Don’t Let Me Down

Past Masters album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 21, 22, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30 January 1969
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Glyn Johns

Released: 11 April 1969 (UK), 5 May 1969 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney: harmony vocals, bass
George Harrison: harmony vocals, lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
Billy Preston: electric piano

Available on:
Past Masters
Let It Be... Naked

Although just one new song (Dig A Pony) by John Lennon made it onto the Let It Be album, he did compose this love song to Yoko Ono, which was recorded during the same sessions and released as the b-side to Get Back.

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As with Abbey Road's I Want You (She's So Heavy), Don't Let Me Down was a lyrically simple and direct song inspired by his infatuation with Ono.

When it gets down to it, when you're drowning, you don't say, "I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me," you just scream.
John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1970

Although Lennon was revealing his feelings and fears in song as far back as 1964's If I Fell and I'm A Loser, Don't Let Me Down was one of the first examples of the raw soul-baring that would reach a peak on Cold Turkey and the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album.

It was a very tense period: John was with Yoko and had escalated to heroin and all the accompanying paranoias and he was putting himself out on a limb. I think that as much as it excited and amused him, and the same time it secretly terrified him. So Don't Let Me Down was a genuine plea... It was saying to Yoko, 'I'm really stepping out of line on this one. I'm really letting my vulnerability be seen, so you must not let me down.' I think it was a genuine cry for help. It was a good song.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Don't Let Me Down was released as the flip-side of Get Back in the UK in April 1969, and in the US in May. Like its a-side, the song was credited to The Beatles with Billy Preston.

By the way, Rod Stewart turned Don't Let Me Down into [sings] 'Maggie don't go-o-o.' That's one that the publishers never noticed. Why didn't he just sing Don't Let Me Down? The same reason I don't sing other people's stuff, either: because you don't get paid.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In the studio

The Beatles' first studio recording of Don't Let Me Down was taped on 21 January 1969 at Apple, although rehearsals of the song had been filmed earlier in the month at Twickenham Film Studios.

A version from the following day was selected for inclusion in the unreleased Get Back album, along with a snippet of speech in which Lennon asked Starr to hit the cymbals hard after the intro, to "give me the courage to come screaming in."

On 28 January The Beatles and Preston recorded the version which ended up on the Get Back single. They taped it twice again two days later on the roof of Apple, the first of which was included in the Let It Be film.

We recorded it in the basement of Apple for Let It Be and later did it up on the roof for the film. We went through it quite a lot for this one. I sang harmony on it, which makes me wonder if I helped with a couple of words, but I don't think so. It was John's song.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

An edit of the two rooftop performances was included on 2003's Let It Be... Naked, in place of Dig It and Maggie Mae.

64 responses on “Don’t Let Me Down

    1. grego mac

      ME TOO!! My preference would have been for them to leave that in for the Naked version. I had a VHS copy of the film, and played that bit over & over. I still do that when watching Anthology.

  1. David

    Phil Spector totally ruined the Let It Be album, and one of his massive blunders was not including this song. It’s absolutely fantastic, one of my five favorite John songs. Spector also butcherd “Across the Universe” and “The Long and Winding Road” with his overproduction. Fortunatley, he’s in jail now.

  2. Ian

    David: It’s interesting to note that Lennon disagreed with you, as do I, particularly about “Across The Universe.”

    Also, I don’t think Spector’s “over-production” of music has any bearing on why he’s been imprisoned…better examples would be the ill-treament he inflicted on his wife, and the rather insane behaviour he showed during the sessions for what would become Lennon’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll.”

  3. robert

    Does anyone know why Don’t Let Me Down was not included on Let It Be? Any discussion amongst the band or Spector about why it was omitted?

    I know Paul put it on Let It Be Naked – but why was it kept of in the first place?

  4. Joseph Brush

    Don’t Let Me Down was released on the Hey Jude (or The Beatles Again album) which was released just prior to LIB (if memory serves me right).
    I guess that was the reason.
    I was very disappointed with the omission because LIB cost a lot of money back then. LIB originally was released in a black box with a beautiful colour book (at least in the USA and Canada).

    1. Joe Post author

      That must have been an import; the US version was just the album. As far as I know the box set was a UK-only release, issued by Apple and distributed by EMI.

  5. Robert

    I believe the box-set did have a limited US distribution because I remember when LIB came out, stores had the two versions side by side – the box set being much more expensive I bought the album – my friend bought the box – and so of course I now hate him very much.

    He bought the box at a standard dept store – not a record store – at that time we never really had heard of imports.

      1. J Nagarya

        I found copy of the “Get Back” (aka “Let it Be”) book from the box set in the movie theater where I’d gone to see the film.

        Whoever left it lacked the courtesy to also include the box, LP, and whatever else might have been in the box.

  6. Joseph Brush

    I bought the box set here in Canada and there was stacks of them in the largest record store in Canada at the time.
    I also saw the box set in New York City about a month or so after the release of LIB.

  7. 12barman

    I have never met any information about mixing the single and ‘Past Masters’ version and I wonder why. It seems to be pretty interesting because while the record is ‘live’ there are two Lennon voices on it. Was the second overdubbed later by John himself or was it taken from any other take?

    1. JWalls

      There’s a lot of slowing down and speeding up on this track, but the whole band is together.

      This is actually the first time Ive heard that the track was actually a compilation of two tracks edited together; this makes a lot of sense to me, with the drastic shifts in tempo.

  8. robert

    my favorite element of this song is George’s guitar lines during the verse (ie right after the line “I guess nobody every really loved me”) – the cascading notes George plays have a Japanese tonality to them which is very cool since of course it’s about Yoko.

    Which goes to show that even though George was not “enthralled” with Yoko – he still was able to incorporate her culture into his guitar lines in the song about her.

    1. Peter

      And that’s why they were the Beatles. Even at each others’ throats they could rally and do this, each one contributing magic. Especially Paul, putting his heart not just into his bass playing but into the harmony, matching John’s passion singing a primal love song to his own nemesis.

  9. Jim S.

    If you search on YouTube, somebody recently posted a version of this song with the electric piano almost completely isolated. It’s incredible! You can really hear all the passion and soul Billy put into this song. One of many things that struck me while listening to it is the stucatto quarter note pattern he plays for the bridge…. It emulates a heart beating, I think: “I’m in love for the first(THUMP!) time (Thump!), (Thump!)….” Also-you can’t really hear it on the single version-but Billy pretty much exactly doubles George’s descending guitar riff on the verses (starting right when John sings DOES). I went back and checked it out on the NAKED version and discovered it’s mixed on there too! But I had to listen closely, as Billy doubles George’s part so closely.

  10. Schminking of gin

    I guess John didn’t care anymore by this point, but I can’t believe he let Phil Spector get away with not including this song on LIB, leaving him only with 2 full songs and 2 snippets he gets on there. Though I love Dig It.

    This song is a favorite for a lot of Beatle fans, sounds like a fusion between Plastic Ono Band sound and The Beatles. Maybe what some of John’s Plastic Ono Band songs would have sounded like had John recorded them with The Beatles

    1. Joseph Brush

      On LIB there are Dig A Pony, Across The Universe and One After 909 and half of I’ve Got A Feeling. That adds up to three and a half Lennon songs (not counting Dig It)
      I guess the inclusion of Don’t Let Me Down on the Beatles Again (Hey Jude) album was enough for John and it was another reason the album was such a big seller.

      1. J Nagarya

        George and Ringo also resented Paul’s bossiness. And especially Ringo, when Paul recorded his own drumming over Ringo’s.

        I agree with John that Paul is an inspired bassist. But he could be nasty and underhanded.

  11. apple_jam

    Great all the way around. In my book the most free-flowing, natural sounding groove in the entire Beatles canon. Listen for Ringo’s snare bit at the very end.

    1. J Nagarya

      Here’s one for ya:

      Listen as closely as possible to “Let Me Roll it,” on Paul’s “Band on the Run”.

      Is that John singing a John song? Or is it McCartney doing an amazing impression of John — both in song and singing?

      Compare it with, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy”),” and, “Don’t Let Me Down”.

  12. paulsbass

    Great singing, great harmonies, great bass, great piano, great guitar, great drumming, emotions, one of my favourite parts of any Beatles song (“I’m in love for the first time…”) – what more can you ask for?!

    Impossible to reproduce.

  13. GeorgeTSimpson

    I prefer the naked version because it sounds fuller to me though I like the single version too. In the rooftop recording (naked) George sings definitely during the chorus (we can see it in the film), I don’t know if he does that during the single version too, but we can hear him at least in the naked verson. If george sings only in the naked version, that is probably one of the reasons why I think the naked recording sounds fuller.

  14. robert

    In the movie George is shown singing on the “don’t let me down” chorus on the rooftop version.

    It seems likely that he sings on single as well version . Should he be listed doing vocals? Just wondering

      1. robert

        Joe – I am going to (respectfully) implore you one more time to include George on background vocals – literally every film take – and out take – from the Get Back sessions of the song show him singing on the chorus. The evidence is overwhelming that he sang on it. He is shown singing during Twickenham, in the basement at Saville Row and on the roof top. I will of course bow to your decision.

        1. Rigby's quartet

          Except that he (George) is clearly not singing on the single. It’s only John and Paul. As pointed out a few posts above, the LIB…Naked version (rooftop) is fuller because the three of them are singing the choruses.

  15. Douglas Bullenkamp

    Yes Luke, their breakup might have inspired some brilliant songs. But I don’t want to sound like a hater. George’s ex inspired some great ones, too. And not all from George- Layla, Wonderful Tonight, etc.

  16. Martijn

    It’s funny John commented on Rod Stewart stealing his tune. After all it’s quite obvious John, intentionally or unintentionally, took the inspiration for the verse of Don’t let me Down from I’d rather go blind, released the previous year. Both the chords and melody from both songs are pretty similar.

  17. anthm027

    lovely song with a true and basic meaning i think the words don’t let me down where to Yoko to tell him that he himself had really stepped out of line in this song and that his vulnerability was really showing and so yoko must not let him down i think it was a cry for help….

  18. andre

    “Don’t let me down” was John’s greatest offer for the “Get Back/Let it Be” project..strange that Phil Spector (hired by Lennon) choose to leave it off the album!

  19. James Ziegler

    You mean the part where Lennon sings. “it’s a love that had no past.” and a voice in the background can be faintly heard saying, “any past”

  20. montion

    If you listen to the ’69 rehearsals, you can clearly see how Paul really loved this song, and had George doing backup vocals, which almost made it sound like one of Paul’s. It seemed as though Paul thought John was butchering his own song with the screaming. By the end, he had John singing nice. I wanted to hear Paul do his own version on lead vocals.

    1. J Nagarya

      Listen to Paul’s “Let Me Roll It” on “Band on the Run”?

      Is that actually John singing a John song? Or is it Paul doing John as well as John. (I think the give-away is the high falsetto note, which marks it as being Paul.)

  21. Thomas Christie

    The conflict over whether George sings on the single version is understandable. If he’s there, he’s almost inaudible, but I believe he can be heard very faintly at certain points. This is probably most prominent in the second chorus, where his harmony seems perceptible especially for the first three ‘Don’t let me downs’, though not so much for the fourth. Trying to hear George’s unmistakable tone and accent won’t do much good – it’s way too low in the mix. Identifying it is easier if one knows the melody they’re looking for, which can be heard in virtually any other version of the song, as far as I’m aware. It’s E, E, E, C# … E , E, E, B.

  22. Graham Paterson

    Great John Lennon heart felt plea to Yoko.I love The Beatles singing this on the rooftop in the “Let It Be” film.Lennon’s vocal is amazing and despite all the differences between he and Paul McCartney you can still see all the magic working between them. It is right there on the screen in front of you. Being on the roof top seemed to liberate the band at this tense,( and that’s a understatement), time.

  23. manteau

    Off topic, but to answer J Nagarya, The opening riff of “let me roll it” is almost a copy and paste of the opening riff of “Cold turckey”, but it was a case of Paul doing John!

  24. Kenny Graddick

    One version, I love the third verse part where John sings “I guess nobody ever really done me good”, Paul joins him in that verse and says “nobody” at the same time, the harmony is so perfect with the two of them…

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