Let It Be

In the studio

The Beatles released two versions of Let It Be during their career, although both were based on the same recording.

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The group first attempted the song at Twickenham Film Studios in London, where they made what was to become the Let It Be film. It made its debut on 3 January, the second day of filming, with a solo rendition by Paul McCartney.

Three versions were attempted with the whole group on 8 January. McCartney led with piano and vocals, with the other Beatles tentatively joining in. Further work continued the following day, with 16 versions helping to knock the song into shape. During one of the takes McCartney sang the line: “Read the Record Mirror, let it be”.

10 January saw one solo attempt by McCartney, playing before the group started work properly. The Beatles never attempted it again at Twickenham, however – George Harrison temporarily quit the group on this day, only agreeing to rejoin if sessions moved to Apple Studios.

Recording at Apple

Two versions of Let It Be were recorded on 23 January 1969, the second day of recording at Apple. They spent more time on it on 25 January, recording 18 versions, one of which was included on Anthology 3. The recording lacks the final verse – instead of “And when the night is cloudy…” McCartney repeated the first verse.

The Beatles recorded 28 versions of Let It Be on 26 January, with Billy Preston on organ. Much of the session was taken up with work on the song, and by 16 takes of The Long And Winding Road. It seems likely that at this point both songs had become central to the group’s next album.

Twelve versions were recorded on 27 January, and another take was made two days later. The group were preparing for the Apple rooftop performance at this stage, and so were focusing on their more uptempo songs.

On 31 January they returned to Let It Be, recording 22 takes with McCartney on piano, John Lennon playing bass, Harrison on lead guitar, Ringo Starr on drums and Billy Preston playing organ.

The occasion was the ‘Apple studio performance’, during which they were to record the songs unsuitable for the previous day’s rooftop show. The day was also filmed, and portions of it featured in the Let It Be movie.

Making progress

The Beatles taped nine takes of Let It Be on 31 January, numbered 20-27. Take 27 actually consisted of two audio-only attempts, the first of which the group judged good enough to receive further overdubs.

John Lennon’s iconoclastic query – “Are we supposed to giddle [giggle] in the solo?” – was asked prior to take 23. It was used on Anthology 3, as were his comments “I think that was rather grand. I’d take one home with me” and “OK, let’s track it… You bounder, you cheat!” – the latter spoken after take 25.

George Harrison added a new guitar solo on 30 April, recorded through a rotating Leslie speaker. This solo was used on the single version of the song, and is available on the Past Masters collection. It was also supposed to feature in the aborted Get Back album.

Work on the song stopped until 4 January 1970, which was the last session by The Beatles as a group, although Lennon was absent.

McCartney replaced Lennon’s bass guitar part, then two trumpets, two trombones and a tenor saxophone were overdubbed by session musicians, as was McCartney’s descending piano motifs in between chorus and verses.

Three reduction mixes were then made, and a simultaneous overdub of brass and woodwind double-tracked the previous recording. Cellos, again played by session musicians, were also added during the reduction mixes.

McCartney, his wife Linda and George Harrison triple-tracked some high harmony vocals, and more reduction mixes were made. The day’s final recording saw Harrison add lead guitar, including a new solo, along with maracas by McCartney and extra drums by Starr. This solo can be heard on the Let It Be album.

The album version was mixed by Phil Spector on 26 March 1970. Spector used the 4 January guitar solo, and emphasised the brass and strings. He also added huge amounts of tape echo to Starr’s hi-hat in the second verse, and slightly extended the song by repeating part of the final chorus.

A new mix was made for 2003′s Let It Be… Naked. Spector’s echo was removed, as were the maracas and tom tom overdubs from 4 January. Billy Preston’s Lowrey organ is also more prominent in the first verse, and added guitar flourishes come to the fore. The guitar solo was from a different take from 31 January.

72 Responses to “Let It Be”

  1. Marking Time

    Good Lawd! This is quite well-researched and instructive. Thanks a heap. I did a bit of writing on the biblical Mary today, and how the Beatles’ disparate spiritual experiences can be linked to this song. This piece about Paul’s dream was new information, though. The Great Spirit works in so many mysterious ways…

    Reply
  2. Paul Schmid

    Preston played a Lowrey Heritage Deluxe, not a hammond on “Let it Be”. The instrument is clearly visable in the move at Twinkingham, where Preston wasn’t and at Apple, where he was. The instrument was also used in earlier sessions at Abbey Road.

    To futher clarify, Naked is a different recording than the album or 45. It is slower, and the piano pedal phrasing is different than the other two, aside from the techno tricks.

    Reply
  3. Jonny Music

    It should be noted that Lennon was full of crap when he said Paul was trying to write “Bridge Over Troubled Water” … “Let It Be” was written and recorded before “Bridge…” was released.

    Reply
    • Joseph Brush

      John Lennon’s mistake in his placement of songs in the wrong chronological order doesn’t merit this kind of derogatory remark.

      Reply
      • acmeseed

        “doesn’t merit this kind of derogatory remark”

        Why not? Lennon was making derogatory remarks about McCartney’s song.

        Reply
        • william

          I think we all make comments like that. If John is taken to be commenting about a temporal sequence, then clearly, he was mistaken.

          If he was, rather, looking back and saying that Paul was aiming for a certain type of song, say like Paul Simon achieved with Bridge Over Troubled Water, then there is nothing inconsistent with his statement.

          Beyond dealing with the merely logical, who is so say that Paul had no knowledge of what other groups were working on? To me, Let it Be is a great, great song, especially on the version with George’s extended lead. Let’s not sully it with pettiness….

          Reply
    • go9025

      You know how it goes Lennon at times was a hater especially on his comments on “Let It Be” and songs not written by him… Hey it still bares the Lennon/McCartney name… Why can’t we just get along.

      Reply
      • McLerristarr

        Well, he called a lot of his own songs “a piece of garbage” too. He basically didn’t like much after he started his Plastic Ono Band thing.

        Bridge Over Troubled Waters was recorded in 1969 – don’t know when, perhaps it was before Let It Be.

        Reply
        • Joseph Brush

          Let It Be was originally recorded in January 1969, so it is highly unlikely that Bridge Over Troubled Waters was recorded before LIB.

          Reply
          • Vonbontee

            It’s also not impossible that Lennon’s meaning was something like “That was Paul’s attempt to write a kind of gospel-influenced song, as Paul Simon later did so, with his own ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’”

            Reply
            • James Ferrell

              Correct. The two songs were very distinctive in mood and tone. At the time I saw them both as a product of a wish to pull back from confrontation toward peace. I saw them as a reaction to big societal dysfunction but maybe in both cases it was equally a reaction to intragroup strife.

              Reply
        • Catholickid

          Bridge over Trouble Waters wasn’t released until 1970, it was played at a live concert in 69 but wasn’t released until 70.

          Reply
    • Catholickid

      I would have to agree Jonny. It always seemed to me that there was competition between the two. I don’t think John liked it that a song wrote by Paul would become the name of their last album and their last hit single not to mention “Let It Be” is considered by many to be the best song put out by the band. That is not to say Paul was a better writer or singer then Lennon, I think that argument needs to be left alone, because the two were clearly at their best when they worked together in the band.

      Reply
  4. Sumbi William

    Why can’t I believe that the solo on LET IT BE, from the LET IT BE album, was done by a Beatle member? It seems like the same person who did the solo on LET IT BE is the same person who performed the solo on DIG A PONY. It sounds outside of the range of any Beatle member because no Beatle album prior to the LET IT BE album had a solo in that style and no post Beatle member ever had any solo remotely close the those two solos.

    Reply
    • william

      I think it was George Harrison on both of those songs. Hey, nobody could believe that the Beatles were the same group in 1963 that went off to Hamburg at the end of the 50′s either….

      Reply
    • appmanga

      The rooftop session clearly shows George playing the “Dig A Pony” solo. Those Beatle guys were pretty good.

      Reply
  5. Deadman

    I bought the remastered Let It Be album for the LIB lead break alone.

    Outside the range? Most discerning listeners who compare the leads in, say, I Me Mine and Let It Be would have no doubt that both are by the same player—George.

    No Beatle or post-Beatle solo is remotely similar? Even allowing for the difference in techniques of slide-style and finger-style leads, many of GH’s lead breaks share the same melodic approach and similar note-bending. Compare, for instance, the leads of Isn’t It a Pity and Free as a Bird and the aforementioned IMM and LIB. Listen also to George’s last mini-lead in The End.

    I’d say that the lead breaks of Something and the album version of Let It Be are (a) two of the finest lead breaks in rock and (b) demonstrably and indisputably, by George Harrison.

    Reply
    • Razor

      On Let It Be I’ve read that there were two different lead guitars both played by George. The second one is my favorite. It’s been called a STINGING LEAD, and I just love that one, the one on the album. George had the respect of people like Clapton and Alvin Lee, two great lead guitar players. His lead on the end of The End is classic! I’ve never heard playing like that by anyone else.

      I also love his lead work on the song Basketball Jones which he played for Cheech and Chong. Some of the licks are similiar to the lead on The End.

      I guess you can see who my favorite Beatle was. Thank you for the great insight you showed on George.

      Reply
      • David

        On the album GH played a straight lead while on the file and 45 version it was through a Leslie (sp?).

        Reply
  6. Joseph Brush

    Dig A Pony and Let It Be guitar solos were performed by the same person–a Beatle by the name of George Harrison.

    Reply
  7. Why Don't We Do It in the Road

    Maybe you can’t believe a Beatle played that well because they never studied at a conservatorium like real musicians. Surely, trained studio musicians must have recorded all the Beatles’ music which real, properly trained composers must have composed.
    Similarly, I can’t believe that Shakespeare, who never studied at university, could have written such fine plays; an Oxford or Cambridge scholar must have written them. Agatha Christie, a woman who never went to school apart from a year or so at a finishing school, obviously never wrote all those popular novels; a man must have written them. The Egyptians could not have designed and built the pyramids: it must have been done by aliens.

    Reply
    • Preston Phillips

      He makes a great point. And besides, look at how much George improved over the years. Listen to his stuff from 1963, then 1966, then 1969, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

      Reply
      • Razor

        Not only did George improve his guitar playing, John and Paul did also. They were all very good guitar players and could all play lead.

        In the early years George knew more chords and played better than Paul or John so he became the lead guitar player. He loved Carl Perkins and played like Carl on quite a few of the Beatle songs. These early recordings are so pure and beautiful. I’ts easy to see why he was the lead guitar player. He also taught John how to really play.It’s my guess that George and Paul were truly guitar players while John became better later. Of course they all became better later, John later than the other two.

        Reply
        • David

          All three played lead, bass, and rhythm on the records. GH was also surpressed (sp?). His only 4 songs on White album?

          It was amazing he got three on Revolver, but Paul sounds somewhat like him when he played lead on Taxman.

          Reply
  8. Scott

    In my opinion the album version was much better than the single version. The guitar solo changes the entire makeup of the song; I feel a much greater emotional connection to the album version.

    Reply
  9. Wolfram

    Non one recognized untill today, that on the LP/single-Version there’s a bass-overdub. So it’s not John playing. It must have been from 4th January 1970. So I think Paul played a new bass track. An the naked-version, John’s bass and the overdub bass are combined.

    Reply
  10. Gustavo Solórzano Alfaro

    In this album, at least on rock songs like “Don’t let me down”, “Dig a Pony”, “I’ve got a feeling”, “Get back” and “one after 909″, John was lead guitarist. “Get back” for sure, so it´s muck likely that he plays lead on his own songs.

    Some say (not me) it’s because Paul felt guilty about taking control over the group, so he encouraged John to play lead guitar.

    Reply
    • Joseph Brush

      I don’t believe John played lead on the first three songs you mentioned but of course he did on Get Back (and For You Blue) as well on LIB.

      Reply
    • GeorgeTSimpson

      You haven’t seen the let it be film, have you? John played lead guitar on get back only (and slide guitar on for you blue). Watch the video of the rooftop concert, it’s george playing lead on every song, except Get Back

      Reply
      • Joseph Brush

        Yes I saw the movie when it came out. Otherwise your comment about John’s studio work on Get Back and For You Blue is the same as mine.

        Reply
  11. robert

    I am pretty sure John is NOT lead guitar on Dig A Pony or One After 909 it’s George. Get Back yes – and I don’t recall a lead guitar solo on Don’t Let Me Down.

    There is a Don’t Let Me Down version with a Billy Preston keyboard solo (“Hit it Bill!” Lennon yells). It’s on the bootlegs.

    Reply
  12. robert

    I’m pretty sure there are three different guitar solo versions of LIB – all by George of course.

    By the time the album came out my friends and I had had the single and the bootlegs for quite some time.

    Hearing George’s new solo on the album was a shocker.

    Reply
  13. Sumbi William

    On October 1 2009 I wrote that I didn’t believe that any Beatle did the solo on Let It Be (album version). I did receive a lot of disappointed fan reply because of saying this and please believe me, I am a die hard Beatle fan myself but no one has come remotely close in convincing me that I’m wrong. I went out and got the Naked album and yes, it’s a Beatle doing the solo and I like it but, come on guys, that solo on Let It Be (album version) is one of the all time best solos ever and there is no video, interview or witness talking about it and no other Beatle member did anything close to it during and after they went solo??? I’m not hating on my favorite rock band but some say it was Paul, some say George, and some say John. I’ll take a very long shot and say it was Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck because it sounds like a Stratocaster Master.

    Don’t whine and hate me, let’s get to the truth and team up to ask Paul himself.

    Reply
    • mr. Sun king coming together

      It was a no-Frills album and George has stated he Played the solo. At Least for me, that means HE Played It

      Reply
    • Luke

      Clapton wasn’t quite in his stratocaster phase yet, and I believe its either George or Paul. George because of the melodic nature, and Paul because the it was played (it sounds like the player is hitting the strings a little hard, something I found Paul always did on solos, possibly bc of playing so much bass) besides, George played both Telecasters and stratocasters.

      Reply
      • Cameron McIntosh

        Interesting observations, I heard and read somewhere it was George on everything except the initial Let It Be album, which was John. It is certainly a different style use Penatonic scale. I doubt very much it was Paul doing any of the solos on this song. Does The Beatles Sessions book say anything?

        Reply
  14. Dartos

    Agreed, the lead guitar on the album version must be George. Other songs on the album such as “One After 909″ and “Dig a Pony” feature George, and sound similar to the lead guitar on “Let It Be.” I’ve never heard any Beatle mention Beck or Clapton being at the Let It Be sessions, so I think that at least narrows it down to John, Paul or George.

    Reply
  15. robert

    The solo on the album is for certain by George Harrison. Perhaps the biggest advancement in George’s playing around the time of LIB was he was starting to use the Major Penatonic scale in his playing (it is also featured on Abbey Road a lot).

    All the LIB solos are penatonic based – included the stronger album version

    No doubt this was influenced by his friendship with Clapton who used the scale a lot (as well as Dwayne Allman).

    Remember LIB is after George had been spending time with Delaney and Bonnie in the US where the major penatonic scale was becoming the back bone of emerging Southern rock.

    So yes it’s George on the album version of Let It Be.

    Reply
  16. robert

    one more thing on this George solo bit – one big difference between the single version and Naked versions of LIB and the Spector album version is the sound of George’s guitar.

    In the movie sessions George was using a Telecaster – usually a thin sounding guitar.

    In the studio for the LIB Spector solo I am assuming George used most probably his Les Paul – maybe his Strat – but I doubt it was his Tele – although it could have been – if really amped up.

    That sound of the guitar more than the actual playing is what’s so striking to me.

    However it’s the same tone he got on I, Me, Mine – also finished in the studio.

    Reply
  17. Sumbi William

    Thanks Dartos and Robert, I’ll do more research based on the info you gave me, although I’m sill not convinced about this issue, I do respect your opinion and I won’t stop till I a non biased witness speaks up…
    It’s not just the song Let It Be on the Let It Be Album, It’s most of the overdriven guitar parts(with Overdrive or Fuzz) like Dig A Pony lead etc…

    I’ll be back after I get proof or better reasons to feel this way. I’ll love to also find real solid proof that it really was George, I love the Beatles.

    Reply
  18. Cameron McIntosh

    This is my all time favorite song; it gives me chills every time I hear it. I want it played at my funeral, seriously. One thing I like is that there are different versions. My favorite version is the telecasted one where Paul sings the words… ‘there will be no sorrow” I just love that! I like all the solos except the one on the Let It Be bootleg.

    Reply
  19. Nepomuceno

    “A new mix was made for 2003′s Let It Be… Naked. [...] The guitar solo was Harrison’s from 30 April 1969.”

    Are you sure about that?

    Listen carefully to the solo from the single version and the one from the Naked version, they are different; though I admit they sound quite similar. I’ve read on various other pages that the solo on Naked is from take 27b, the take that appeared in the film, and not the single solo from April 1969.

    Reply
    • Joe

      You’re right, thanks for that. I’ve amended the end of the article to say the solo was from a different 31 January take. I think this is correct – let me know if not.

      Reply
  20. LuxDixon

    Easily the Best Beatles guitar solo!
    Good thing for George the Let it Be sessions were recorded live, otherwise Macca might have tried to claim this one as well!

    Reply
    • Von Bontee

      That’s a joke, right? When has Paul ever falsely claimed someone else’s instrumental contribution as his own? Never, as far as I know.

      Reply
  21. Kentabulary

    George Martin scored and recorded the brass on this one? And not Phil Spector?

    I had no idea! So it was the Beatles themselves who broke their own rules with extraneous arrangements being overdubbed, before Phil Spector even got there!?

    Reply
  22. Cchight

    Although Let It Be was recorded before Bridge Over Troubled Water, it was released a month after Bridge in March 1970. Perhaps that’s why the comparisons were drawn. Bridge was written in the summer of 69 and released in Feb 1970. It’s unlikely Paul would have heard Bridge until its release and therefore would not have been influenced by it.

    Reply
  23. eddy

    I enjoyed the article and comments. I don’t think ‘Paul’ wrote the song. My best guess is Billy Preston wrote it and sold it (and was compensated with ‘billing- “THE BEATLES WITH BILLY PRESTON” instead of a performance credit). It’s a typical church style song, and Billy was a church guy, the Beatles at this point were chemical guys, not church guys. This is just my gut feeling.
    Read the lyrics to Billy’s song
    ‘I Wrote a Simple Song’ . The last album by the Beatles was Revolver, after that nothing was real

    Reply
    • paulsbass

      Ha, of COURSE Paul didn’t write it – he was dead already, remember?

      Seriously, this song is all Paul, no offence to your guts.

      Reply
      • eddy

        No offense taken. Compare “Let It Be” to Billy’s “That’s The Way God Planned It”, compare chords, melody and general style.

        Reply
        • josephbrush

          @eddy Let It Be was recorded in January of 1969 while Preston’s song was recorded in May 1969. Also Billy wrote a song called Hey Bro which is similar to Hey Jude.

          Reply
        • josephbrush

          I should have added in the comment above that Preston’s Hey Bro followed Paul’s Hey Jude almost a year later.

          Reply
  24. GeorgeTSimpson

    I prefer the single version solo and i think i think so because it fits better to let it be (don’t hate me for this comment). I don’t know anything about the bass thing but if johns bass and his vocals were not included that would mean that john has no contribution to let it be!! The most famous song of the beatles (at least one of the most famous) without john! I can’t beleave this but of course it’s possible.

    Reply
    • GeorgeTSimpson

      I just listened to the glyn johns mix of let it be and the backing vocals are completly different to the single/album version, so i think only the january 1970 backing vocals by paul, george and linda were used. In the let it be article in the rolling stone list of the greatest beatles songs i alo read that paul recorded a new bass so if that’s all right, john isn’t included on let it be. Of course this might be wrong

      Reply
  25. william

    I am watching the movie as I type this and the cops are coming. I am nervous. The Beatles appear to be in big trouble.

    Maybe singing on the roof was not such a great idea….

    Reply
    • Joseph Brush

      Actually singing on the roof is not a Beatles idea. It was done earlier by the Jefferson Airplane in NYC and it was filmed.

      Reply
  26. GeorgeTSimpson

    Why does this site says john played bass, it was paul he rerecorded the bass in january 1970 it’s even on the beatlesbible site of that day. If you listen to the glyn johns mix of let it be and the single/album mix you hear that it’s a different (and better) bass line

    Reply
    • Joe

      That’s because the LIB song page was written (like the other song features) well before I wrote the day-by-day guides to the sessions, which contain more detailed and accurate information. Thanks for pointing out the discrepancy – it’s been corrected.

      Reply
  27. GeorgeTSimpson

    It’s also mccartny on electric piano, the electric piano is audible before the little organ break and the guitar solo and also in the end of the song. It’s not audible on the glyn johns mix, so I must have been overdubbed later, and you wrote that it was paul on 4th January

    Reply
  28. Pablo Castro

    I still think it´s John on bass, because the basic track was live, if it were re-recorded, shades of the orignal bass woul remain on the other tracks of the master.

    Reply
  29. Terry

    Such an interesting story on the origins of Let it be. What a coincidense that in Luke 1:38 Mary says Let it be! Or is it? Perhaps there is a more spiritual purpose and application here that is bigger than even The Beatles!

    Reply
  30. beatallabout

    On LIB single version,I can cleary hear someone whisper “shut up John” on the right channel after Paul sings “though they may be parted”. Anyone has a clue?

    Reply
  31. Doug Pitts

    …and just a side note – on the single version, the one with the leslie lead, the producer is noted as George Martin. The album version, with the “stinging” lead is by Phil Spector. I personally like the single version better (and this is the one on Past Masters) since it more reflects what I see as the “reverential” tone of the song. The album version is just too jarring for me and too much of a contrast to the rest of the song. Of course it could be argued that after Spector layered on more loud prchestra on his version that a louder lead was called for.

    Reply

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