The Beatles Songs: "Let It Be"

The history of this classic Beatles song

The original US 45 sleeve for "Let It Be"

Written by Paul McCartney during the sessions for The Beatles (a/k/a the "White Album"), "Let It Be" was inspired by a dream the singer had of his deceased mother, Mary, assuring him, amongst the turmoil of the Beatles' slow breakup, that everything would be all right. McCartney eventually transformed the song into a gospel-style number for the Get Back sessions that would eventually be released as the album Let It Be.

The earliest known performance of "Let It Be" occurred on January 3, 1969, during rehearsals for the LIB project. It was rehearsed over 38 times on January 8, 9, 25-27, 29, and 31, 1969; Take 27 from the 31st was used as the basis for the official release. That take featured the song's third verse, written on the spot by Paul after it was decided one was needed. On April 30, 1969, producer George Martin recorded a new solo from Harrison, although the single release of "Let It Be" would use the original solo from January 31, 1969.

On January 4, 1970, George recorded yet another guitar solo, which was meant to sync up with the earlier solo and play simultaneously (this idea was later scrapped). Martin added backing vocals from Linda McCartney, at the insistence of Paul, and the resultant mix, with the original solo only, became the "single version" of "Let It Be."

On March 26, 1970, producer Phil Spector—called in to save the Get Back/LIB project—remixed "Let It Be," adding his signature orchestra and choir. He used the more rocking January 4 solo instead, and also added an extra chorus at the end. This would become known as the "album version" of the song.

McCartney was very displeased with Spector's version, but had no say in the matter—the band was being managed by Allen Klein, a move that Paul disagreed with, leading him to sue for dissolution of the band, and therefore Klein was allowed to bring in Spector. In 2005, the original January 31 version, with original solo, was released on Let It Be... Naked, a stripped-down version of the original project.

Written by: Paul McCartney (100%) (credited as Lennon-McCartney)
Recorded: January 31, (Apple Studios, 3 Savile Row, London, England); April 30, 1969, January 4, 1970 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: January 4 and 8, March 26, 1970
Length: 3:50 (single version), 4:01 (album version)
Takes: 30
Musicians: John Lennon: backing vocals, bass guitar (1964 Fender Bass VI)
Paul McCartney: lead vocals, piano (Bluthner Flugel Grand), electric piano (1968 Fender Rhodes)
George Harrison: backing vocals, lead guitars (1968 Fender Rosewood Telecaster, 1966 Gibson Les Paul Standard SG)
Ringo Starr: drums (1968 Ludwig Hollywood Maple)
Billy Preston: organ (Hammond RT-3)
Linda McCartney: background vocals
Unknown overdubs: two trumpets, two trombones, one tenor sax, two cellos, choir

First released: March 6, 1970 (UK: Apple R5833), March 11, 1970 (US: Apple 2764)

Available on: (CDs in bold)

  • Let It Be, (US: Apple AR 34001, UK: Apple PX1, Apple PCS 7096, Parlophone CDP 7 46447 2)
  • The Beatles 1967-1970 (UK: Apple PCSP 718, US: Apple SKBO 3404, Apple CDP 0777 7 97039 2 0)
  • Past Masters Volume Two, (Parlophone CDP 7 90044 2)
  • The Beatles 1 (Apple CDP 7243 5 299702 2)

Highest chart position: US: 1 (two weeks beginning April 11, 1970); UK: 2 (April 11, 1970)


  • It's often believed that the song's churchy feel, along with the "Mother Mary" reference, makes "Let It Be" a song about Christianity (specifically, Catholicism). Paul has made it plain that the Mary in the song is his mother, but the song is gospel-oriented in nature, leading many to continue to associate it with the religion. John picked up on the similarities: during the sessions, he says "...and now we'd like to do 'Hark The Angels Come'," a joke which was appended to the version on the original LP. (It's been suggested that John insisted on placing the vulgar folk song "Maggie Mae" after it on the LP as a way to deflate its solemnity.) Lennon has also claimed that McCartney wanted to "wanted to write a 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters'," referring to the gospel-based Simon and Garfunkel smash, but that song was written and recorded well after work had begun on "Let It Be."
  • Paul's endless retakes of this song drove the band to distraction and caused a famous row with George which is captured in the Let It Be film; when Paul instructs George on how to play the solo, the guitarist snaps, "OK, well, I don't mind. I'll play whatever you want me to play or I won't play at all if you don't want me to play. Whatever it is that'll please you, I'll do it." John also pointedly asks "Are we supposed to giggle in the solo?"
  • There's some dispute over the second, more rocking guitar solo recorded on January 4, 1970, with some attributing it to Paul or even John. The evidence suggests Harrison recorded both, however.
  • This is only the second (and final) Beatles single released in the UK with a picture sleeve, the other being "Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane."
  • Aretha Franklin's version of "Let It Be," from the album This Girl's In Love With You, was actually released two full months before the Beatles' version.
  • The healing nature of this song has made it useful for charity events: in 1987, McCartney organized a group called "Ferry Aid" to perform a version of this song to benefit victims of the recent Zeebrugge Ferry disaster in London. After 9/11, Paul closed the benefit show "The Concert For New York" with a singalong of this song that featured the night's other musical guests along with NYPD and NYFD members.
  • "Let It Be" was the first Beatles song released in the Soviet Union, arriving in 1972. In 2003 Paul McCartney, in preparation for a Red Square concert, gave a private performance of this song to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin.
  • Sesame Street did a well-known parody of this song called "Letter B."

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