500 Greatest Songs of All Time

20

The Beatles, 'Let It Be'

Writers: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Producer: George Martin
Released: March '70, Apple
14 weeks; No. 1

Inspired by the church-born soul of Aretha Franklin, an anxious Paul McCartney started writing "Let It Be" in 1968, during the contentious sessions for the White Album. His opening lines — "When I find myself in times of trouble/Mother Mary comes to me" — were based on a dream in which his own late mother, Mary, offered solace during a tumultuous time for both the band and the culture, assuring him that everything would turn out fine. "I'm not sure if she used the words 'Let it be,'" McCartney recalled, "but that was the gist of her advice." McCartney unveiled a skeletal version of "Let It Be" to the other Beatles at an even worse time: during the initial, disastrous Let It Be rehearsals in January 1969. John Lennon, the group's resident heretic, was brutally dismissive, mistaking McCartney's secular humanism for self-righteous piety. Yet the Beatles put special labor into the song, getting the consummate take on January 31st — the day after their last live performance, on the roof of their Apple offices in London. (R&B musician Billy Preston, a friend of the band's from its early days, contributed the gospel-flavored organ part.) George Harrison later took a couple of cracks at adding a guitar solo: The single version features his solo from April 30th, 1969, and the album cut's solo was taped at the final Beatles recording session, on January 4th, 1970. Released four months later, "Let It Be" effectively became an elegy for the band that had defined the Sixties.

Appears on: Let It Be (Capitol/Apple)

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