Thursday, July 15, 2010

Best three songs in a row - Pt. 13

Parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve.

Album: Let It Be
Three songs: "Two of Us," "Dig a Pony," and "Across the Universe"
Comments: If pressed, I would submit Let It Be as the one Beatles album I wish they hadn't released. I suspect there are many others who also feel this way. And why is it we do? The reasons are sundry. Consider the famously fraught and cheerless recording sessions that spawned the album. As captured on Michael Lindsay-Hogg's Let It Be film, those early months of 1969 represent something close to the nadir of Beatles relations. Despite Paul's dogged enthusiasm for the Get Back project, which was supposed to document the band as a recording band and maybe even bring about a live performance, the four of them were just not on the same page and ended up torturing themselves, even leading to George's (temporary) departure from the group. It wasn't pretty. I question if there's a compelling argument to be made that The Beatles' legacy would be less rich or engrossing without the album haunted by all of this intra-band acrimony.

Second and of greater importance: By Beatles standards, the album just isn't very good. It was supposed to mark a return to the group's non-studio-focused, rock 'n' roll roots, but that was only partially realized (Phil Spector had a hand in this, much to Paul's chagrin). Along with throwback outings like "One After 909" and "Get Back," there are a number of other genres on display - folk, psychedelic pop, sentimental balladry, and blues -, the diversity of which gives the album an uneven feel. Of course, this stylistic variety would probably count in its favor if the individual songs were of a higher quality. But too many of them are merely good, not great. I'm thinking of "Dig a Pony," "Across the Universe," "I've Got a Feeling," "For You Blue," and even the title track, as beloved as it is. Also, "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae," both of which clock in at under a minute, have always struck me as needless. They're interruptions, not songs.

Third, all of the concerns above are amplified by the fact that, though Abbey Road was recorded later, Let It Be is the final album The Beatles released; so on some level, it has to count as their parting gift to the world. This is unfortunate. What band (or fan of that band) would want their official canon to close on a moment known for its bitterness and strife and (in my opinion) mediocrity? Though my take on the matter is fluid, on some days I'd much prefer if Let It Be had never been issued as a proper album, but instead had existed in singles, bootlegs, anthologies, and the like until 2003 when it received the "naked" treatment. It still wouldn't be official, but it would likely be easier to appreciate.

In short, Let It Be is a lesser album in The Beatles' body of work. As I mentioned earlier, the problem is not that it's overrun with poor songs; rather, weighed down by expectations that only The Beatles could elicit, its half-dozen or so good-to-pretty-good songs just don't cut it. What it needs is several more classics (oh "Don't Let Me Down," where are you?), several more entries on par with, or at least much closer to, "Two of Us," the album's warm and graceful highpoint.

"Two of Us" is also the album opener, and (switching gears) it's where I started in my search for the 3BR (only now, with The Beatles' final release, am I using abbreviations). Its greatness helped to make the process a quick one. The opening three songs - "Two," "Dig a Pony," and "Across the Universe" - form an able contingent. "Two of Us" is disarmingly tender and so much more; the sonically taut "Pony" combines nonsensical lyrics and John's passion for Yoko to interesting effect; and, though overly lush, "Across the Universe" is a beaming kaleidoscope of sound and imagery.

After scanning the track listing and sifting through the various medium lights, I found only one other threesome that seemed like it could contend: "The Long and Winding Road," "For You Blue," and "Get Back." While solid, it doesn't boast anything that could offset the gentle potency of "Two of Us."

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