"Let It Be" is a song by The Beatles, released in March 1970 as a single, and as the title track of their album Let It Be. Although credited to Lennon/McCartney it is generally accepted to be a Paul McCartney composition.
The single reached #1 in the U.S., Australia, Italy, Norway and Switzerland and #2 in the UK.
It was the final single released by the Beatles while the band was still active.
McCartney said he had the idea of "Let It Be", after a dream he had about his mother during the tense period surrounding the Get Back/Let It Be
sessions. McCartney explained that his mother—who died of cancer when McCartney was fourteen—was the inspiration for the "Mother Mary" lyric. McCartney later said, "It was great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing 'Let It Be'."
He also said—in a later interview about the dream—that his mother had told him, "It will be alright, just let it be."
Recording and version history
The master take was recorded on 31 January 1969, as part of the 'Apple studio performance' for the project Get Back
. McCartney played piano (a Blüthner
Flügel from Leipzig
), Lennon played bass, Billy Preston
played organ and George Harrison
and Ringo Starr
assumed their conventional roles. This was one of two performances of the song that day. The first version, designated take 27-A, would serve as the basis for all officially released versions of the song. The other version, take 27-B, was performed as part of the 'live studio performance', along with Two of Us
and The Long and Winding Road
. This performance, in which Lennon and Harrison harmonised with McCartney's lead vocal and Harrison contributed a subdued guitar solo, can be seen in the film Let It Be
On 30 April 1969, Harrison overdubbed a new guitar solo on the best take from 31 January that year. Harrison reportedly overdubbed another solo on 4 January 1970. The first overdub solo was used for the original single release, and the second overdub solo was used for the original album release. Some fans mistakenly believe that there were two versions of the basic track—based mostly on the different guitar solos, but also on some other differences in overdubs and mixes.
The single used the same cover photograph as the Let It Be album, and was titled "an intimate bioscopic experience with THE BEATLES". It was originally released as a single on 6 March 1970, backed by "You Know My Name (Look up the Number)", with a production credit for George Martin. This version includes orchestration and backing vocals overdubbed on 1970-01-04—under the supervision of McCartney—with backing vocals that included the only known contribution by Linda McCartney to a Beatles song. It was during this same session that Harrison recorded the second overdubbed guitar solo. The intention at one point was to have the two overdub solos playing together. This idea was dropped for the final mix of the single, and only the 30 April solo was used, although in practice the 4 January overdub can he heard faintly during the final verse. Martin mixed the orchestration very low in this version. Someone can also be heard whispering something indistinct at around 1:08.
The single mix was included on the 1967-1970 compilation album. Original pressings erroneously show the running time of 4:01 (as per the Let It Be album), and not the single version's running time of 3:52.
On 26 March 1970, Phil Spector
remixed the song for the Let It Be
album. This version features the "more stinging" 4 January 1970 guitar solo, no backing vocals (except during the first chorus), an echo effect on Ringo's cymbals, and more prominent orchestration. The other guitar solo can be heard faintly through the right speaker, as the original was planned. There are three lines in the last chorus of the song as the "There will be an answer" line is sung twice instead of once as on the single. On the album, before the song Lennon is heard saying in a falsetto
voice, mimicking Gracie Fields
: "That was 'Can You Dig It' by Georgie Wood
, and now we'd like to do 'Hark The Angels Come'," and then giggles
. Allen Klein
brought in Spector to mix the album without telling McCartney or asking for his agreement, because McCartney had not signed Klein's management contract. McCartney later complained that he was not happy with Spector's production of the recording.
At about 9 seconds into the song, you can hear Ringo click his drumsticks together by accident.
An early version of the song also appears on Anthology 3
(Volume 3) which was released on 28 October 1996. This version, Take 1, was recorded on 25 January 1969. It is a much more simplified version, as McCartney had still not written the final verse yet ("And when the night is cloudy...I wake up to the sound of music..."). Instead, the first verse is simply repeated. The song also features studio talk between Lennon and McCartney prior to another take:
Also, following the end of the recording, John can be heard saying, "I think that was rather grand. I'd take one home with me." The running time of the "Anthology" version is 4:05.
"Let It Be... Naked" version
Another version of the song appeared on the Let It Be… Naked
album in 2003. Starr disliked Spector's version where his drumming was augmented by Spector's "tape-delay-effect" to his hi-hats during the song's second verse and added shakers, so Let It Be… Naked
features his original "stripped-down-approach" drumming. Also departed were the tom-tom overdub rolls, heard after the guitar solo during the third verse. The guitar solo used in this version—similar to the single version—was taken from the subsequent take as seen in the film "Let It Be
". Starr also commented that after the release of Naked
, he would now have to listen to McCartney saying, "I told you so", when talking about Spector's production. The song's running time on Naked
Another Version appears in the Let It Be
film. In this version, McCartney makes several improvisations on piano, placing fill-in notes and sometimes substituting long notes for several short notes. As with the album version, McCartney repeats the "there will be in an answer" line in the chorus. Unlike the album version, however, he does this during the second chorus, not the final chorus. During the final verse and final chorus, McCartney also substitutes the lines "speaking words of wisdom" and "there will be an answer," replacing them with "there will be no sorrow." This version also uses Ringo's more simplified drumming. The film version has never been officially released on record. The running time clocks in at 3:59.
mixed the song on 28 May 1969 as he finished the mixing for the Get Back
album. This version was never released. He used the same mix in a 5 January 1970, which was an attempt to compile an acceptable version of the LP. Again, this version of the LP was never officially released.
The main piano theme from Let it be, in C Major, introduces the song, in a sober yet powerful series of cadences, consisting of bouncing four-beat-bar triads riding over left hand piano single note tempered keystrokes, which drive the whole harmony, from a nascent confidence feeling (first measure), to subsequent melancholic anxious sentiment (measures second and third) and back to a definite grateful, self assured stance (last measure).
The effect of pleading gloomy mood is achieved by McCartney blending in major 6th and 7th intervals, when playing F and C chords, in the middle of the theme. As harmony is circumscribed by the bass tones, inversions are also a frequent feature worth mentioning in the composition, that lastly shape the settling of emotions of the tune’s intent.
Critical reception for "Let It Be" has been mostly positive. Allmusic
said it was one of "The Beatles' most popular and finest ballads". Ian MacDonald
had a dissenting opinion, writing that the song "achieved a popularity well out of proportion to its artistic weight" and that it was "'Hey Jude
', without the musical and emotional release."
John Lennon also commented on "Let It Be". Prior to a take during the 31 January 1969 recording session, he asked, "Are we supposed to giggle in the solo?" (This a similar quote to Lewisohn's "The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions" (p170) but Lennon says "during the solo" not "in the solo" as quoted here). In Lennon's Playboy interview in 1980, he disavowed any involvement with composing the song. He said,
As MacDonald explained, Lennon is wrong about "Bridge over Troubled Water" being McCartney's inspiration: "Let It Be" was recorded approximately a year before "Bridge over Troubled Water" was released. According to Allmusic, Simon and Garfunkel performed the song live in 1969 prior to releasing it, but it is unlikely that McCartney could have heard it before the recording session on 31 January 1969.
Ironically, "Let It Be" knocked "Bridge over Troubled Water" out of the top spot as Billboard Hot 100 number-one single, 11 April 1970. (see below)
Memorial service for Linda
Along with a 700-strong congregation, Paul McCartney
, George Harrison
, and Ringo Starr
sang "Let It Be" during a memorial service for Linda McCartney
at St Martin-in-the-Fields
church in Trafalgar Square
, in 1998.
- Paul McCartney – lead vocals, piano
- John Lennon – Fender Bass VI guitar, backing vocals
- George Harrison – lead guitar, backing vocals
- Ringo Starr – drums
- Billy Preston – organ
- Linda McCartney – backing vocals (on single release only)
Selected cover versions
"Let It Be" has been covered numerous times by various artists, but this is just a short selection:
- The first recording of the song to be released (even before the Beatles' version) was a cover by Aretha Franklin, in January 1970, on the album This Girl's in Love with You, along with her cover of "Eleanor Rigby".
- Gladys Knight and The Pips released a version of the song on the tribute album, Motown Sings The Beatles. Singer-songwriter Bill Withers covered "Let It Be" on his 1971 debut album, Just As I Am, and Ray Charles covered it on his 1977 album, True to Life.
- John Denver included a version of "Let It Be" on his 1971 album, Poems, Prayers, and Promises, and Joan Baez included "Let It Be" on her 1971 album, Blessed Are..., and released the song as a single. The song also appears on her live album, Diamonds & Rust in the Bullring, and she performed it at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970, as captured in the film, Message to Love.
- Leo Sayer covered the song for the 1976 ephemeral musical documentary, All This and World War II, and former Fleetwood Mac guitarist and vocalist, Danny Kirwan, recorded a version for his 1976 album, Midnight in San Juan, (released in the USA under the name, Danny Kirwan).
- Charity ensemble Ferry Aid—in the wake of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster—recorded a version (featuring McCartney) which reached #1 on the UK singles chart in March 1987. In 1995, Meat Loaf covered the song on his single, "Not a Dry Eye in the House", which the single reached up to #7 in the UK. Australian rock musician Nick Cave recorded a cover of the song for the soundtrack to the 2001 film, I Am Sam. Lesley Garrett sang an operatic version on her 2002 album, The Singer.
- The song is featured in the Academy Award nominated 2007 film Across the Universe, where it is sung by a gospel choir and set against the backdrop of the 12th Street riot.
- Brooke White of American Idol (season 7) performed this song during the first Beatles tribute week. She will also be performing this song on the American Idols LIVE! Tour 2008 that runs from 1 July to 13 September.
- Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer adapted the song into Hebrew, entitled "Lu Yehi." It was most famously sung by Chava Alberstein in 1973.
- Eric Burdon recorded it, probably in the early 1980s, it was bootlegged and released on 27 February 2008 on the album "Ultimate Rarities Vol. 2".
In 2003, McCartney performed a private rendition for Russian President Vladimir Putin—in the Kremlin—before McCartney played a concert in Red Square.
- The Beatles:
- Release: 6 March 1970
- Tracks: 7" Single (Apple) Let It Be b/w You Know My Name Look Up The Number
- Producer: George Martin and Chris Thomas
- UK chart position: #2
- U.S. chart position: #1 (2 weeks)
- U.S. adult contemporary chart: #1 (4 weeks)
- Ferry Aid:
- Release: 1987
- Tracks:7" Single (The Sun/AID 1) "Let It Be" (6:08) b/w "Let It Be" (The Gospel Jam Mix) (2:50)
- Producers: Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman
- UK chart position: #1
- Lewisohn, Mark (1990). EMI's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Story of the Abbey Road Years. Hamlyn. ISBN 0-681-03189-1.
- Lewisohn, Mark (1996). The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Chancellor Press. ISBN 0-7607-0327-2.
- Sheff, David (2000). All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Paperback). St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-25464-4.
- Spitz, Bob (2005). The Beatles. Little Brown. ISBN 0-316-80352-9.
- The Beatles (2000). Anthology. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-2684-8.