- With solid Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER on both sides, this UK pressing boasts outstanding Let It Be sound
- There’s no studio wizardry, no heavy-handed mastering, no phony EQ – here is some of the most realistic, natural Beatles sound you can get
- Copies like this one make good on the promise that Let It Be captures the greatest rock band of all time playing and singing their hearts out
- 4 1/2 stars: “The album is on the whole underrated… it’s an album well worth having, as when the Beatles were in top form here, they were as good as ever.”
At its best, Let It Be has the power of live music, but it takes a special pressing such as this one to show you that sound. It’s a bit trickier trying to find good sound for this album than it is for some of the other albums in the Beatles’ catalog.
This vintage Apple pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are listening live or sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What the Best Sides of Let It Be Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio and rooftop
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
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).
What We’re Listening For on Let It Be
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
The Brits Are King
The British copies seem to be the only way to go for this album. In years past we’ve played German copies which were a mixed bag — some tracks would sound very good but others would sound funny. Some Capitol pressings are surprisingly good [some of the Purple label pressings will do in a pinch; definitely avoid the originals]. That said, they’ll never have all the magic of the master tape. It takes a superb copy to get this album right, and this Hot Stamper really does the job.
It still surprises us how BORING the average British copy is. (Of course, the German pressings and the domestic copies are even worse, but you probably already knew that.)
You’ve got to do a lot of work to find a copy of Let It Be that doesn’t sound murky, sleepy, thick and/or veiled. We went through a massive stack of nothing but British imports and only a select group were FUN and INVOLVING enough to merit the Hot Stamper designation.
The Tracklist tab above will take you to a select song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen For advice. Other records with track breakdowns can be found here.
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 a much bigger space than we had ever experienced with the record before.
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 Glyn Johns really gives 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 the qualities you are most likely living without. You only need to play this one track on other (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. The various instruments 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 to occupy. (The vocals are never as breathy on this track as they are on many of the others by the way.)
AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review
The only Beatles album to occasion negative, even hostile reviews, there are few other rock records as controversial as Let It Be.
First off, several facts need to be explained: although released in May 1970, this was not their final album, but largely recorded in early 1969, way before Abbey Road. Phil Spector was enlisted in early 1970 to do some post-production mixing and overdubs, but he did not work with the band as a unit.
And, although his use of strings has generated much criticism, by and large he left the original performances to stand as is: only “The Long and Winding Road” and (to a lesser degree) “Across the Universe” and “I Me Mine” get the Wall of Sound treatment. The main problem was that the material wasn’t uniformly strong, and that the Beatles themselves were in fairly lousy moods due to intergroup tension.
All that said, the album is on the whole underrated, even discounting the fact that a substandard Beatles record is better than almost any other group’s best work. McCartney in particular offers several gems: the gospel-ish “Let It Be,” which has some of his best lyrics; “Get Back,” one of his hardest rockers; and the melodic “The Long and Winding Road,” ruined by Spector’s heavy-handed overdubs. The folky “Two of Us,” with John and Paul harmonizing together, was also a highlight. Most of the rest of the material, by contrast, was going through the motions to some degree, although there are some good moments of straight hard rock in “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Dig a Pony.”
As flawed and bumpy as it is, it’s an album well worth having, as when the Beatles were in top form here, they were as good as ever.