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Why Let It Be? Steve Matteo on The Beatles’ Final Album

Now that the 33 1/3 series has officially turned 20 years old, we asked some of our very first authors to tell us how and why they picked the album they did. Steve Matteo, the author of The Beatles’ Let It Be, tells us why he chose the Fab Four’s final album together.

Among the most appealing aspects of the 33 1/3 series for readers and authors is how the books provide deep dives into a single album and how the stories behind the albums can be part of an historical and cultural time trip back into the past. This can be particularly enticing when that time period is the 1960s. That decade was both an explosive and revolutionary phase for popular music and a cultural renaissance not likely to ever be repeated. For an author, researching the music and those times is exhilarating. When the musical artist in question is the Beatles, the possibilities are endless.

While it would be easy to pick one of the Beatles’ more popular and critically acclaimed albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, considered perhaps the most iconic and enduring musical album of the 1960s, for my entry into the 33 1/3 series (#12 in the series, released in 2004), I chose the group’s last album, Let It Be, released in 1970. Although it was the last album released from the group, it was not the last they recorded. That album was Abbey Road, released in 1969. Let It Be was worked on by the Beatles almost exclusively in January 1969. From an historical vantage point, the album is a metaphorical coda or bookend to the Beatles and the 1960s. Because it was also a soundtrack to a film, there are countless hours of unreleased audio and film to pore over to add even more context to its creation. There are so many competing and intertwined narratives behind the Let It Be album, that it can work as an all-encompassing story about the Beatles, their breakup and the end of the 60s.

When my book came out in 2004, I never imagined that someday director Peter Jackson would create his mammoth and equally obsessive (nearly nine-hour) Get Back series for Disney, released in 2019, (with a Blu-ray release in February of 2022), with full cooperation from the Beatles and their Apple Records. Along with the series, a CD set and a vinyl box set were released in August 20, 2021, and a companion book, The Beatles: Get Back, was released later, in October of 2021. Along with the Let it Be Naked album in 2003, released a year before my book was published, all of these official releases confirmed my hunch that the seemingly endless back-story of the Get Back/Let It Be period might make the most dramatic read about any of the Beatles’ albums. And like the 33 1/3 series itself, the album format remains the most fully realized creative art-form in the history of popular music. Although the popularity of streaming has somewhat diminished the release of albums in pop music these days from current artists, the ongoing resurgence of vinyl and the continuing emergence of a revival of CD’s and cassettes are in full swing. The revival of these formats is a part of the key appeal of any of the books in the 33 1/3 series. The renewed interest in albums is also aided by the endless proliferation of lists in all shapes and sizes of the best or most important albums of all time that seem to pop up daily. The album phenomenon celebrated in the series for the past twenty years and the revival of vinyl are not confined to aging baby boomers clinging to a golden age in the 60s and 70s, but are fully embraced and sometimes almost driven more by young vinyl enthusiasts, who understand the enduring value of physical media and the cultural context in which so many important albums were conceived back in the vinyl, analog era.  

There is the very real possibility that, while the 33 1/3 series did not launch or drive the vinyl revival, books from the series can work as perfect companions to vinyl albums and collecting. Here’s to the next 20 years of the 33 1/3 series. I can’t wait to see what albums will be covered in the future.


Steve Matteo

is the author of the short biography Dylan (1999) and The Beatles’ Let It Be (Bloomsbury, 2004). He has written about music in a wide range of magazines including the New York Times, Blender, Rolling Stone, Spin and Details. He lives in New York.

The Beatles’ Let It Be

is out now and is available to buy online (including at Bloomsbury.com).

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