At long last, the Beatles’ catalog is being upgraded for reissue later this year. Along with the upcoming Rock Band game, we may see a resurgence of Beatlemania to rival 1995, when the Anthology TV series aired and the accompanying CDs became best-sellers. It may also see the return to print of books such as former Record Collector magazine editor Peter Doggett’s Let It Be/Abbey Road, a worthy addition to the overloaded Beatles bookshelf. While Continuum’s 33 1/3 and Rodale Books’ Rock of Ages series have since popularized book-length studies of single, influential albums, neither series has made this 1998 publication redundant.
What may have been the single darkest month in the Beatles’ career is the best chronicled, documented by a film, dozens (if not hundreds) of bootleg recordings, and numerous books. In January, 1969, the group recorded Let It Be, the last album of original material they released. Let It Be/Abbey Road joins Sulpy and Schweghardt’s Get Back in recounting that time, as the Beatles struggled to continue as a band without a fixed goal or decisive leadership. Following the death of manager Brian Epstein and the contentious sessions for the double album, The Beatles (the “White Album”), the group was reduced to, in Doggett’s words, “debauching … their music … their reputations, [and] their existence as a unit.” Let It Be/Abbey Road provides an intimate view of the Beatles as they hammered out their two final albums, records that represent their nadir and unprecedented accomplishment.
Even had the group had gone into the Get Back project with a firm goal, relationships within the group were so strained that they could barely be collaborative at all. Harrison resented McCartney’s heavy-handed attempt at direction and Ringo – who had quit the band while making the “White Album” — seemed agreeable to any productive plan. And one-time group leader Lennon was otherwise preoccupied (with heroin and Yoko Ono) and contributed little constructive to the group’s efforts.
Unlike Get Back, Let It Be/Abbey Road includes some choice quotes from the group, providing a “fly on the wall” view of the tension, frustration, and rare sparks of humor that characterized the grueling sessions. By taking a less-reverential view of the band than many authors, Doggett follows the example of the Beatles’ excellent Anthology in humanizing the group. Although it covers largely the same period, Let It Be/Abbey Road is a better history of these sessions than either the exhaustive, yet dull, Get Back book or the disjointed, disappointing Let It Be film. This is still a valuable — if unavoidably downbeat — addition to the library of Beatles books, one that should be in print.