“I don’t blame Phil Spector for doing it but it just goes to show that it’s no good me sitting here thinking I’m in control because obviously, I’m not.” — Paul McCartney, The Beatles
To try and force your favourite artist into picking one of their albums to hold up as their favourite can sometimes be like getting blood out of a stone. In the case of The Beatles songwriting maestro, Paul McCartney, we’ve luckily had nearly six decades of critics and journalists pestering Sir Paul for his favourite record by the Fab Four, so that all the leg work has been done for us. But what about the album he likes least?
During a revealing 1991 interview, McCartney suggests that he had a love for all the albums he, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr made together. But he did confess that his favourite was the iconic concept album from 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band an album released on 1st June, 1967. The singer revealed it was the concept behind the record that he feels was really engaging and naturally because he was meticulously involved in its creation. He said, “I’d pick Sgt. Pepper’s, meself, because I had a lot to do with it” noting the album’s importance to his own creative evolution.
Sir Paul McCartney confirmed similarly in an interview from 1990 where he said: “If records had a director within a band, I sort of directed Pepper.” The record’s positive tone affirmed in songs like ‘Getting Better’ and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ are all down to McCartney and his newfound creative leadership.
It’s a stepping stone on the band’s pathway to icon status that is founded in sadness. After the band’s manager Brian Epstein died, the group needed a focus, and Macca provided it. This decision to pick Macca’s own creation as his favourite may also give us a hint as to which was the singer’s least favourite.
Let It Be was the final album that The Beatles ever put out but the songs from the album were largely compiled from off-cuts and previous incarnations that had fallen by the wayside. Though the album is certainly worthy of being considered one of the band’s best records, there was something about the album that Paul McCartney really didn’t like — Phil Spector.
The infamous producer, who died this year, has had his place in history forever tarnished by his eccentric, violent and sociopathic tendencies. While one certainly couldn’t lay much of that at the producer’s feet on The Beatles album, Spector still represented everything wrong with the album for McCartney. In fact, one song perhaps typifies how Macca felt about the whole album.
‘Long and Winding Road’ was a song McCartney had created with a clear but simple ethos. It was a piano ballad and demanded to be treated as such. However, as The Beatles split behind the scenes grew impossible to work with, the song was repurposed by John Lennon and Phil Spector and turned into something entirely different.
The song, featuring on the band’s final record Let It Be, is largely considered one of the final moments the group were actually caught on tape. As most fans will tell you, most of Let It Be was recorded before their penultimate record Abbey Road, but this song had been finished after that record had come out and in less than pleasing circumstances. As John Lennon put it in 1980 when speaking with David Sheff, “He had a little spurt just before we split. I think the shock of Yoko Ono and what was happening gave him a creative spurt including ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Long And Winding Road’, ’cause that was the last gasp from him.”
McCartney said of the track in Many Years From Now: “I was a bit flipped out and tripped out at that time. It’s a sad song because it’s all about the unattainable; the door you never quite reach. This is the road that you never get to the end of.” The track followed a similar recording process as much of The Beatles back catalogue.
Usually arriving as part of a recording session and under the arm of a single member of the band, the group would all pitch in to try and get it to a recordable point, then with the help of George Martin — the band’s legendary producer — they would piece it together and get it down on tape. It’s a simple process that worked for the majority of their output. But for ‘The Long and Winding Road,’ things went a bit differently.
However, with the band falling apart at the seams, Spector was put in charge of releasing Let It Be, which meant overdubbing plenty of songs to achieve his famed ‘Wall of Sound’ production. “On ‘The Long And Winding Road’ he wanted to overdub orchestra and choir, but there weren’t the available tracks on the tape,” remember engineer Brian Gibson when speaking to Mark Lewisohn for his book on the band. “So he wiped one of Paul McCartney’s two vocal tracks in order to put the orchestra on.”
It sent McCartney to the papers with his disgust at how Spector had changed the songs. He told the Evening Standard in 1970: “The album was finished a year ago, but a few months ago American record producer Phil Spector was called in by John Lennon to tidy up some of the tracks. But a few weeks ago, I was sent a re-mixed version of my song ‘The Long And Winding Road’, with harps, horns, an orchestra and women’s choir added.
“No one had asked me what I thought. I couldn’t believe it,” continued McCartney. “I would never have female voices on a Beatles record. The record came with a note from Allen Klein saying he thought the changes were necessary. I don’t blame Phil Spector for doing it but it just goes to show that it’s no good me sitting here thinking I’m in control because obviously, I’m not. Anyway, I’ve sent Klein a letter asking for some of the things to be altered, but I haven’t received an answer yet.”
The album was released with Spector’s ‘The Long and Winding Road’ cut still present, something George Martin took umbrage with: “That made me angry – and it made Paul even angrier, because neither he nor I knew about it till it had been done. It happened behind our backs because it was done when Allen Klein was running John. He’d organised Phil Spector and I think George and Ringo had gone along with it. They’d actually made an arrangement with EMI and said, ‘This is going to be our record.’”
Over the years, Paul McCartney has been painted as many different villains in The Beatles story. The singer has been cast as the anti-Lennon, a commercially-driven artist and the kind of pop star that will always look to be in the limelight. But the truth is actually more aligned with the idea that McCartney is simply a devoted performer and creator — one that doesn’t take too kindly to being overruled.
So, while Sir Paul may have never openly labelled one album the one he hates, you can be sure that Let It Be is still the album that makes his blood boil.