Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"Lost" projects: Get Back's first mix

Over on Geoff Klock's blog, Scott wrote a post about 'lost' projects - be they books, films, or albums - that have accrued a magical aura due to some obstacle that prevented them from ever being realized, completed, or released. I responded with a couple of lost projects that interest me, though I want to write briefly about a project that was shelved but not technically "lost", since it would subsequently emerge in the form of bootlegs - the original cut of the Beatles' Get Back sessions. (Which would, of course, eventually become the sometimes-dreadful but generally more listenable Let It Be album.)

Get Back's first cut/mix (Glynn Johns - George Martin's assistant, who produced the session - made two "final" mixes before quitting. You can see the track listings here.) is no masterpiece. In fact, as uneven as Let It Be is, Get Back is worse. And how could it not be? The Beatles told Johns that they weren't going to overdub any of the songs, and so Get Back reveals that they had become sloppy and unfocused performers. To his credit, Johns rolls with it - if he couldn't cut the recordings into a tight "live" album like those the Beatles were able to produce early in their career, then he would make it sound like a 45 minute session, including the studio banter, missed notes, and false starts. This might be interesting - even entertaining, to a fan like me - but it doesn't make for good listening.

And if such an amateurish product weren't reason enough for the Beatles to want it shelved, the way in which it was revealing of their in-studio tensions probably was. The most notable of these reveals - Paul's version of the unbearably awful song "Teddy Boy" (which would end up on his solo album) - also showed up in a similar version on Anthology 3, as John shows his disgust for the song in both versions (or maybe it's the same moment, but cut to fit both performances?) by breaking into the song with a square dance lyric: "Take your partner, dosey doe..." and so on and so forth. It's a hilarious disruption of an awful song, but one can imagine that Paul was enraged and/or humiliated to hear it in the final mix.

That said, the album was worth seeking out - at least prior to McCartney's own revision of the
Get Back sessions in Let It Be... Naked - solely because it was the only place where one could find the un-Spectorized versions of "The Long and Winding Road" and "Let It Be". But it also proves Spector right in some regards: his decision to speed up "Two of Us" was the right one, something had to be done about John's awful bass in "The Long and Winding Road", and these songs were not releasable without some serious overdubs. Though while Spector's ability to identify the problems is inarguable, his solutions - at least in the latter two cases - are far less agreeable to me. And so, perhaps strangely, my affinity for the incredibly flawed Get Back is actually somewhat greater than it is for the far more polished official release.

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