In the studio
The Beatles released two versions of ‘Let It Be’ during their career, although both were based on the same recording.
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 1969, 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…” Paul 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.
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.
The Beatles taped nine takes of ‘Let It Be’ on 31 January 1969, 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 query – “Are we supposed to 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 1969, 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 Ringo 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 1970 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 1969.