Aug 102012

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Let It Be was the soundtrack of a band falling apart. That was never the plan, of course – the Beatles conceived the album as a back-to-basics effort, in which they would rediscover the joys of playing together without overdubs, only to find themselves bored, angry, and miserable, each one trapped with three bandmates who couldn’t understand what he was going through. They were unhappy with the results and shelved them, but a known goldmine won’t stay untampered, and Phil Spector was brought in to make something of the mess. Upon its release, the highest praise any Beatle gave it came from John, and his quote – “When I heard it, I didn’t puke” – scarcely counts as a ringing endorsement.

Today Let It Be is still seen as one of the weakest albums in the Beatle catalog – but then, this being the Beatles, that means there are only three or four immortal classics, plus a few more that would be high points in the catalogs of 98% of the world’s bands. Somehow, this dying gasp of an album, recorded in notoriously joyless circumstances, found its way into the hearts of millions; somehow, that’s where it was always meant to be.

Are there covers of every song on the album? Of course there are. Even the throwaways? Naturally. We’ve given Let It Be the full cover treatment; twelve songs, twelve artists, twelve different angles on this slag heap of an album that couldn’t help holding a few buried diamonds.

John Grant – Two of Us (The Beatles cover)

From Let It Be Revisited, given away free with each copy of October 2010’s Mojo magazine, John Grant’s version of “Two of Us” is a deeply affecting opener. When Paul sang of shared memories, the listener felt the warmth; when Grant does it, the listener feels the distance from the memories, but still recognizes how treasured they are.

St. Vincent – Dig A Pony (The Beatles cover)

St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, stands before an audience with her guitar and floors them all with this cover of “Dig a Pony.” Her voice has the cool beauty of a winter fog, and her playing is by turns austere and grungy. Just for fun, picture this on the rooftop of 3 Savile Row.

Laibach – Across The Universe (The Beatles cover)

Laibach covered the Let It Be album (save the title track) and gave it an industrial-goth spin; the result was by turns amusing and thought-provoking. But for “Across the Universe” they set aside their thunder and enlisted the help of Anja Rupel, who delivered with an unearthly vocal that was both forbidding and bedazzling. Toward the end, when she comes in a count early and giggles, it’s the equivalent of Garbo laughing.

B for Bang – I Me Mine (The Beatles cover)

A collective of jazz and classical musicians from Italy, B for Bang has released two albums that rewire the Beatles to their own ends. “I Me Mine” left the Land of the Heavy Waltzes to live in their world, flowing more slowly than wine and sounding more than a little spooked.

The Goners – Dig It (The Beatles cover)

On May 25, 2011, the Goners (Jason Berk and Monica Lee) celebrated the 41st anniversary of Let It Be‘s release by performing it live in its entirety in a California cafe. Among their faithful renditions was the minute-long excerpt from the lengthy Beatle jam called “Dig It.” Thanks to them for seeing fit to cover this cubic zirconia of a song.

The Squirrels – Let It Be (The Beatles cover)

The Squirrels specialized in comedic covers; in their hands, no cows were too sacred. They turn “Let It Be” into a hoedown, with a little “Act Naturally” thrown in for good measure. If you can get past the Dementoid stylings, you’ll hear some real quality musicianship going on here.

Lee Alexander – Maggie Mae (The Beatles cover)

To call the Beatles’ version of “Maggie Mae” a throwaway would be to suggest they made a concentrated effort to throw. If you ever wondered what the rest of that Liverpudlian standard sounded like, here’s a more complete version from Lee Alexander.

Texas – I’ve Got A Feeling (The Beatles cover)

Bands should want to have a sound as big as Texas, and not the state either. The Scottish blues-pop-rockers have sold more than 20 million albums, and also found time to record two CDs worth of material for the BBC. This explosive cover of “I’ve Got a Feeling” isn’t available on any of their studio albums; thank the deity of your choice that it exists at all.

Willie Nelson – One After 909 (The Beatles cover)

In 1957, when a teenaged John and Paul wrote “One After 909,” Willie Nelson was a college dropout who had been dismissed from his position as a Sunday school teacher because he was seen playing guitar in local beer joints. Fortunately for the planet, things got better for them all. By the time Nelson covered “One After 909” on a label sampler, he couldn’t help performing it with an easygoing confidence he must have struggled to find a half century before.

Ray Charles – The Long And Winding Road (The Beatles cover)

From the album Ray Sings, Basie Swings (caveat emptor: that’s the Count Basie Orchestra, without Basie himself), “The Long and Winding Road” is yet another prime example of Ray Charles being a genius. The song is transfigured and becomes a prayer – Ray’s “Amen” at the end is oh-so-appropriate – and the stately music behind him proves the ideal vehicle. Spector’s Wall of Sound has nothing on Ray Charles’s cathedral.

Greg Hawkes – For You Blue (The Beatles cover)

Greg Hawkes is one of those musicians you don’t know you know; in his case, his near-fame comes from playing keyboards for the Cars. Even if you did recognize his name, it’s highly unlikely you know him as a ukulele devotee, but indeed, he’s been one throughout the 21st century. In 2008 he released The Beatles Uke, a collection of 15 instrumental Beatle songs performed on the wee instrument. His take on “For You Blue” is one that would have noted ukulele aficionado G. Harrison ready to give his blessing.

Amen Corner – Get Back (The Beatles cover)

Immediate Records was one of the more hip, happening labels in British music in the sixties, but money ran through their fingers like water, and they were forced to shut down in 1970. One of their last releases was Amen Corner’s cover of “Get Back,” and it’s a shame that they couldn’t ship or promote it to the degree it deserved. There’s a funky soul here that was never really a part of the Beatles’ palette; Billy Preston’s keyboards are the only thing that keeps these two versions in the same ballpark.

Let It Be can be found on iTunes and Amazon, where it costs just as much as Revolver does.

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  4 Responses to “Full Albums: The Beatles’ “Let It Be””

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  1. That hoedown cover of “Let It Be” is the best thing I’ve heard today. It’s surprisingly good for a cover that strays so far from the original.

  2. Interesting mix, but I would have to pick Bill Withers’ gospel choir version of Let it Be.

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