This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #6: Let It Be by The Beatles.
During the second half of their career, The Beatles went through some very distinct phases. They toured the US and decided that they had had enough of live performing, opting to focus, instead, on purely studio work. The four members, also, began dabbling in the mysticism of Eastern religions. Then, they began producing studio-only albums; the last of which was known as “The White Album”. At this point, with “Revolver”, “Sgt. Pepper” and “The White Album” under their belts, they decided that performing live was something that they wanted to experience again. So, they announced ambitious plans to record a new album called, “Get Back”, which referred to the process of “getting back” to the roots of their music and to performing live. As part of this “Get Back” process, The Beatles were going to allow a film to be shot and then, released as a movie. They were, also, going to perform a live concert of new material. Well, at least, that was the plan. But, as the old saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Whether The Beatles realized it or not, they were already well on the way to breaking up, even before work on “Get Back” ever began. In the end, the optimism of “Get Back” morphed into the resignation of “Let It Be”, which is what that final group album ended up being called. For, as beautiful a song as “Let It Be” is, it is, also, a song that signifies the end of a musical union unlike any the world has ever seen. Here is the story of “Let It Be”.
After the death of their first manager, Brian Epstein, a leadership vacuum, of sorts, took hold of the band. Paul McCartney and John Lennon ended up drifting to opposing sides, with George Harrison and Ringo Starr stuck the middle; eventually siding with John, against Paul. There were a whole host of reasons for the 3-1 split but, all that really matters is that when the end officially came, it was Paul who was the one who announced that he was leaving and that The Beatles were no more. So, throughout the whole of the “Get Back” recording sessions, there was an underlying tension that existed. Paul felt it and, according to the legend, went home one night and fell into a fitful sleep. Anxious and upset, he dreamt that he met his mother (who had died when he was a teen). In this dream, she came to him and “whispered words of wisdom…..let it be”. Paul took the dream literally and awoke with much of the lyrical content for the song, “Let It Be” already in his head. When he went to the recording studio the next day, he played the song for the rest of the band. That they agreed to work on it showed that they felt the song possessed musical merit but, at the same time, it was a song that was written and arranged almost entirely by Paul and, as such, they recognized it was more of a “Paul song” than a “Beatles song”. In the TV documentary about this exact time in the life of the band, it is very clear than Paul is pre-occupied with the song and is working on it with every spare moment he has, much to the growing frustration of the other three members as time goes on. In fact, it was during this process, when George Harrison tried to offer a suggestion for his guitar part and is rebuffed completely by Paul, that George walked out on the band and announced that he had quit.
Eventually, George was talked into rejoining the band but does so under the strictest of terms….that there will be no live concert and that all recording time be spent back at Abbey Road Studios, away from the movie location they were filming at. As well, he asks to be taken more seriously by the band and, especially, by Paul McCartney. Meanwhile, while this drama is all unfolding, John Lennon has reached out to two notorious musical figures, Manager Allan Klein and producer, Phil Spector, for help wrapping up this final album. In doing so, John takes The Beatles down a path that alienates them from long-time producer, George Martin, as well as, recording engineer, Glyn Johns, who had worked so hard for so long on many Beatles albums. But, John Lennon had already turned over the master tapes to Spector who, in turn, employed his “Wall of Sound” techniques to place emphasis, not on the delicate, introspective portions of songs such as “Let It Be” but, instead, on the guitar solos and by adding lush string arrangements.
For me, I have always loved the way “Let It Be” sounds. I like the gentle piano notes that open the song and the lone voice of Paul McCartney, singing of being lost and finding comfort in the idea of forgiveness. To my way of thinking, “Let It Be” is not a song that requires elaborate orchestration although, having said that, I do like the way it soars at the end, starting with Harrison’s guitar solo. As it turned out, “Let It Be” was the final #1 hit that The Beatles ever had. It was not a religious song, as many had assumed but, it has brought comfort to thousands of listeners over the years who listened to it and found a sense of peacefulness and calm that was helpful to them in their lives. As much as “Let It Be” signified the end of The Beatles, Paul McCartney still is proud of this song and is happy that so many people liked it, too.
There is a wealth of trivia associated with this song.
- For example, The Beatles were the first band to perform a live concert at Shea Stadium in New York City. A few years ago, when Shea Stadium was being replaced, Paul McCartney performed the last concert in stadium history…..the closing song was “Let It Be”.
- When Paul McCartney appeared on the very popular show, “Carpool Karaoke” with comedian James Corden, he took Corden on a tour of famous Beatles landmarks such as Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields. At one point, McCartney told Corden about how the inspiration for “Let It Be” came to him in a dream. Corden replied that, as a child, his Grandfather took him aside one day and told him to get ready for the most beautiful song of all-time and then, proceeded to play “Let It Be” for him. Corden went on to say that his Grandfather would find it remarkable that, all these years later, his Grandson would be driving around Liverpool with the man who wrote his favourite song. Corden ended his remarks by starting to cry, as he said, he wished his grandfather was still here. McCartney smiled and simply said, “He is”.
- John Lennon disliked “Let It Be” so much, for so many reasons, that he insisted the song, “Maggie Mae”, which was about a prostitute, be the song that came immediately after “Let It Be” on the album track listing. In a 1980 interview, Lennon dismissed the song as something Paul could have just as easily put out with his new band, “Wings”. Lennon thought the song was maudlin and emotionally cloying.
- McCartney, in turn, never liked the production work done to his song by Phil Spector. So, several decades later, he re-produced the entire “Let It Be” album, removing much of Spector’s over-the-top production flourishes. McCartney called the new album, “Let It Be: Naked”.
- During the recording process that was filmed for the “Get Back” documentary, one of the factors that really helped George Harrison feel comfortable enough to return to band after his two-week walk out was the arrival of keyboardist Billy Preston. Preston was endlessly enthusiastic and added a whole new wrinkle to the chemistry of the band because of his funky keyboarding skills. There was talk that if The Beatles had survived and gone on to record new albums that Preston was gong to be invited to officially become a member of the band.
- During the recording process, The Beatles worked on snippets of dozens of songs. Most went on the album that ended up being released as “Let It Be”. That album was the final one that The Beatles actively recorded together. But, it was not their final album. There were enough takes of other tracks to enable Glyn Johns and George Martin to put together a final, “final” album which ended up being called, “Abbey Road”. Ignoring some of the Greatest Hits albums released during the 1980s, “Abbey Road” is considered to be the final Beatles album.
- Finally, and here is the big shocker…….The Beatles were NOT the first to release the song, “Let It Be”. Believe it or not, Aretha Franklin, of all people, was the first to release “Let It Be”. In those days, it was still common for other artists to record covers of songs that were hits for the original artist. Well, Paul McCartney had come to know Aretha and her band and had sent them a copy of the “Let It Be” master tape for her to use for her cover version. As was customary at the time, Aretha agreed to record the song and release it at a date a few months in the future so as to allow the original artist their full share of the spotlight when they released their own song. However, the in-fighting that went on over who was to mix and release the final copy of the album……Phil Spector or George Martin/Glyn Johns…..caused a long delay in the final release of the album, “Let It Be”. So, by the time those issues had been resolved, Aretha Franklin’s version had already come out on its pre-scheduled date. So, technically, she was the first to chart with “Let It Be”. Do with that piece of trivia, what you will.
As mentioned above, I have always really liked “Let It Be”. It is a song that makes me feel at peace with the world when I hear it. That this song is, also, a eulogy for the greatest band in the world is something that is, also, undeniable. There are some who believe that there is “beauty in pain” and who use this song as their proof. It is a proof that is difficult to repudiate. In a career that began with the youthful optimism of songs like, “Love Me Do” and “Please, Please Me”, “Let It Be” bookends the career of The Beatles with a sense of resignation but, as well, with closure and acceptance. “Let It Be” may be a song about loss but, there is no reason that sentiment couldn’t be addressed with beauty and wisdom, as it was.
So, without further delay, here are The Beatles, with their final #1 song of their illustrious career, “Let It Be”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Let It Be” by The Beatles, can be found here.
The link to the trailer for the documentary, “Get Back”, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.