The Paul McCartney Project

Let It Be

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Album This song officially appears on the Let It Be / You Know My Name 7" Single.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1970
Sessions This song has been recorded during the following sessions

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

Let It Be” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, released in March 1970 as a single, and (in an alternate mix) as the title track of their album Let It Be. At the time, it had the highest debut on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching number 6. It was written and sung by Paul McCartney. It was their final single before McCartney announced his departure from the band. Both the Let It Be album and the US single “The Long and Winding Road” were released after McCartney’s announced departure from and the subsequent break-up of the group.

The alternate mix on their album Let It Be features an additional guitar solo and some minor differences in the orchestral sections.

In 1987, the song was recorded by charity supergroup Ferry Aid (which included McCartney). It reached number 1 on the UK Singles Chart for three weeks and reached the top ten in many other European countries.

Composition and recording

Origins

McCartney said he had the idea of “Let It Be” after he had a dream about his mother during the tense period surrounding the sessions for The Beatles (“the White Album”) in 1968. According to McCartney, the song’s reference to “Mother Mary” was not biblical. The phrase has at times been used as a reference to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, McCartney explained that his mother – who died of cancer when he was fourteen – was the inspiration for the “Mother Mary” lyric. He 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 all right, just let it be.” When asked if the song referred to the Virgin Mary, McCartney has typically answered the question by assuring his fans that they can interpret the song however they like.

Recordings

The first rehearsal of “Let It Be” took place at Twickenham Film Studios on 3 January 1969, where the group had, the previous day, begun what would become the Let It Be film. During this stage of the film they were only recording on the mono decks used for syncing to the film cameras, and were not making multi-track recordings for release. A single take was recorded, with just McCartney on piano and vocals. The first attempt with the other Beatles was made on 8 January. Work continued on the song throughout the month. Multi-track recordings commenced on 23 January at Apple Studios.

The master take was recorded on 31 January 1969, as part of the “Apple studio performance” for the project. McCartney played Blüthner piano, Lennon played six-string electric bass, George Harrison and Ringo Starr assumed their conventional roles, on guitar and drums respectively, and Billy Preston contributed on organ. This was one of two performances of “Let It Be” 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.

The film performance of “Let It Be” has never been officially released as an audio recording. The lyrics in the two versions differ a little in the last verse. The studio version has mother Mary comes to me … there will be an answer, whereas the film version has mother Mary comes to me … there will be no sorrow. In addition, McCartney’s vocal performance is noticeably different in both versions: in the film version, it sounds a rough in certain moments since he is not using anti-pop on his mic; there are also a couple of falsetto vocals performed by him (extending the vocal ‘e’ on the word ‘be’), for instance in the ‘let it be’ line that precedes the second chorus. Finally, the instrumental progression featured on the middle of the song after the second chorus (that descends from F to C), which is played twice on all released studio versions, is played (or at least is shown being played) only once in the film.

On 30 April 1969, Harrison overdubbed a new guitar solo on the best take from 31 January. He 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 other differences in overdubs and mixes.

Single version

The single used the same cover photographs as the Let It Be album, and was originally released 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 4 January 1970, under the supervision of Martin and 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 the 4 January overdub can be heard faintly during the final verse. Martin mixed the orchestration very low in this version.

The single mix made its album debut on the Beatles’ 1967–1970 compilation album. Original pressings erroneously show the running time of 4:01 (from the Let It Be album), and not the single version’s running time of 3:52. This version was also included on 20 Greatest Hits, Past Masters Volume 2 and 1.

Album version

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), a delay effect on Starr’s hi-hat, and more prominent orchestration. The final chorus has three “let it be …” lines, as the “there will be an answer” line is repeated twice (instead of once as on the single) before the “whisper words of wisdom” line to close the song. On the album, as the preceding track “Dig It” ends, 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’.” 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.

Anthology version

An early version of the song also appears on Anthology 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 repeated. The song also features studio talk between Lennon and McCartney prior to another take:

John: Are we supposed to giggle [or perhaps ‘get (a) little’] in the solo?
Paul: Yeah.
John: OK.
Paul: This’ll – this is gonna knock you out, boy.

Also, following the end of the recording, Lennon can be heard saying, “I think that was rather grand. I’d take one home with me. OK let’s track it. (Gasps) You bounder, you cheat!” (This is a reference to the no-overdub policy that the Beatles had adopted for the Get Back project – “tracking” refers to double tracking the vocals on a recording.) The running time of the Anthology version is 4:05.

Let It Be… Naked version

Still another version of the song appeared on the Let It Be… Naked album in 2003. This version contains a different piano track than the one on the studio and single version; it can be noted that in the intro, McCartney plays an extra A bass note during the A minor chord (very similar to the way he plays the intro in the film version) and also plays a standard A minor chord in the piano at the first beat of measure two in the last verse (on the lyric “mother“, also like in the film version), while the other versions have a different piano harmonisation which can be easily interpreted as an unfixed mistake. The backing vocals in the chorus of this version are similar to those in the single version, but are significantly reduced in volume while still retaining a reverb-heavy, choral effect. 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 Let It Be… Naked is 3:52.

Unused mixes

Glyn Johns 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 on 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. […]

Critical reception

In his review of the single, for the NME, Derek Johnson admired McCartney’s performance and the lyrics’ “pseudo-religious” qualities. Although he considered that the melody paled beside some of the band’s previous singles, Johnson added: “As ever with The Beatles, this is a record to stop you dead in your tracks and compel you to listen attentively.” John Gabree of High Fidelity magazine found the lyrics “dangerous politically“, but viewed the song as possibly “the best thing musically that McCartney has done“.

In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine placed “Let It Be” at number 8 on the Beatles’ 100 Greatest Songs. Mojo magazine ranked it at number 50 in a similar list, compiled in 2006. AllMusic said it was one of “the Beatles’ most popular and finest ballads“. Ian MacDonald disagreed, 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“. Former Creem critic Richard Riegel included it on his 1996 list of the ten most overrated Beatles tracks, saying that, like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water“, the song “cater[ed] to the lowest-common-denominator emotional stasis of its listeners. ‘Let It Be’ left the Beatles no artistic choice but dissolution.

Lennon also commented disparagingly 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 is a similar quote to Lewisohn’s “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions” (p. 170) 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.

That’s Paul. What can you say? Nothing to do with the Beatles. It could’ve been Wings. I don’t know what he’s thinking when he writes “Let It Be”. I think it was inspired by “Bridge over Troubled Waters” [sic]. That’s my feeling, although I have nothing to go on. I know that he wanted to write a “Bridge over Troubled Waters”.

As MacDonald explained, Lennon was wrong about “Bridge over Troubled Water” being McCartney’s inspiration. Although Simon & Garfunkel’s ballad charted just ahead of “Let It Be“, the latter was recorded approximately six months before “Bridge over Troubled Water” was written and a full year before Paul Simon’s song was released.

Let It Be” holds the top spot on “The Fans’ Top 10” poll included in The 100 Best Beatles Songs: An Informed Fan’s Guide by Stephen J. Spignesi and Michael Lewis. The song is ranked third on the 100 Best Beatles Songs list, behind “A Day in the Life” and “Strawberry Fields Forever“.

Live performances

Film of the Beatles performance was shown on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 15, 1970.

Although the song is performed regularly during McCartney’s performances, there are a few notable performances.

  • On 13 July 1985, McCartney performed “Let It Be” as one of the closing acts of the Live Aid charity concert in front of an estimated global television audience exceeding one billion people. It was beset by technical difficulties when his microphone failed for the first two minutes of his piano performance, making it difficult for television viewers and impossible for those in the stadium to hear him. As a result, previous performers David Bowie, Bob Geldof, Alison Moyet and Pete Townshend returned to the stage to back him up. He later joked about changing the lyrics to “There will be some feedback, let it be“. He re-recorded his vocals afterwards for future home video releases.
  • Along with a 700-strong congregation, McCartney, Harrison and Starr sang “Let It Be” during a memorial service for Linda McCartney at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, in 1998.
  • McCartney also led a crowd rousing rendition as part of the finale of the Concert for New York City, a benefit concert he organised, featuring many famous musicians, that took place on 20 October 2001 at Madison Square Garden in New York City in response to the 11 September attacks.
  • In 2003, before playing his concert in Moscow’s Red Square, McCartney performed a private rendition for Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.
  • On 18 July 2008, McCartney performed “Let It Be” with Billy Joel and his band to close the final concert at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York before its demolition.
  • On 4 June 2012, McCartney performed the song as part of his set during the Concert for the Queen, celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

  • [a] stereo 4 Jan 1970.
    UK: Apple R5833 single 1970, Apple PCSP 718 The Beatles 1967-1970 1973.
    US: Apple 2764 single 1970, Apple SKBO-3404 The Beatles 1967-1970 1973.
    CD: EMI CDP 7 90044 2 Past Masters 2 1988, EMI single 1989, EMI CDP 7 97039 2 The Beatles 1967-1970 1993.
  • [b] stereo 26 Mar 1970. edited.
    UK: Apple PXS 1 and PCS 7096 Let It Be 1970.
    US: Apple AR 34001 Let It Be 1970.
    CD: EMI CDP 7 46447 2 Let It Be 1987.

The “single mix” [a] uses lead guitar overdubbed April 1969, ignoring the new lead guitar track recorded earlier the same day, while [b] uses the lead guitar overdubbed Jan 4; both use horns from January 1970, [b] more prominently. [b] has a repeat of the last chorus edited in.

Last updated on September 23, 2018

Lyrics

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Yeah, there will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Ah, let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music,
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, yeah, let it be
Oh, there will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

Officially appears on


Let It Be

Official album • Released in 1970

4:03 • Studio versionB • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Bass guitar, Maracas, Piano, Vocals
Linda McCartney:
Backing vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Backing vocals
George Harrison:
Backing vocals, Lead guitar
George Martin:
Producer
Phil McDonald:
Engineer
Chris Thomas:
Producer
Jeff Jarratt:
Engineer
Glyn Johns:
Engineer
Billy Preston:
Electric piano, Organ

Session Recording:
Jan 31, 1969
Studio:
Apple Studios, 3 Savile Row, London

Session Overdubs:
Jan 04, 1970
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Mar 26, 1970
Studio:
EMI Studios, Room 4, Abbey Road


Let It Be / You Know My Name

7" Single • Released in 1970

3:52 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Bass guitar, Maracas, Piano, Vocals
Linda McCartney:
Backing vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Backing vocals
George Harrison:
Backing vocals, Lead guitar
George Martin:
Producer
Phil McDonald:
Engineer
Chris Thomas:
Producer
Jeff Jarratt:
Engineer
Glyn Johns:
Engineer
Billy Preston:
Electric piano, Organ

Session Recording:
Jan 31, 1969
Studio:
Apple Studios, 3 Savile Row, London

Session Overdubs:
Apr 30, 1969
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jan 04, 1970
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


Concerts for the People of Kampuchea

Official album • Released in 1981

4:13 • LiveL1

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Piano, Vocals
Linda McCartney:
Keyboards, Vocals
Denny Laine:
Guitars
Howie Casey:
Horns
Laurence Juber:
Guitars
Steve Holley:
Drums, Percussion
Thaddeus Richard:
Horns
Tony Ashton:
Keyboards
Gary Brooker:
Keyboards
James Honeyman:
Scott: guitars
Dave Edmunds:
Guitars
Billy Bremner:
Guitars
Pete Townshend:
Guitars
Robert Plant:
Guitars, Vocals
Bruce Thomas:
Bass, Vocals
Ronnie Lane:
Bass, Vocals
John Paul Jones:
Bass, Vocals
Kenney Jones:
Drums, Percussion
Tony Carr:
Drums, Percussion
Morris Pert:
Drums, Percussion
Speedy Acquaye:
Drums, Percussion
John Bonham:
Drums, Percussion
Steve Howard:
Horns
Tony Dorsey:
Horns

Concert From "Concert For The People of Kampuchea" in London, United Kingdom on Dec 29, 1979


Past Masters

Official album • Released in 1988

3:52 • Studio versionA

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Bass guitar, Maracas, Piano, Vocals
Linda McCartney:
Backing vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Backing vocals
George Harrison:
Backing vocals, Lead guitar
George Martin:
Producer
Phil McDonald:
Engineer
Chris Thomas:
Producer
Jeff Jarratt:
Engineer
Glyn Johns:
Engineer
Billy Preston:
Electric piano, Organ

Session Recording:
Jan 31, 1969
Studio:
Apple Studios, 3 Savile Row, London

Session Overdubs:
Apr 30, 1969
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Three, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Jan 04, 1970
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


Tripping The Live Fantastic

Official live • Released in 1990

3:54 • LiveL2

Performed by:
Paul McCartneyLinda McCartneyRobbie McIntoshHamish StuartPaul WickensChris Whitten
Paul McCartney:
Producer
Eddie Klein:
Assistant engineer
Matt Butler:
Assistant engineer
Peter Henderson:
Producer
Bob Clearmountain:
Mixing engineer, Producer
Jeff Cohen:
Recording engineer
Geoff Foster:
Assistant engineer
Scott Hull:
Assistant engineer
George Cowan:
Assistant engineer
Paul Rushbrook:
Assistant engineer

Concert From the concert in Miami, USA on Apr 14, 1990


Tripping the Live Fantastic: Highlights!

Official live • Released in 1990

3:53 • LiveL2

Performed by:
Paul McCartneyLinda McCartneyRobbie McIntoshHamish StuartPaul WickensChris Whitten
Paul McCartney:
Producer
Eddie Klein:
Assistant engineer
Matt Butler:
Assistant engineer
Peter Henderson:
Producer
Bob Clearmountain:
Mixing engineer, Producer
Jeff Cohen:
Recording engineer
Geoff Foster:
Assistant engineer
Scott Hull:
Assistant engineer
George Cowan:
Assistant engineer
Paul Rushbrook:
Assistant engineer

Concert From the concert in Miami, USA on Apr 14, 1990


Anthology 3

Official album • Released in 1996

4:05 • OuttakeC • Stereo • Six days ahead of recording the master of Let It Be, Paul McCartney sat at the piano in Apple's basement studio and promised his three fellow Beatles a version of his new song that would "knock you out", even though he was still to write two of the verses (the ones beginning "And when the night is cloudy" and "I wake up to the song of music"). For effect, two pieces of John Lennon dialogue from that later 31 January session top and tail the piece, the closing discourse ("OK, let's track it. [Sharp intake of breath.] You bounder, you cheat!") emphasising once again the strictly live aspect of these Savile Row sessions: the Beatles were determined not to overdub (or "track") anything... but the temptation was there.

George Martin:
Producer
Glyn Johns:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Jan 25, 1969
Studio:
Apple Studios, 3 Savile Row, London


1

Official album • Released in 2000

3:48 • Studio version


Back In The U.S.

Official live • Released in 2002

3:58 • LiveL3

Paul McCartney:
Executive producer
Performed by:
Paul McCartneyRusty AndersonAbe Laboriel Jr.Paul WickensBrian Ray
David Kahne:
Producer
Michael Brauer:
Engineer
Ricardo Chavarria:
Assistant engineer

Concert From the concert in Atlanta, USA on May 13, 2002


Back In The World

Official live • Released in 2003

3:58 • LiveL3

Paul McCartney:
Executive producer
Performed by:
Paul McCartneyRusty AndersonAbe Laboriel Jr.Paul WickensBrian Ray
David Kahne:
Producer
Michael Brauer:
Engineer
Ricardo Chavarria:
Assistant engineer

Concert From the concert in Atlanta, USA on May 13, 2002


Live performances

“Let It Be” has been played in 632 concerts and 3 soundchecks.

Latest concerts where “Let It Be” has been played




Krakow • Tauron Arena

Dec 03, 2018 • Part of Freshen Up Tour


Copenhagen • Royal Arena

Nov 30, 2018 • Part of Freshen Up Tour




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