This is the first time we’ve discussed individual tracks on the album. Our recent shootout, in which we discovered a mind-boggling, rule-breaking side one, motivated us to sit down and explain what the best copies should do on each side of the album for the tracks we test with. Better late than never I suppose.
(These also happen to be ones that we can stand to hear over and over, dozens of times in fact, which becomes an important consideration when doing shootouts as we do for hours on end).
The Beatles: Rock Band
On the better pressings the natural rock n’ roll energy of a song such as Dig A Pony will blow your mind. There’s no studio wizardry, no heavy-handed mastering, no phony EQ — just the sound of the greatest pop/rock band of all time playing and singing their hearts out.
It’s the kind of thrill you really don’t get from the more psychedelic albums like Sgt. Pepper’s or Magical Mystery Tour. You have to go all the way back to Long Tall Sally and Roll Over Beethoven to find the Beatles consistently letting loose the way they do on Let It Be (or at least on the tracks that are more or less live, which make up about half the album).
Let’s quickly review, in general terms, some of the qualities we listen for in our record shootouts.
Select Track Commentary for Let It Be
Two of Us
Dig a Pony
On the heavy guitar intro for Dig a Pony, the sound should be full-bodied and Tubey Magical, with plenty of bass. If your copy is too lean, just forget it, it will never rock.
What blew our minds about the Shootout Winning side one we played recently was how outrageously big, open and transparent it was. As the song started up the studio space seemed to expand in every direction, creating more height, width and depth than we had ever experienced with this song before.
But there is no studio space; the song was recorded on Apple’s rooftop. The “space” has to be some combination of “air” from the live event and artificial reverb added live or later during mixing. Whatever it is, the copies with more resolution and transparency show you a lot more of “it” than run-of-the-mill pressings do (including the new Heavy Vinyl, which is so airless and compressed we gave it a grade of F and banished it to our Hall of Shame).
In addition, Ringo’s kit was dramatically more clear and present in the center of the soundfield just behind the vocal, raising the energy of the track to a level higher than we had any right to believe was possible. The way he attacks the hi-hat on this song is crazy good, and the engineering team of Glyn Johns and Alan Parsons really give it the snap it needs.
These are precisely the qualities that speed and transparency can contribute to the sound. If you have Old School vintage tube equipment, these are two of the qualities you are most likely living without. You only need play this one track on faster, better-resolving equipment to hear what you’ve been missing.
On the line after “All I want is you”, the energy of “Everything has got to be just like you want it to” should make it sound like The Beatles are shouting at the top of their lungs. If you have the right pressing they really get LOUD on that line.
Across the Universe
I Me Mine
Just like I Dig a Pony, the intro should be rich and full, with a clear, Tubey Magical organ.
The solo acoustic guitar can get lost if the copy is smeary or lacking in top end.
Look for more top-of-the-lungs shouting in the chorus, accompanied by a blistering fuzzed-out guitar jumping out of the speakers, the more fuzzed-out and the more jumping the better.
Let It Be
This is not usually a track we test with. That said, any track with heavy electric keyboards and organ always makes a good test; both should be Tubey Magically Rich, and neither smeared or dull. And of course, the orchestration will be congested, smeary and veiled on most copies.
George’s heavily fuzzed-out guitar tone is genius; it’s one of our favorite solos from the man. He recorded and re-recorded it over the course of months, with the blistering final version raising the energy of the song into the stratosphere.
The maracas Paul brings in as the song develops are much more audible on the album version of the song than they are on the single. Any percussion instrument of this kind will always clue you in to how high-rez your pressing is, as well as the amount of top end you have to work with — and whether or not it’s harmonically correct. (This has always been the problem with The Beatles on MoFi. The remastered top end is usually screwy, making instruments like maracas and tambourines sound hi-fi-ish to some degree.)
Once you’ve worked through the tracks we discussed on side one, you will find side two a lot easier. Now that you’ve spent some time listening to Let It Be, you’re more or less looking for the same qualities, just on different material.
I’ve Got a Feeling
A real rocker to lead off the side, one that will let you know right away if you have the Rock and Roll ENERGY and solid BASS to get the job done. Instruments and voices will be positively jumping out of your speakers if you have one of our top copies — or a top copy of your own of course.
Breathy texture on Paul’s and John’s purposefully raw vocals are critical to the song’s success. Listen for tape hiss; all the copies with an extended top end will have hiss that’s clear and harmonically correct.
Also, the copies with the most transparency (that aren’t thin or bright) will allow you to hear and appreciate the mix’s many subtleties.
One After 909
The Long and Winding Road
Another song we don’t normally play in a shootout, but with such heavy-handed orchestration (which, contra the critics, I happen to like), it makes an excellent test track. Listen for sheen on the strings; rich, full-bodied horns; and of course, size and space, the bigger the better. The best copies have the space to let everything breathe (assuming you have the big speakers and the big room that make that kind of space possible).
For You Blue
The guitar harmonics are the key to this track, first George’s acoustic in the intro, with John joining in on a lap steel guitar, the likes of which we have never heard on a Beatles album before. Love that sound!
No two copies of the album will get that harmonically-unique guitar to sound the same, or give it the same space. (The vocals are never as breathy on this track as they are on many of the others by the way.)
Our Approach to Audio
Over the years we have put literally thousands of hours into our system and room in order to extract the maximum amount of information, musical and otherwise, from the records we play, or as close to the maximum as we can manage. Ours is as big and open as any system in an 18 by 20 by 8 room I’ve ever heard. (I can’t compete with bigger rooms and higher ceilings; it’s a glorious sound but custom room additions are just way out of our budget.)
It’s also as free from colorations of any kind as we can possibly make it. We want to hear the record in its naked form; not the way we like it to sound, or want it to sound, but the way it actually does sound. That way, when you get the record home and play it yourself, it should sound the way we described it.
If too much of the sound we hear is what our stereo is doing, not what the record is doing, how can we know what will it sound like on your system? We try to be as truthful and as critical as we can when describing the records we sell. Too much coloration in the system would make those tasks much more difficult, if not downright impossible.