- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Let It Be (Limited Edition) LP.
- EMI Studios, Studio One, Abbey Road
- EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road
More from year 1970
Some songs from this session appear on:
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This was the last recording session for a Beatles album and the last session with the contribution from one Beatle. On this day, Phil Spector supervised the recording of orchestral and choral overdubs for three songs, “Across The Universe“, “The Long And Winding Road” and “I Me Mine“.
Ringo Starr was present to play the drums on each song, alongside the orchestra.
Brian Gibson was a technical engineer for this session, and vividly remembered this session:
Phil Spector is one of the weirdest persons I have ever met in the recording industry. He’s totally paranoid. A most odd character, extremely insecure. He has that famous ‘Phil Spector Sound’ that consists of lots of echo and everything. But whereas all the record producers that I’ve encountered have in the back of their mind the way a song will sound when finally mixed, at the recording stage they tend to leave tracks completely dry, perhaps with just a bit of monitor echo, but certainly without any of the effects added later…
On “Let It Be”, though, Spector worked in the completely opposite way. He wanted to hear it, while it was being recorded, exactly the way it would sound when finished: with all the tape echo, plate echo, chamber echo, all the effects. This was horrendously difficult in studio one which is, technically, quite primitive. Spector was on the point of throwing a bit wobbly – ‘I wanna hear this!’, ‘I must have that!’ – when Ringo took him quietly aside and said, ‘Look, they can’t do that, they’re doing the best they can. Just cool it.’ Ringo didn’t need to do that but I think he could see that Spector was getting towards the end of his tether and was giving everybody a hard time. He wanted everyone to know who he was, he liked to assert himself.Brian Gibson – Technical engineer – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn
It was a similar experience for Peter Bown, the engineer assisting Phil Spector on this session:
My God, do I remember that session! Spector had three sets of (musical) parts for the musicians but he’d only booked them in for two. Out of the blue he distributed these extra parts, without intimating that there would be any extra payment. I warned Phil that he’d never get away with it, and of course the orchestra got up and walked out. I worked with these musicians often and knew them well, so I went into the control room, put a wedge under the door and tried to keep out of it. I got home very very late, well after midnight, and took the phone off the hook because I knew Spector would try and call. The moment I put it back Spector was on the line, asking me to return to the studio and continue, which I did. The musicians got their extra payment. This session was on the first of April 1970 – but it was one April Fool’s joke which did not come off.Peter Bown – Engineer – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn
The first task of the day was to create reduction mixes of the three songs, to give room for the orchestra overdubs.
“Across The Universe” had been recorded on a four-track tape in February 1968. This four-track tape was copied onto three tracks of a new eight-track tape. Backing vocals from The Beatles and the two fans invited to the session (Lizzie Bravo and Gayleen Pease) were omitted.
For “The Long And Winding Road“, Phil Spector reduced the seven tracks used on the eight-track tape to five, by combining Ringo Starr’s drum track, Billy Preston’s electric piano and George Harrison’s guitar into one track and dropping a track for the backing vocal mic, which went unused. According to Brian Gibson, one of Paul McCartney’s vocal tracks was wiped out, but it seems it didn’t happen:
On “The Long And Winding Road”, [Phil] wanted to overdub orchestra and choir but there weren’t the available tracks on the tape, so he wiped one of Paul’s two vocal tracks in order to put the orchestra on.Brian Gibson – Technical engineer – From “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” by Mark Lewisohn
The eight-track tape of “I Me Mine” was reduced to six tracks, by combining George’s acoustic guitar, Paul’s organ and Paul’s electric piano onto one track.
Once those reduction mixes were done, the orchestra overdubs were recorded – with eighteen violins, four violas, three trumpets, four cellos, three trombones, a harp, fourteen vocalists… and Ringo Starr on drums whose contribution on this day would be barely audible on the end results.
The musical scores for “The Long And Winding Road” and “I Me Mine” were arranged and conducted by Richard Hewson (who had previously worked with Paul McCartney, arranging Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were The Days“), while “Across The Universe” was done by Brian Rogers. John Barham scored the vocals for “The Long And Winding Road” and “Across The Universe“.
It wasn’t until the Spring of 1970 that Hewson did his most important arranging job for the Beatles: the lush orchestrations for the Let It Be album.
“I got the call about 7:00 p.m. It was to be recorded the following day. I hate working at night; I’m not very good at it.” Hewson went to Apple and picked up the demo for ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and George’s ‘I Me Mine’ (the scoring for “Across the Universe” was assigned to another arranger, Brian Rogers). The former featured just piano, drums and McCartney’s vocal.
Hewson quickly began work for the session the following day, at 7 in the evening on April 1st at Abbey Road.
“They said they wanted the whole thing orchestrated. I didn’t meet Phil Spector until the actual session.” But the two had plenty of contact, via the telephone. “He said, ‘I want it orchestrated with a massive orchestra.’ So I lined up an orchestra with what I thought was a massive orchestra. All through the night, he kept ringing up saying, ‘Let’s have some more violins. Let’s have three harps instead of one,’ and all that. There were so many musicians in the end that we couldn’t get them all in! We actually, literally, had to shut the door and say there’s enough.“
The session the following day was, as has been documented numerous times, no picnic either. Spector’s unusual behavior didn’t help matters. “He was surrounded by these bodyguards, all wearing these fedoras, you know, those gangster-type hats. He looked like a gangster.”
Spector didn’t do much to improve his relationship with the musicians. “They turned the lights out in the control room. He was in there sitting in the dark with all these weird guys. I was actually a little frightened to go in there.“
Spector had the orchestra play the parts repeatedly, which quickly wore on the musicians. “He kept going, ‘Let’s have another take.’ He didn’t ever want to listen to a playback, he just wanted to play it over and over again. The guys were saying, ‘We played it. We can’t play it any better.’ It wasn’t that difficult music for those guys. They’re brilliant musicians. The first reading through is pretty well perfect, and the second one is right on. Eventually, after the tenth time, they got fed up and left.“
The only Beatle present was Ringo who, true to form, kept drumming faithfully along. “He was very cheery, and he didn’t seem to mind. He kept drumming every time we took a take.“
The results have always gotten mixed reviews from fans, but decidedly negative reviews from the group. “I know McCartney wasn’t too happy with the idea. I heard about it later. I know both he and George Martin didn’t like all that stuff, though Paul’s never said anything about it. I’ve worked with George Martin several times since. One time, I actually pulled his leg and said, ‘What about that, then?’ He sort of changed the subject!”
How does the arranger himself feel about it? “It was just a job for me. I know they weren’t really keen on this big orchestra treatment. But history shows that it did well.“
Anecdote: Richard Hewson was paid £40 for this session.
The final mixing for those three songs would be done the day after, on April 2, 1970.
The orchestral overdubs added to “The Long And Winding Road” would cause the ire of Paul McCartney when he finally listened to Phil Spector’s mix. Two weeks after this session, on April 14, 1970, he would write the following letter to Allen Klein:
In future, no one will be allowed to add to or subtract from a recording of one of my songs without my permission.
I had considered orchestrating ‘The Long And Winding Road’ but I had decided against it. I, therefore, want it altered to these specifications:
1. Strings, horns, voices and all added noises to be reduced in volume.
2. Vocal and Beatle instrumentation to be brought up in volume.
3. Harp to be removed completely at the end of the song and original piano notes to be substituted.
4. Don’t ever do it again.
c.c. Phil Spector
A few weeks ago, I was sent a remixed version of my song ‘The Long And Winding Road’ with harps, horns, an orchestra, and a women’s choir added. No one had asked me what I thought. I couldn’t believe it. 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 things to be altered, but I haven’t received an answer yet.Paul McCartney – Interview with Ray Conolly, from the “Evening Standard”, April 16, 1970
Allen Klein decided – possibly having consulted the others, but certainly not me – that Let It Be would be re-produced for disc by Phil Spector.
So now we were getting a ‘re-producer’ instead of just a producer, and he added on all sorts of stuff – singing ladies on The Long And Winding Road – backing that I perhaps wouldn’t have put on. I mean, I don’t think it made it the worst record ever, but the fact that now people were putting stuff on our records that certainly one of us didn’t know about was wrong. I’m not sure whether the others knew about it. It was just, ‘Oh, get it finished up. Go on – do whatever you want.’ We were all getting fed up.Paul McCartney – The Anthology Book
I think he’d simmered down because, after all, the song became a huge hit as a massive orchestral thing and he toured with an orchestra so, come on Paul, it wasn’t so bad after all, was it?Richard Hewson – From The Northern Echo, April 2, 2018
Last updated on December 10, 2021
Musicians on "The Long And Winding Road"
Musicians on "Across The Universe"
Musicians on "I Me Mine"
The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.
We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!
If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.