Forty years ago, Let It Be closed out a decade of The Beatles’ artistic and technological influence. It’s a period that has yet to be matched in popular culture. To celebrate that legacy, I will explore the band’s lasting impact in a new occasional series called Geek The Beatles, anchored to the band’s momentous anniversaries in 2010.
Geek The Beatles: Let It Be’s Recombined Reality Bites
[Scott Thill, Wired.com]
Let It Be, released May 8, 1970, shortly after the band members called it quits, transformed The Beatles from a functioning band into a dysfunctional multimedia brand. The songs on what became the group’s last official full-length album were vault-raided and controversially remixed by mad producer Phil Spector from a heap of discarded and bitterly divided sessions, and featured little to no input from band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
A Beatles documentary, released a week after the album, was similarly retconned, conceived as a “bioscopic experience” that would help sequence the genes for the intrusive reality television we take for granted in the 21st century. In the last gasp of the optimistic but lethal ’60s, however, reality film killed the pop radio stars.
“By the time we got to Let It Be, we couldn’t play the game anymore,” Lennon said in the exhaustive biographical series The Beatles Anthology. “We’d come to a point where it was no longer creating magic, and the camera being in the room with us made us aware of that. It was a phony situation.”
The original concept for the Let It Be film would sell instantly today: Inconspicuous but ever-present cameras document the greatest pop band of all time as it composes, rehearses and then performs and records its next album in front of a live audience. “You can glide in with your cameras,” an earnest but frustrated McCartney said in the film. “Go places that TV cameras don’t go.”
But the film bowed to the Beatles’ momentous reality: The band, like the decade that it so thoroughly informed, was finished.
What remained after The Beatles’ recombined Let It Be killed on the charts but flopped in theaters was not a band, but a brand. That evolution heralded a coming, contentious age of creator-owned businesses, increasing copyfight litigation, remix culture, band-brand revolutions, crappy tech and more.
Here are nine — number nine, number nine — ways the breakup of The Beatles, as well as the twin iterations of Let It Be, hallmarked tectonic shifts in media culture, using the album’s song titles as points of departure. You know, just to twist the anniversary knife a little.
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