Though there are officially released alternative versions of every Beatles album floating about (mono vs stereo, UK vs US, remastered vs erm … mastered) Let It Be is in a class of it's own. Versions of these songs crop up on Let It Be, Let It Be Naked, Anthology 1, 2 & 3, Past Masters and '1'. As well as the obvious 'Spectorizing' (massive overdubbing by session musicians) some versions of the same songs are built on completely different takes. Though I'm going to be analysing the songs in true Beatles Songwriting Academy fashion, I thought it might be helpful to give you a rough guide to the various versions.
As I've already analysed I Me Mine and won't get to Across The Universe till 'Magical Mystery Submarine' (which is where it belongs chronologically) let's get those two over with now.
I Me Mine
LIB – Spector's version is a little dull sonically, especially the bass. The wall of sound is pretty low in the mix so it doesn't add much, good or bad. Spector lengthened the track by 50 seconds by literally copying a section and repeating it.
LIBN – Sharper sonically. All the Spector overdubs are removed. However, the Beatles had already added their own multiple overdubs (McCartney's organ & electric piano, Harrison's twin acoustic/electric lead fills) and these are retained as are the extra 50 seconds.
A3 – As LIBN but without the extra 50 seconds (so the structure is literally intro-verse-chorus-verse). It also adds George's humorous spoken intro, referring to Lennon as 'Dave Dee'.
If 'Naked' is a euphemism for 'deSpectorized', then Anthology is the true version. But it's so short!
Best Version: Let It Be Naked
Working with the Beatles took it's toll on George Martin...
Across The Universe
PM – The first released version appeared on a WWF fundraising album (to benefit animals, not wrestlers - hence the added animal sound FX) and is often referred to as the 'wildlife version'. It features a couple of female fans (who had been dragged in from their studio gate vigil) doubling Lennon's vocals on the chorus, BVs by the Beatles (answering ahhs on the chorus) some quite loud maracas and wah wah chords. The fastest version (sped up almost a semitone to D#) but also the longest, due to 20 seconds of FX on intro. Effects on vocals, guitar and tambura.
LIB – Spector slowed the track down, lowering the pitch a semitone to C#, added strings (18 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos), 14 voice choir, (“Disney strings & lullaby voices” McDonald p.227) harp, brass & drum overdubs. There were also 2 guitarists booked for this session! Glyn Johns had already removed all the original sound FX and BVs (both the fans and The Beatles). Heavy phasing on Lennon's vocals and a noticeable edit just before the outro.
LIBN – Much clearer sonically and in the original key of D. No Spector overdubs, BVs, or maracas and the tambura comes in later. There is no noticeable phasing on the track itself till much later. Fades out without the little piano riff.
A2 – Much faster but still in original key (no varispeed). A completely different take. With the possible exception of bass, this sound like an entirely unplugged version. Phasing on the rhythm guitar from halfway through the first verse. Weird chiming instrument, Indian sounding slide guitar. No BV's.
The guest vocals on PM aren't great and it's just sounds too fast. The tempo particularly gives a manic edge to the wah wah and tambura. And on LIBN the track becomes a tambura solo with a Beatles accompaniment. The unplugged version on A2 is a really cool bonus track, but the Richard Hewson arrangement on LIB actually lifts quite a plodding dronefest and Johns/Spector rein in the worst parts of the PM version – frantic tempo, bad BVs, and that darn tambura!
Best Version: Let It Be
...but he got off lightly compared to Phil Spector !
LIB - Let It Be
LIBN - Let It Be Naked
A1 - Anthology 1
A2 - Anthology 2
A3 - Anthology 3
PM - Past Masters
B1 '1' aka Beatles Number Ones