evolution of rock music. The music's development seemed to match the pace of a growing teenager. Not so these days. 'Let It Be' was among the earliest records I owned and came to me strangely free of the sadness that accompanied its original release when it became clear that The Beatles were splitting up. Not wholly free, but very much moderated. Furthermore, as I collected the rest of the Beatles' albums in a scattershot order, punctuated with new and exciting releases from artists such as Roxy Music and David Bowie, my absorption of their music took on a quality removed from their moment and moved into mine.
Perhaps this why 'Let It Be' remains rather sweet to me. It's clearly not a particularly consistent record but exudes a ragged charm that, by all accounts, is very much at odds with the tense recording sessions that provided the material. Apart from the 'big' songs – 'Let It Be', 'Get Back' – my favorite track is 'Two Of Us'.Somehow, while listening to the music alone, all the simmering tension that you can glean from this video of the 'Get Back' sessions (none of them look in the least bit happy) evaporates and the song comes across a gentle ode to togetherness.
It's a song that pictorially matches the bleached photograph at the top of this post. A pale but alluring look back down that long and winding road into a world that is absolute history and barely understood. Much the sort of the world a teenager sees when looking back into his first decade of life.
If I'd been just a little older, Beatlemania would have been a much more immediately felt phenomenon and might have taken on a more psychedelic and colorful aspect. Never mind, I got to know the music – and in later years very well indeed after taking a college level course at Washington University on the band (here's an example of what that stimulated). Do I miss traveling that peculiar 1960s road? In some ways, but I found my own excitement in the punk explosion of the mid-1970s. Nonetheless, I often wonder what young people coming The Beatles's music for the first time these days must make of it.