Let It Be is the twelfth and final original album released by The Beatles. It was released on 8 May 1970 by the band's own Apple Records label, shortly after the group's announced breakup. It was ranked number 86 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time in 2003.
Most of Let It Be was recorded in January 1969, before the recording and release of the album Abbey Road. The Beatles were unhappy with the album and it was temporarily shelved. Let It Be was later 're-produced' by Phil Spector in 1970.
The group began rehearsals at Twickenham Studios on 2 January 1969. No multi-track recordings were made of these sessions, as the Beatles were rehearsing for the live show rather than attempting to record an album. (Despite this, there are widely available bootlegs taken from the mono recordings that were synchronized to the film cameras.) A number of possible locations for the live show were discussed during the Twickenham rehearsals, with the leading candidates being a Roman amphitheatre in North Africa or a cruise ship. At one point, John Lennon sarcastically suggested that they perform in "an insane asylum".
Everyone involved in the Twickenham rehearsals considered them to be disastrous. By the third day of rehearsal, the group openly discussed whether they should break up. Lennon had all but withdrawn creatively from the Beatles, seldom contributing even to the arrangements of his own songs. George Harrison was increasingly resentful; while he was treated respectfully by musical colleagues such as Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, when working within the Beatles his songs usually were either derided or ignored. McCartney's attempts to hold the band together and rally spirits were seen by his bandmates as controlling. The constant presence of Lennon's companion and artistic partner Yoko Ono -- who often spoke on Lennon's behalf as he sat silently by -- was a major source of tension. The intrusive film cameras and the cold, unfamiliar settings of Twickenham Studios also contributed to ill feelings. Finally, Harrison became fed up with Lennon's creative and communicative disengagement from the band, and on 10 January announced that he was "leaving the band now". Within a few days Harrison was persuaded to return to the group, who moved to their own Apple Studios.
Multi-track recording began when the group moved to Apple Studios on 22 January, continuing until 31 January. Harrison brought in keyboardist Billy Preston to ease tensions and supplement the band for the live performances. Preston worked with the Beatles from 22–31 January.
The live concert idea culminated with the Beatles and Preston performing 30 January on the rooftop of the Beatles' Apple Building at 3 Savile Row before a small audience of friends and employees. The performance was cut short by the police after complaints about noise. The complete concert has circulated among bootleg collectors for many years. Three numbers recorded at the rooftop concert, namely "Dig a Pony", "I've Got a Feeling", and "One After 909", do appear on the album, while several spoken parts of the concert appear between tracks that were recorded in studio.
The band played hundreds of songs during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. Aside from original songs ultimately released on the Let It Be album were early versions of almost all of the songs that appeared on Abbey Road, including "Mean Mr. Mustard", "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window", "Sun King", "Polythene Pam", "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight", "Something", "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", "Oh! Darling", "Octopus's Garden", and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". Still others would eventually end up on Beatles solo albums, including Lennon's "Jealous Guy" (called "Child of Nature" at the time and originally written and rehearsed for the White Album) and "Gimme Some Truth", Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" and "Hear Me Lord", and McCartney's "Teddy Boy" and "Junk" (originally written for the White Album). Much of the band's attention was focused on extended jams on 12-bar blues as well as a broad range of covers. These included classical pieces such as Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings", jazz standards such as "Ain't She Sweet", and an encyclopaedic array of songs from the early rock and roll era such as "Stand By Me", "Words of Love", "Lonely Sea", "Bésame Mucho" by Mexican composer Consuelo Velázquez (a song that was part of The Beatles repertoire in the early days) and "Blue Suede Shoes". The rehearsals and recording sessions were filmed and formed the basis of the Beatles' film of same name.
Engineer Glyn Johns put together a rough version of Get Back on acetate in March 1969, which included many of the same songs that made the final cut, plus McCartney's "Teddy Boy". Johns played the acetate for the Beatles, who were not really interested in the project any longer. At least one copy of the acetate made its way to America and was aired on local radio stations in Buffalo, New York, and Boston in September.
In March 1969, Lennon and McCartney called Glyn Johns to EMI and offered him free rein to produce an album from the Get Back recordings. Johns booked time at Olympic Studios between 3 April and 28 May to mix the album and presented the final banded master tape to the group on 28 May. Only one track, "One After 909", was taken from the rooftop concert, with "I've Got a Feeling" and "Dig a Pony" being studio recordings instead. Johns also favoured earlier, rougher versions of "Two of Us" and "Let It Be" over the more polished performances from the final 31 January session (which were eventually chosen for the Let It Be album). It also included a jam called "Rocker", and a brief rendition of The Drifters' "Save The Last Dance For Me."
The Get Back album was intended for release in July 1969, but its release was pushed back to September to coincide with the planned television special and the theatrical film about the making of the album. In September, the album's release was pushed back to December because the Beatles had just recorded Abbey Road and wanted to release that album instead. By December the album had been shelved.
On 15 December, The Beatles again approached Glyn Johns to produce an album from the 'Get Back' tapes but this time with the instruction that the songs must match those included in the as yet unreleased Get Back film. Between 15 December 1969 and 8 January 1970, new mixes were prepared. Johns' new mix omitted "Teddy Boy" as the song did not appear in the film (and also likely because McCartney had indicated to John that he had re-recorded the song for his upcoming McCartney album). It also added "Across the Universe" (a remix of the 1968 studio version, as the January 1969 rehearsals of the song were judged unsatisfactory) and "I Me Mine," on which only McCartney, Harrison and Ringo Starr performed (Lennon had left the band by that time). "I Me Mine" was newly recorded, as it appeared in the film and no multi-track recording had yet been made. The Beatles once again rejected the album.
Several songs from the recording sessions have been released officially in versions different from those on the Let It Be album. "Get Back"/"Don't Let Me Down" and "Let It Be" were released as singles in 1969 and 1970, respectively. "Across the Universe", a Lennon composition recorded in February 1968, was added to pad out his sparse contributions to the album, having previously been released as part of the World Wildlife Fund charity album No One's Gonna Change Our World. Neither version was at the originally recorded speed (the No One's Gonna Change Our World version being sped up and the Let It Be version being slowed down). The track appeared for the first time at its original speed on the Let It Be… Naked album in 2003. The Glyn Johns version of "The Long and Winding Road" was released in 1996 on The Beatles Anthology 3.
Six tracks were live performances, in accordance with the original album concept: "I've Got a Feeling", "One After 909", and "Dig a Pony" from the rooftop performance, and "Two of Us", "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae" from studio sessions. However, the album versions of "For You Blue", "I Me Mine", "Let It Be", "The Long and Winding Road" and "Get Back" featured editing, splicing, and overdubs. The twelfth track on the album was a slowed-down version of the original 1968 recording of "Across the Universe", which had only been rehearsed at Twickenham and not professionally recorded on multi-track tape during the January 1969 sessions.
McCartney was deeply dissatisfied with Spector's treatment of some songs, particularly "The Long and Winding Road". McCartney had conceived of the song as a simple piano ballad, but Spector dubbed in orchestral and choral accompaniment. McCartney unsuccessfully attempted to halt release of Spector's version of the song. He was fine with the orchestra, but the choir and harp he wanted to be removed. His bitterness over this was a contributing factor to his public announcement that he was leaving the Beatles shortly thereafter. Despite the criticisms levelled at Spector over the years for his handling of the material, Lennon defended him in his famous Playboy interview 10 years later, saying, "He was given the shittiest load of badly-recorded shit with a lousy feeling to it ever, and he made something of it."
In the UK, the album was originally issued by Apple (and distributed by EMI) in a lavish boxed set that also included a book featuring stills from the Let It Be film. Several months later, the album was reissued in Great Britain in a standard LP jacket, sans book. In the United States, the Let It Be album was issued in a standard jacket, without the book. The American release was also originally issued by Apple Records, but because United Artists distributed the film, United Artists also held the rights to distribute the record in America. (EMI subsidiary Capitol, which held the Beatles' US contract, had simultaneous rights to the music on the album, and could distribute the songs on various singles and compilation albums. Capitol, however, did not have the rights to release or distribute the actual album.) To indicate that Let It Be was not distributed by Capitol, the original record label in America sported a red apple, rather than the Beatles' usual green granny smith apple. In early 1976, when the Beatles' Apple Record contract expired, most of the group's catalogue in the United States transferred from Apple to Capitol; Let It Be, however, went out-of-print in America for three years. Then in 1979, Capitol/EMI purchased United Artists Records. With this acquisition, Capitol acquired the rights to two Beatles albums previously distributed in the United States by United Artists, Let It Be and the soundtrack album A Hard Day's Night. (As A Hard Day's Night had never been issued by Apple in the United States, it remained in print in America under the United Artists label when the Apple contract expired in 1976.) Shortly after acquiring United Artists Records, Capitol re-issued both Beatles albums under the Capitol imprint.
The album was met with mixed reviews at the time of its release. NME critic Alan Smith wrote "If the new Beatles soundtrack is to be their last then it will stand as a cheapskate epitaph, a cardboard tombstone, a sad and tatty end to a musical fusion which wiped clean and drew again the face of pop". Rolling Stone magazine was also critical of the album, citing Spector's production embellishments as a sore point: "Musically, boys, you passed the audition. In terms of having the judgment to avoid either over-producing yourselves or casting the fate of your get-back statement to the most notorious of all over-producers, you didn't...".