Paul McCartney wasn't happy with Phil Spector after he heard what the little producer had done to the album "Let It Be." Among other things, Paul was put off by Phil's re-production of "The Long And Winding Road." McCartney had envisioned a simple piano thing, which is how he recorded it. But Spector has never, ever done anything the simple way — as anyone who watched his murder trial might attest.
The Phil "Spectored" version of "Let It Be" was released in the United States on May 8, 1970, roughly 16 months after The Beatles recorded it and about two months after Spector got his hands on it. Spector had added the strings and choral effects that turned McCartney into a screaming meanie. This probably amused Lennon to no end, but that's a different story.
My friend Don Sundeen has lived at least three lives. In his first, he was a DJ named Donny Dare; in his third and current phase, he's a former disc jockey, record promo man and Television Commercial Director. But, in the middle, at a time when the music business was both hard work and hard play, he found himself doing promotion for United Artist Records in San Francisco.
Sundeen arrived in the Bay Area in 1968 and was still there in 1970, when Dick Starr's KYA did battle with Ted Atkins' KFRC, when Tom "Big Daddy" Donahue left KMPX to walk through the doors of Metromedia's KSAN, and when Fillmore impresario Bill Graham demanded that the record company give him 100 promo copies of the new Traffic album, "John Barleycorn Must Die." And, yes — Mr. Graham means right now!
"This must be the work hard part," thought Sundeen. He arranged for the comps to be delivered, even helped to carry them into the man's office, and then — see if you believe this — was told that if he wanted to see his band perform, he'd have to buy a ticket. Surprised and not just a wee bit angry,
Sundeen paid with his UA dollars and later that night, like a civilian, walked into the Fillmore Auditorium.
"It was a huge room," he recalls. "There was a stage, and everybody just sat on the floor. And there was a certain amount of — how would we say it today? — Uh, people partaking."
It was, as was said back then, a heavy time.
I Me Mine
The day all hell broke loose Sundeen and Bob Sherwood, Program Director of KROY in Sacramento, had just done lunch. Since there were no cell phones in 1970, Sundeen didn't know about the calamity until they got back to the radio station. "You've got an emergency phone call from your office," KROY's receptionist told the promotion man.
"It was unusual," Sundeen says, "because they never called me when I was on the road. Never. So, anyway, I called the office, and they told me that everybody was flipping out because KYA was playing the new Beatles album, 'Let It Be.'"
"Well, that can't be," responded Sundeen. "We don't have it yet."
"Well, you might not have it," said his UA secretary, "but KYA is playing it."
The drive back to San Francisco took a few hours. By the time Sundeen arrived at his office, everyone was hysterical. Carol Archer had called from KFRC to say that she and Ted Atkins weren't happy campers; the implication was that the RKO folks thought KYA was getting preferential treatment. Finally, Sundeen got ahold of Dick Starr, KYA's PD, and the story began to unravel. It turned out Dick was playing both sides of the single, saying the songs were from the album and calling it a "KYA exclusive." Sundeen got back on the horn with KFRC to explain what had happened. Though it went unsaid, he got the impression they wished they'd thought of the idea first.
Things started to settle down, but there was one issue still on the table. KFRC was adamant that they get the album at exactly the same time as every other radio station did.
Now, it's not that it hadn't been done before. Still, making sure all the players got their hands on the album at precisely the same time was going to take a D-Day effort. "So I organized the office and assigned everyone a station. I went to KFRC and KMPX, and Fast Eddie Adams [a UA promotion man Sundeen describes as 'legendary'] went to KSAN, where Bob McLean was waiting for it."
May 8, the official release date for "Let It Be," fell on Friday, but United Artists had the promo copies a few days early. The maneuver began around 11am on Thursday morning. At 11:45 a.m. — on the nose — every contemporary radio station in the Bay Area was handed the album.
"I remember bringing it to KMPX," says Sundeen. "It was this wonderful 'hippie' radio station above a warehouse. Just one big room filled by the DJs and their old ladies — that's what they called their wives and girlfriends back in the day — and their kids and dogs. The walls were roughed out lumber — you know, not finished. And in the middle was a soundproof booth."
Architecture aside, Sundeen says KMPX was truly an underground station, with anti-establishment radical leanings. "When the FBI was searching for Mark Rudd, one of the Weathermen, I ran into him at the station. At the time I thought, 'This guy is a fugitive of justice. The FBI is going to come blasting in here, and we're going to jail.' But they didn't."
The Long And Winding Road
While the official breakup of the Beatles wasn't announced until December of 1970, most everyone in the know knew, or at least suspected, that "Let It Be" was going to be their swan song. So, when the album was delivered to KMPX, the entire staff was waiting for it. "They put it right on the air," Sundeen recalls. "Everybody grabbed headsets and then sat down on the floor to listen. They played both sides straight through, and it was fascinating to watch because it was so intense. Everyone was listening for clues and messages."
So, with Beatles blasting across the dial ("I'd never had the experience on hearing one of my records being played on all the major radio stations at the same time," Sundeen says) and radio execs calmed down, he returned to his office. Mission accomplished, he thought.
"But, as I walked back into the office I was met by the Jack Messler, the Branch Manager."
"Well," Sundeen said, by way of greeting. "We're sure going to be selling some records, aren't we? It's everywhere."
"No, we're not," replied Messler.
"Because the truck carrying the album shipment between L.A. and here was hijacked and 50,000 copies of 'Let It Be' are missing, along with the driver."
The crime was never solved.
Let It Be ... Naked
In the court of public opinion Paul McCartney testified, for years, that Phil Spector's retooling of "Let It Be" bothered him. "What he did to 'The Long and Winding Road' ruined it," McCartney claimed.
In Playboy, John Lennon had a different take: "He was given the shittiest load of badly recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something of it."
In November of 2003 McCartney got retribution when, on behalf of the Beatles, he released "Let It Be ... Naked."
The album, which included some additions and deletions, supposedly represents the way McCartney always wished the music had been presented in the first place -- in the raw, with blemishes and all. In the United States alone, the record sold over 1.5 million copies.
Let It Be Naked – Trailer
Let It Be ... Naked
Today, both Paul McCartney and Don Sundeen are 73 and married, and Phil Spector is 75, single, and in prison. And out there somewhere, perhaps hidden in a cave, are 50,000 Beatles albums that McCartney never wanted released. I know it's just me, but I wonder if there's any connection. And, I wonder what happened to the truck driver.
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