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'Let It Be' 40 Years Later: A Look Back at the Beatles' Final LP

May 7, 2010 6:03 PM ET

Forty years ago this weekend, the greatest band of all time gave the world their final album together: On May 8th, 1970, the Beatles released Let It Be, the Phil Spector-produced LP that featured hits like the title track, "The Long and Winding Road" and one of John Lennon's most famous compositions, "Across the Universe." While the album was recorded during the band's caustic final days, Let It Be would go on to become one of their most celebrated records: it ranked Number 86 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

The story behind Let It Be is almost as mythic as the Beatles themselves. The band originally intended to record it as a live-in-the-studio album and movie in 1969. But the ambitious undertaking left the Beatles so weary, they abandoned the project to make Abbey Road instead. Later, Phil Spector added oversweetened orchestral overdubs to many of the album's tracks — even though the record features some of the band's strongest rock songs ever (including "Get Back"). In 1970, the Beatles released the documentary film of the same name, which captured the group's iconic performance atop the Apple Studios building in January 1969. Perhaps due its controversial and detailed look at the Beatles' interpersonal problems, the film itself remains unavailable on DVD.

Despite the album's status in rock history, Paul McCartney was never a fan of Phil Spector's production flourishes on Let It Be. In Rolling Stone's original review of the album, writer John Mendelsohn also criticized Spector's superfluous additions, saying the famed Wall of Sound producer rendered "The Long and Winding Road" "virtually unlistenable with hideously cloying strings and a ridiculous choir" when compared to the version that appeared on the Get Back bootlegs in May, 1969. (Sign up for All Access to read the original Let It Be review from 1970.) After years of dissatisfaction with the released version, McCartney announced plans to put out Let It Be… Naked in November 2003, which stripped the Let It Be songs of Spector's ornate production. (All Access members can read the 2003 review of Let It Be...Naked now. )

To read more about the Beatles' final years — including our 2009 cover story examining the forces that broke apart the band — sign up for Rolling Stone All Access.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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