Let It Be

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The back cover of Let It Be gave a note of thanks to George Martin, although it didn't list him as a producer. Martin later drily noted that the credits should have read: "Produced by George Martin, overproduced by Phil Spector."

For his part, Spector remained unrepentant in the face of the criticism:

Paul had no problem picking up the Academy Award for the Let It Be movie soundtrack, nor did he have any problem in using my arrangement of the string and horn and choir parts when he performed it during 25 years of touring on his own. If Paul wants to get into a pissing contest about it, he's got me mixed up with someone who gives a shit.
Phil Spector

In November 2003 a new version of the recordings was issued as Let It Be... Naked. Remixed and remastered under McCartney's direction, it was intended to sound closer to the original vision for the project.

The release

In the US, Let It Be was preceded by a single, The Long And Winding Road/For You Blue. By the time it was issued on 11 May 1970, news of The Beatles' split had broken. The single was one result of Allen Klein's plan to rapidly increase The Beatles' income: 1.2m copies were sold in its first two days on sale, and it became The Beatles' 20th and final number one single in the US.

Let It Be had its US release on 18 May 1970. More than 3,700,000 advance orders had been placed, which at the time was the highest for any album in the history of the US recording industry.

In the UK, Let It Be was initially released on 8 May 1970 as a box set, with a 168-page book, titled Get Back, containing stills and dialogue from the Let It Be film. The package retailed at £2 19s 11d, one pound more than the normal selling price of an album, and on 6 November 1970 it was withdrawn and replaced by a conventional album release.

The Let It Be film had its world première in New York City on 13 May 1970. On 20 May UK premieres were held at Liverpool's Gaumont Cinema and the London Pavilion. Tellingly, none of The Beatles attended any of the events.

The film was taken over by Allen Klein, who actually got The Beatles much later, after Let It Be was all recorded, and that was when the rot set in. Klein saw a rough-cut of it and said he didn't want anyone else in the film but The Beatles, so everyone else who was in any shot at any time was taken out, the net result being that it got a bit difficult to watch after a while. Also, some of the stuff that I know was in there originally, and was extremely interesting, was conversations with other people, members of the film crew, people who were just around, people visiting, like Billy Preston - but Klein said that only The Beatles could be in the film and that was it.
Glyn Johns
The Record Producers

Cover artwork

The Beatles' albums had been treated to a wealth of iconic images during the 1960s, from Robert Freeman's photography on With The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night, Beatles For Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul, to the artworks by Klaus Voormann, Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton on their 1966-68 releases.

Let It Be, when it eventually emerged, featured portraits of each of The Beatles, taken during the recording sessions, separated by thick black bars. The meaning was clear: the group was no longer together. They were not even named on the cover, and the words Let It Be starkly underlined that it was the group's epitaph.

On the back cover there were four more black and white portraits, along with a few words attempting to preserve the myth that Let It Be showed The Beatles warts and all:

This is a new phase BEATLES album...
Essential to the content of the film, LET IT BE was that they performed live for many of the tracks; in comes the warmth and the freshness of a live performance; as reproduced for disc by Phil Spector.

In a November 1971 interview with Melody Maker, Paul McCartney spoke of his disapproval of the words, which he felt masked a greater truth.

There was a bit of hype on the back of the sleeve for the first time ever on a Beatles album. At the time, the Beatles were very strained with each other and it wasn't a happy time. It said it was a 'new-phase Beatles album' and there was nothing further from the truth. That was the last Beatles album and everybody knew it.
Paul McCartney
Melody Maker, November 1971

His comments prompted a letter of reply from John Lennon, who requested that his version of events be given equal prominence to McCartney's. The result was an unseemly public row between the two, which, although mostly focused on wider issues, effectively trampled the reputation of Let It Be further into the ground.

One other little lie in your "It's only Paulie" MM bit: Let It Be was not the first bit of hype on a Beatle album. Remember Tony Barrow? And his wonderful writing on "Please Please Me" etc. etc. The early Beatle Xmas records!

And you gotta admit it was a 'new-phase' Beatle album, incidentally written in the style of the great Barrow himself! By the way, what happened to my idea of putting the parody of our first album cover on the Let It Be cover?

Also, we were intending to parody Barrow originally, so it was hype. But what is your LIFE article? Tony Barrow couldn't have done it better. (And your writing inside of the Wings album [Wild Life] isn't exactly the realist is it?) Anyway, enough of this petty bourgeois fun.

John Lennon
Melody Maker, November 1971

Critical reception

Let It Be won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score at the 43rd Annual Academy Awards in 1971. The statuette was accepted on their behalf by Quincy Jones. The soundtrack was also awarded a Grammy for Best Original Score.

Music critics were generally positive in their appraisals of Let It Be, though responses were mixed. In the Times newspaper, William Mann wrote: "Let us attend the funeral when life is pronounced extinct; at the moment the corporate vitality of The Beatles, to judge from Let It Be, is pulsating as strongly as ever." Similarly, Robert Christgau in the Village Voice said: "Though this is a little lightweight, it makes up in charm what it lacks in dramatic brilliance."

Conversely, New Musical Express critic Alan Smith wrote: "If the new Beatles soundtrack is to be their last then it will stand as a cheapskate epitaph, a cardboard tombstone, a sad and tatty end to a musical fusion which wiped clean and drew again the face of pop." Rolling Stone magazine identified Phil Spector's production as the album's weakness: "Musically, boys, you passed the audition. In terms of having the judgment to avoid either over-producing yourselves or casting the fate of your get-back statement to the most notorious of all over-producers, you didn't."

Although most Beatles fans were aware that the group was no more by the time of Let It Be's release, it was still hoped that their final musical word would be a suitable epitaph, one as creative as Abbey Road had been, and with the drama and gravitas that might be expected of a final word. Instead, many listeners considered the songs lightweight, half-hearted, and several steps down from The Beatles' earlier heady heights.

In the years since then, the album has been embraced by newer generations of fans, many of whom remain unaware of the difficulties surrounding its gestation. Although few would argue that For You Blue, Dig It or Maggie Mae are among The Beatles' best, the likes of Across The Universe, Let It Be and One After 909 show the range of styles to which they could turn their hands to. And, let us not forget, even if the collection wasn't The Beatles' best, for many lesser bands these songs would have constituted a career peak.

38 responses on “Let It Be

  1. antoni

    Let It Be, Naked or Not has two of Paul’s most long winded and nail scrapes aganst the blacboard. After seeing Anthology this past week, i forgot how he was the most annoying of the Beatles. Let It Be and Long and Winding Road could have ended a lot soone, but no, the camera’s were rolling. Let It Be was a recording of the breakup of a band and these two songs were the blueprint.

    1. Beatlesguru

      If you don’t like Paul McCartney then you don’t like the Beatles. Let it Be and Long and Winding Road are too of Paul’s masterpieces -as well as being two of the best songs on the Album. Really silly post..

    2. Mike

      An astonishing comment. Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road are both beautiful songs that showcase two of McCartney’s best vocal ballad performances. It’s true that the latter piece suffers somewhat from Phil Spector’s arrangement taking things a little too far. He should have left off the choir and harp; the other orchestral parts would have sufficed. But it’s still a great number nonetheless.

      As for being long winded, both songs clock in at under four minutes, which is a very typical length for a pop/rock song.

  2. Amphion

    Being brand spanking new to this particular Beatles site, I was just fixing a whole wear the rain gets in, when I suddenly found meself wonderin’, In 2003 there was mention that the Let It Be film was about to be released. This film was last screened on British BBC2, Television in about 1982. A Saturday, If I recall… But is it any closer to being released. Any ideas???

    1. Matt

      Engineers started remastering the film a while back but decided the film was too “controversial”. Paul and Ringo do not want it released either. I doubt it will be released any time soon, especially during Paul, Ringo, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison’s lifetimes.

  3. robert

    Here’s why LIB doesn’t work for me – and this may be picky but here goes: because it is supposed to be the soundtrack to a movie and was intended to replicate the feel of live performances, the problem I have is this – listen through head phones and notice how many times John’s voice is on one side and his guitar is on the other side.

    This completely wrecks the feel of a live performance. At least for me.

    Sorry I can’t help but notice it.

    Does anyone know if Paul fixed this on LIBN – I don’t have that CD.

    1. Joe Post author

      It shouldn’t really make a difference. With multitrack recording, a live performance can be taped with simultaneously-played instruments routed to different tracks, which can then be mixed to different parts of the stereo spectrum. Of course, that’s not to say that all of the LIB performances were live – there were a number of overdubs added once they’d thrown the ‘live’ concept out of the window.

      1. GeorgeTSimpson

        There are the overdubs done by spector onto three songs, the overdubs done by paul, ringo and george onto the song let it be and of course I Me Mine was recorded as though it were on the white album or abbey road (which was in fact a very good idea, they should have recorded the whole album in that way and it should have been produced by George Martin). Are there any other overdubs?

  4. McLerristarr

    “marked a move away from The Beatles’ elaborate studio experimentation of 1966 and 1967, with a return to more straightforward rock and roll, and the White Album and much of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack had followed in a similar vein.”

    I wouldn’t say much of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack was back to basics. There were 13 songs: 2 were repeats from previous albums/singles, 7 were George Martin’s orchestra songs, 2 were George Harrison’s songs neither of which sound back to basics, so that leaves 2 new Lennon-McCartney songs which could be called back to basics.

    And certainly not all the White Albums was back to basics – Revolution 9, Wild Honey Pie.

    1. Joe Post author

      I was referring to the ‘new’ songs on the YS soundtrack, though it probably needs clarifying. Certainly Hey Bulldog and All Together Now were a step away from their sound of 1967, though the George Harrison songs clearly aren’t.

      As for the White Album, you’re right that there were some complex recordings on there, but nothing like to the same degree of Sgt Pepper or Strawberry Fields Forever. Much of it is fairly straightforward, thought with liberal doses of Beatles magic.

  5. McLerristarr

    “And, let us not forget, even if the collection wasn’t The Beatles’ best, for many lesser bands these songs would have constituted a career peak.”

    Couldn’t agree more. When fans always talk about this isn’t good or whatever, what we really mean is compared to The Beatles’ other stuff it isn’t as good, but it is still amazing.

  6. robert

    Sorry Joe, but it does matter whether lennon’s voalcs and guitar are on the same stereo pan.

    of course multitracking makes it possible to put an instrument and/or vocal anywhere in the spectrum, but that doesn’t make it “work”.

    Even though the beatles abandoned the actual “live” recording technique, they still marketed and presented the album as a live experience – to go with the movie.

    The intended feel of the record is to experience a live beatles performance (even if it wasn’t). So it’s an anomaly to have a musician’s voice separated from his instrument.

    Of course perhaps I’m just too sensitive.

  7. Deadman

    With electric instruments and microphones and amplifiers, modern live music often features “a musician’s voice separated from his instrument”; it is not anomalous.

  8. Zig

    Even though this LP features my least favorite Beatles song, I still enjoy the heck out of it – Spectorized or not. In fact, I wish all of the songs on it were recorded “live” on the roof top. It would have been very refreshing to hear a live Beatles recording without the screaming.

    As an aside, I get a kick out of the Spector quote on page 5 of this article. I’m by no means a fan of his, but it’s the first time I’ve seen his defense in print. It’s actually pretty funny.

    1. Mike

      Spector’s defense of his orchestral arrangement for The Long and Winding Road is indeed funny. It would be even better if it were actually true.

      I’ve seen McCartney perform it live a couple of times within that 25-year span that Spector mentions. I’ve never heard any choir or harp, which were the major offenders for McCartney, as I recall.

      The ’76 live version has a very spare brass arrangement, minus strings, that bears no resemblance at all to Spector’s work on the Let It Be album. It actually sounds much closer to the Let It Be…Naked version than to the Let It Be album.

      The later performances in the late 80s and into the 90s have a bigger orchestral background. Those performances do borrow a few phrases here and there of the Spector arrangement, take some of the brass from the ’76 version, and add in some new wrinkles—but still no harps or choir.

      An example of that can be heard on Tripping the Live Fantastic (1990). The net effect is a somewhat scaled back version that is far from being a copy of the Spector arrangement. I would call it slightly reminiscent of the original but smaller and less epic sounding. In other words, it’s closer in style to George Martin than Phil Spector.

      So Spector’s claim and defense sounds good, but it’s way off the mark–unless McCartney has taken lately to performing it fully Spector style, which seems unlikely.

  9. Festival Days Off

    Dear all,

    We would like to inform you about the following event :

    LET IT BE live / The Beatles
    by Yael Naim, Mathias Malzieu, Cocoon, Loney Dear, David Donatien, Camille O’Sullivan, Sense of Sound Singers,…

    Paris (France), July 4th, Salle Pleyel

    For the 40th anniversary of the release of the album Let It Be, David Coulter, who has collaborated with artists like Damon Albarn, Tom Waits and Marianne Faithfull, unites a young generation of European musicians to reinterpret the Beatles’ last album.

    http://www.citedelamusique.fr/minisites/1007_daysoff/concert/en_let_it_be_live.aspx

  10. Frank

    I believe Paul made a mistake. He did allow female voices in their records. Yoko sang in The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill, and Yoko again along with Patti Harrison in Birthday. His wife Linda provided background vocals for Let It Be.

    1. vonbontee

      Yeah, and there was also the female choir in “Walrus” – and howbout those two Apple scruffs that Paul himself invited to sing on “Across The Universe”! He was either being wilfully obtuse, or exaggerating, or he had a terrible memory. (And the amount of dope he smoked would suggest the latter.) :-)

  11. Jeff

    LIB is both fantastic and disappointing. Eventhough substandard by usual Beatle standards, the songs are worthy and hold up against anything other artists put out at the same time (hell, for the next 40 years for that matter!). It was a disappointment in that it actually could have been far, far better. The Beatles are openly apathetic on LIB. Also, George’s growth as a songwriter could have (had he been allowed to contribute more songs)partly made-up for John’s growing indifference, dwindling song contributions and a seeming drop in the quality of his contributions. All Things Must Pass absolutely deserved to have been properly recorded and included on LIB (and NOT in place of, but in addition to, For You Blue and I Me Mine). It is no wonder why George walked out during these sessions and became hesitant to work as a Beatle ever again. What a pity (which reminds us that Harrison’s brilliant song Isn’t It A Pity was another in a list of George composed tunes rejected for Beatle records by John, Paul and/or George Martin). Thankfully, George recorded these on his own after the group’s dissoluion.

    1. Julio

      It is funny that people think of John towards end as not writing much but he was actually very creative and writing a ton. He just did not want to write for the beatles. Look at his first two solo albums Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, they are full fledged releases. Paul’s first solo albums while they are charming and having their bits (and the masterpiece ‘Maybe Im Amazed) are bit rough and incomplete.

    1. mr. Sun king coming together

      Adding orchestra to a quarter of an album, while not doing anything else of his typical way isn’t bad. It’s called doing what you’re asked.

  12. rover

    I think Phil Spector is treated unfairly when it comes to LIB. He had the unenviable task of wading through hours of recordings and make something of it–all with virtually no input for the band. The only sin Spector committed was not being George Martin. Martin is tasteful and understated; Spector (on all his works) is melodramatic and over-the-top. Spector simply delivered a Spector production. Lennon was reportedly happy with it. I have little patience for McCartney’s complaints. A bit like crying over spilt milk.

    1. Joe Post author

      Actually I don’t think Spector did wade through that many hours of tapes. Most of the selection and filtering was done by Glyn Johns prior to Spector arriving.

      When Spector began work he hit the ground running, completing his work in a matter of days (he needed just seven recording and mixing sessions in March and April 1970), with George Harrison and Allen Klein apparently present for most of the sessions. Ringo Starr even played on one.

  13. GeorgeTSimpson

    I alway wondered why george was at most (or all) of the Spector sessions, but didn’t do the guitar overdubs which were probably done by some session guitarists. Maybe it was him on guitar but then we would know it (we also know that ringo did the drum overdubs). I really wonder who these guitarists were, maybe it was someone famous like eric clapton or so. But probably it will always be a secret who did the guitar overdubs on the long and winding road (and maybe on the other two songs)

  14. brian

    I find this album to be sort of like that lost piece that you would love to retrieve, and it should be possible, yet, you can’t grasp it. What should this album really sound like? How should I hear it? Can I ever just enjoy it for what it is (the music is not terrible)? Aren;t the Beatles even apathetic, still worthy of that mystique that John says is gone? Should I listen to which version? Was perhaps the Glyns Get Back first or second version the way it should have been? Did Paul have the chance to save some of it in Naked, yet even he didn’t quite get it right?
    As to defending or attacking Spector… I like his work from the 50’s for sure. But don’t see him as a producer for the Beatles. The thing is, he did what he thought was good, and I can stomach much of it (haven;t tried the winding road lately though). But I love Across the Universe. What bothers me, is that he adds such elaborate stiff to Beatle’s songs without Paul’s approval. In fact, Paul can not even change it after complaining. As an artist, this truly bothers me. I do not like the idea of hearing Beatle’s tracks with significant changes made by outside people that some of them would not have even preferred to work with.
    Yet, if the group had been more coherent and civil by then, and perhaps less lazy, they could have seen it through. But maybe mistakes are what they are for a reason. Maybe it is better that the album is what it is and tells the story it tells. Maybe seeing a group like the Beatle’s not realize something is dramatic and powerful in a sense. Maybe if John wasn’t on ‘H’ he could have been more willing to be workable. Maybe Paul forced the idea on the others way too much. Why does money and business get such a say in determining art. So what if they needed another money. I would rather violate the contract and lose money (easy for me to say) than compromise the well being of the band and make an unenthusiastic project.
    So much to say about all this… now how to listen?

  15. robert

    There is a great and amazing album in there, but it’s never come out – not Glyn Johns, not Spector, not Paul’s. It’s like there’s a dullness to the sound – like a mask over the sound – it’s almost muffled. The crystal quality of their earlier recordings is missing. Was it their lousy attitude, bad recording equipment and set up at Apple versus Abbey Road, George Martin’s apathy from being told by Lennon “none of your production crap” – something’s missing – Lennon was right when he called it “lifeless” and it’s a shame because there is a great magnificent album in there.

  16. Chris Schneider

    Any chance that the movie would see the light of day again? This may sound crazy, but Let It Be is one of my favorite Beatles albums; despite some studio chicanery by Phil “Capitol Murder” Spector, the songs sound fresh, as if they listened to “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and enjoyed it.

  17. dn112

    Why did Paul McCartney leave the Get Back/Let It Be session tapes sitting around for over a year? He supervised the Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down single release, why didn’t he complete the album for release? How would Beatles history have been different if the album had come out in April 1969?

    Side 1 could have been the rooftop performance – Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down/Dig A Pony/I’ve Got A Feeling/One After 909/Get Back reprise. Side 2 studio performance – Let It Be/For You Blue/Across The Universe/Two Of Us/Dig It/Long and Winding Road.

  18. Hammer 109

    i just downloaded LIB – Naked and I’ve been listening to it constantly. I have always contended that, when all is said and done, The Beatles were just a rock band. And LIB Naked lets them be a rock band. The guitars come through – it’s clean, it cooks, it’s great. Even though they were done with each other, you don’t get that from the album. Paul and John singing together on Two of Us is magic. One After 909 is pure joy. I Dig a Pony is Lennon at his cheeky best. My only criticism is Long and Winding Road, which I’ve never liked. I listened to this version with great anticipation, thinking now I would finally get to appreciate it. But no. It’s still a crappy song. Maybe with just vocal and an acoustic guitar it might work better. Sorry, Paul.

  19. BILLY SHEARS

    Many people are trying to “remake” this album into something else – something they wish it to be. “Let it be naked” is that album. The original is simply… what it is. It is a documentary put to music. In early ’69 the group was falling apart. Let It Be is a sad epitaph for a dying rock band. Adding or removing songs from their “Last album” is fruitless. ( Abbey Road was the last recorded with a few minor additions to Let it Be).

    A better exercise would be to take the best songs from their individual albums and single releases from ’70 and ’71 and create a double album – ala “White Album”. Between the four, their is enough “Beatle” sound to compile a really good album. Much like the White album, it would reflect individual styles and still retain a familiar, distinct sound. I would stop after December ’71 due to placing a time limit of music release, and distinct drop in quality of solo material in general from the members after ’71. I would not include any thing from “Wings Wildlife” or Lennon’s other albums.

    Songs could be from the following Albums:
    McCartney
    Ram
    Plastic Ono Band
    Plastic Ono Band – Live In Peace Toronto
    Imagine
    All Things Must Pass

    Singles could include:
    HI, HI, HI
    Another Day
    Don’t Come Easy
    Back Off Bugaloo
    Instant Karma
    Cold Turkey (if not from Live in Peace Toronto)
    Come and Get It* – sorry Bad Finger, we’ll keep this one to ourselves

    Could still be a fun exercise to compile these songs into a double album and wonder “What if?”.
    Just a few thoughts.

  20. Doug Pitts

    I agree. If you’re in the audience, unless you’re sitting extremely close to the group, you would not hear voice on one side, guitar on the other. It would all be in the mix. Sounding more separated than a mono recording, but definitely nowhere near hard or even medium panned.

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