The Beatles were initially offered the song in early 1969 for inclusion on the Let It Be album. Harrison sang the song during sessions on 2, 22, 26 and 29 January, but was ultimately unable to convince his bandmates to record it.
Following the often-fractious sessions for The Beatles’ White Album, George and Pattie Harrison travelled to New York. Shortly after their return in late 1968 Harrison embarked upon an affair with French model Charlotte Martin, who had recently ended a relationship with Eric Clapton. Apparently unconcerned at the hurt he was causing his wife, Harrison allowed Martin to temporarily stay at Kinfauns, the Esher bungalow he shared with Pattie.
George evidently enjoyed the experience, despite the increasing strain he was putting his marriage under, and was buoyant at the start of the Let It Be sessions. According to Pattie Harrison, “George was fascinated by the god Krishna who was always surrounded by young maidens. He came back from India [in June 1968] wanting to be some kind of Krishna figure, a spiritual being with lots of concubines. He actually said so.”
‘Let It Down’ speaks of this interpersonal tension, Harrison’s lustful desires for earthly pleasures and his conflicting thoughts of more spiritual matters. Lyrically, it finds Harrison torn between wanting to be with his lover and feeling duty-bound towards God.
His words during the verses – “Wasting away these moments so heavenly/Should someone be looking at me” – are filled with passion and eroticism, which bursts forth during the chorus as Harrison asks his lover to “Let your hair hang all around me … Let your love flow and astound me”.
The music echoes this dichotomy, with a heavy rock introduction and chorus deploying producer Phil Spector’s full Wall of Sound treatment, but with contrasting verses adopting an altogether more stately and sumptuous sound.
In the studio
At EMI Studios on 27 May 1970, George Harrison recorded a selection of songs to be considered by Phil Spector for what would become the All Things Must Pass album. Other songs included the unreleased titles ‘Nowhere To Go’, ‘Cosmic Empire’, ‘Mother Divine’, and ‘Window, Window’.
The solo acoustic version of ‘Let It Down’ from this session first appeared on the 1994 bootleg release Beware of ABKCO! in 1994. In 2000 Harrison added acoustic lead guitar and Ray Cooper recorded a string-synthesiser part; this augmented version was released in January 2001 as one of five bonus tracks on the 30th anniversary edition of All Things Must Pass.
I had to go over the songs I had with Phil Spector, ’cause he was the co-producer, and we were in, I think, Studio 2 at Abbey Road, and the engineer had a microphone and taped it. [The bonus acoustic version of] ‘Let It Down’ is off the same take, but I’ve added acoustic guitar to it, and Ray Cooper’s doing a synth pad in the back, very unobtrusive. And my musician friend Joe Brown’s daughter, Sam Brown, who’s had her own hit records in England – she’s a great singer, and I’ve got her doing the backing voice on the new ‘My Sweet Lord 2000’, and she sings lead on it after the guitar solo.
The album recording was begun in London in the summer of 1970. It involved a large array of musicians, including Badfinger and Clapton’s recently-formed group Derek and the Dominos.
The sessions for All Things Must Pass were often chaotic, not least due to Spector’s volatile temperament. During one session at Apple Studio the producer fell and broke his arm. The resulting convalescence left Harrison to complete the remaining production work alone.
While recovering in Los Angeles in August 1970, Spector wrote to Harrison with advice on mixing the songs recorded for All Things Must Pass. The notes ranged from a single sentence to in-depth analysis, the longest of which was for ‘Let It Down’:
This side needs an excellent and very subtle remix which I am positive can be gotten and it will become one of the great highlights of the album. Believe me. In listening I find it needs an answer vocal from you on “Let It Down” parts. I’m not sure about this next point, but maybe a better performance with better pronunciation of words should be tried at Trident without erasing the original which did have much warmth to it. Perhaps you could try this at Trident. The vocal group (Eric and Bobby) on the “Let it Down” parts sounded okay. The “Moonlight Bay” horn parts should be out the first time and very, very low the second time they play that riff, I think. Perhaps at the end, near the fade, a wailing sax (old rock and roll style) played by Bobby Keys would possibly add some highlight to the ending and make it totally different from the rest of the song. It’s hard to explain, but some kind of a screaming saxophone mixed in with all that madness at the end might be an idea. Anyhow it’s something to think about. Even though everything is not exactly as we had hoped (horns, etc.) I think it will be great when it is finished. Everything on those eight tracks now is important and vital to the final product. I know the right mix and sounds even on the horns can be obtained in remix. The only other thing the horns could have done is what they play originally on the “Let it Down” parts, only more forcefully. However, I still think it’s all there and there’s nothing to worry about on that number.
19 August 1970
Spector returned to London later in August, and he and Harrison oversaw further overdubs and mixing at Trident Studios. On ‘Let It Down’ these included a saxophone by Bobby Keys and strings arranged by John Barham.