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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Rewind: Let It Be

Sam Purnell reflects on the release of The Beatles’ final studio album

On May 8 1970, The Beatles released their 12th, and final, studio album Let It Be. It came after the White Album, and its ensuing arguments, taking its toll on the group and their cohesiveness.

Paul McCartney seemed to be the only member keen to continue, spearheading a return to ‘back to basics’ and hoping that the traditional group recording would reinvigorate the other three unenthusiastic members. This idea worked, with a return to their musical roots greatly appealing to John Lennon and George Harrison.

However, this apparent harmony only lasted until rehearsals and recordings as McCartney took on the role of leader. With The Beatles’ fight gone, Lennon became more devoted to making music with his soon-to-be wife Yoko Ono. Lennon’s disengagement and McCartney’s controlling streak caused Harrison to quit, the first crack in the façade, only to be coaxed back several days later. Evidently The Beatles weren’t committed to this album; it was a product of the fragmented and empty shell of the once great band.

Rehearsals took a turn for the worse, with Lennon running out of ideas and showing disinterest in any offering brought by McCartney or Harrison. This caused their minds to shift further away and they became unprofessional due to their lacking enthusiasm.

Despite all of these bumps in the road, the album was eventually released. With many fans still swept up in continued Beatlemania, with the album going on to top the charts around the world and selling over 4 million copies in America, many critics didn’t see the hype.

Instead, they could see the lack of care that seeped out of the album: NME’s Alan Smith wrote at the time “If the new Beatles’ soundtrack is to be their last, then it will stand as a cheapskate epitaph, a cardboard tombstone, a sad and tatty end to a musical fusion which wiped clean and drew again the face of pop.”

Even the seemingly immortal refrain of this album, ‘Let it Be’, evokes this sense of mindlessness in its listeners. It implores them to take up a mantle of passivity and let events wash over them like a wave. In many ways, this title perfectly epitomises the end of the Beatles era – dying embers of a creative fire that had once burned so brightly, now left untended by lacking commitment and enthusiasm.

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