Flashback: The Beatles Cover 'I Shall Be Released' at 'Let It Be' Sessions

The Beatles camp is commemorating the 50th anniversary of Let It Be this year with the release of the movie The Beatles: Get Back on September 4th. Directed by Peter Jackson, the documentary is packed with unseen footage from the contentious recording sessions for Let It Be that culminated with their legendary rooftop performance. Some of the footage was used in the 1970 Michael Lindsey Hogg-directed film Let It Be, but the vast majority of it has never been seen anywhere. Beatles fanatics have been salivating at the chance to see this stuff for half a century — and they’re finally getting the chance.

The Let It Be sessions were filmed at Twickenham Film Studios from January 2nd to January 14th, 1969, and at Apple from January 20th to 31st, 1969. The original idea was to shoot them preparing for their first concert since 1966, but John Lennon and George Harrison nixed the idea of a show. What did happen was day after day of tense recording sessions without a clear musical direction in mind. Amazing new songs like Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” were nixed, and they played around with cover tunes by the likes of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Tommy Dorsey, Carl Perkins, and Little Richard to kill time and get their creative juices flowing.

Almost none of this has been seen on film, but the Nagra tapes from the audio track leaked out to the fan community years ago and came out as a 38-disc collection. Much of it is a slog to get through for anyone but the most devoted Beatles fans, but there are amazing little moments to discover. Check out this rendition of “I Shall Be Released” by Bob Dylan they recorded on the first day of the sessions. The Basement Tapes were a big inspiration for the Let It Be experiment in the first place, so it’s great to hear them attempt a song recorded in Big Pink itself.

We’ll have to wait until September to see if the video of this made the new film. In many ways, it’s the last major Beatles project that’s still possible. Let’s all hope it will have been worth the 50-year wait.

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