If the release of nearly 25-year-old Beatles albums can excite the compact-disc world (and it has), picture what would happen if the public could get its hands on a newer, never-released Beatles album.
It's not as unlikely as it sounds.
In fact, bootleg copies of the Beatles' 1969 "Get Back" album have surfaced in recent weeks, complete with original cover art and liner notes.
And surfaced is as good a word as any for the manner in which this legendary record finally appeared.
Although the sound quality is wonderful stereo and the cover is a facsimile of the never-issued original, this is a counterfeit album--an illegal LP.
Still, Beatles historians are setting aside questions of legality in their haste to get their hands on it. Their search involves fly-by-night post-office boxes, swap meets and the few record stores that choose to live dangerously.
The songs aren't new; they've all been on Beatles albums or, in one case, on a Paul McCartney solo LP--but not in these versions. "Get Back" was designed, largely by McCartney, as a dramatic, back-to-basics concept album. Instead of the sophisticated studio exploration that characterized most of the Beatles' late-'60s work, McCartney wanted the urgency and punch of the group's earliest days.
But relations among the four musicians broke down during the four-month period devoted to recording the album, and they finally threw up their hands and turned the tapes over to producer Phil Spector. He then added strings, choirs and other special touches to some of the tracks to give the album a more lush feel. Spector also threw out some of the tracks and substituted other versions and different songs. The result was the "Let It Be" album released in 1970.
In a recent magazine interview, McCartney talked fondly about "Get Back," describing it as a "very hip record."
Indeed, McCartney suggested that somebody ought to find the tapes and release "Get Back" today. Well, somebody did. But it wasn't EMI, which owns the rights to the tapes. EMI spokesman Brian Southall said there are no plans to release "Get Back," but it is "something we've talked about."
The Beatles were not united at the time of the "Get Back" sessions in 1969. John, Paul, George and Ringo had been drifting apart ever since the 1967 death of manager Brian Epstein and the founding of their own record company, Apple, in 1968. As Apple's problems worsened, the Beatles' relations deteriorated.
By the time of the sessions, McCartney was clearly trying to set the band's direction. And here, as pieced together through a series of interviews by all the Beatles over the years, is apparently what McCartney envisioned for the "Get Back" project.
An album of new material--plus possibly a couple of previously unrecorded songs from their early days--featuring just the Beatles and their friend Billy Preston at keyboards. The album cover was to show the 1969 Beatles posing on the EMI Records stairwell in exactly the same positions they had assumed on the cover of the first Beatles album, 1963's "Please Please Me."
A world tour, or at least one live concert telecast worldwide.
A television special documenting the making of the album.
This, of course, all ended up as the greatly revised "Let It Be" album and the film of the same name, showing both moments in the studio and the famous 20-minute rooftop concert. The latter was the Beatles' final concert, and as close as they got to a worldwide tour at that point.
The other Beatles weren't enthusiastic about McCartney's concept, especially the live performance part, and endured the 16-week sessions reluctantly.
The whole thing ended in May of 1969, when the songs--and the spirits of the Beatles--had been played nearly to death. (Curiously, they united a couple months later to produce "Abbey Road," their last LP). A "Get Back" album was mailed to U.S. and Canadian radio stations shortly thereafter, only to be recalled. Why?
The album was meant to be warm and intimate: a rehearsal-style record that, as Lennon said, would "show us with our trousers off"--demythologizing, they hoped, the then very substantial Beatles myth. Well, perhaps it went too far in that direction for their comfort.
The record is warm and intimate, with talking and joking between the songs, but there are a couple of muffed lyrics (one song, "Teddy Boy," is plainly unfinished), and the performances, for the most part, are not intended to be studio-slick.
Maybe it just wasn't up to their standards, intended flaws notwithstanding. Maybe they wanted to hold it up for release with the film. Or maybe they were just sick of the whole thing.
Yet, in the end, "Get Back" is a much more honest look at the 1969 Beatles than the carefully polished "Let It Be." The album is warmer, more consistent in atmosphere and more faithful to the Beatles' collective style.
McCartney to this day can't abide the Spector-ized "Let It Be" LP--and neither, apparently, could a lot of Beatles devotees. Hence the "Get Back" bootleg.