Forty years ago this weekend, the greatest band of all time gave the world their final album together: On May 8th, 1970 – May 18th in the United States – 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. )
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