Meaning of “Let It Be” by The Beatles
Even now, some five decades after their dissolution, The Beatles are arguably the most-recognizable band in Western pop music history. And it’s also debatable that “Let It Be” is their signature song.
For instance, when this track came out on 8 May 1970, it proved to be a major hit even by today’s standards. “Let It Be” topped the Billboard Hot 100. It also replicated this success on the US Adult Contemporary Chart. As if this was not enough, it also reached number 1 in nearly 10 other countries. These countries include:
- New Zealand
Concerning the Hot 100, it debuted at number 6 on the list, which at the time set a record for the highest debut of a song. And with it going on to be a chart topper, in the process The Beatles also tied Elvis Presley’s record of most consecutive years, at seven, in which a music act managed to top the Hot 100. (To note, the current holder of that record is Mariah Carey).
Interestingly though, this song failed to top the Fab Four’s native UK Singles Chart. But that said it has proven to be an enduring hit in the UK. In this region, it has the tendency to occasionally chart even now in the 21st century.
Who wrote “Let It Be”?
The writing of “Let It Be” is credited to Paul McCartney and one of his Beatles’ bandmates, John Lennon (1940-1980). The composition was inspired by a dream Paul had in 1968 of his mother, Mary Patricia McCartney, who had passed away in 1956, when he was still in his early teens. Via said dream it was her spirit, if you will, which encouraged Macca to “just let it be”.
The Different Versions of this Song
The recording of “Let It Be” took place in 1969, with McCartney initially introducing it to the band while they were recording their eponymous LP (aka 1968’s “The White Album”).
Eventually, there proved to be two primary recordings of this song. One of them, which had been dubbed as “27-A”, served as the basis for most of the different versions to be found on Beatles’ albums throughout the years.
The other, “27-B”, was featured on the Fab Four’s 1970 documentary which is also called Let It Be. And it was not officially released as an audio until late-2021, as part of the “Super Deluxe Edition” of “Let It Be”, the album.
So yes, there is an actual “Let It Be” LP, which also came out in 1970, with this song serving as its title track. But there are also two different versions in that regard also, i.e. the one featured on the album and that which was issued as a single, in that for example there is a slight musical (i.e. guitar) difference between the two.
The single version also boasts the participation of Linda McCartney (1941-1998). That’s a doubly-interesting fact because besides being Paul’s wife, it marks the only time that Linda, who for a time was a professional musician herself, had participated on a Beatles’ song.
That rendition did eventually appear on a couple of Beatles’ albums, as in compilation projects, which are “1967-1970” (1973) and “20 Greatest Hits” (1982). Also to note, it was produced by one of the individuals who earned the rare distinction of being dubbed a ‘Fifth Beatle’, that being the late George Martin (1926-2016).
Meanwhile, the album version was produced by Phil Spector, who is more of a general music industry legend (1939-2021). In more recent times, Spector perhaps became better known for having spent over a decade of his life in prison, where he ultimately passed away, on a murder charge.
That said, the album version also features a few more minute differences than the singles’ release, besides the guitar overdubbing alluded to earlier. And both versions were made public through the Beatles’ own Apple Records (or more specifically, in the case of the single version, its parent company, Apple Corps).
Even More Versions
There’s also another, less-elaborate recording of “Let It Be” that has found its way into circulation. That take, which was recorded about a week before the two previously mentioned, found its way onto the Fab Four’s compilation project “Anthology 3”, which came out in 1996.
In 2003, Apple Records dropped a Beatles’ remix album called “Let It Be… Naked”. And as indicated by its title, the LP did feature another version of this song.
And finally, the entire “Let It Be” album was expanded and reissued in 2021, under the title “Let It Be: Special Edition”. That project also features a couple of remixes of the song (most notably one that Glyn Johns conducted in 1969) as well as a number of previously-unreleased takes of it.
Live Performances of “Let It Be”
As can be gleaned by the song’s massive success, the Beatles were very much hot when “Let It Be” was dropped. However, by that time, they had already all but disbanded. So by the looks of things, there’s only one recorded live performance of this song in which they all participated. This performance was on an episode of the Ed Sullivan Show dated 1 March 1970.
As a soloist, it is only Paul McCartney who is on record (according to Wikipedia) as having performed “Let It Be” throughout the years. That reality would likely have to due in part to the fact that, with John Lennon being murdered in 1980, Macca was the only Beatles who proved musically relevant on his own in the long run.
But also, he and Lennon are in fact the credited writers of this song. Both McCartney and Starr, i.e. the two surviving former Beatles, are known to play the band’s songs on occasion, though royalties must be paid in the process. So since Starr didn’t have a hand in writing “Let It Be”, chances are he is less compelled to play it live for that very reason.
That said, McCartney has played this classic on some of the world’s biggest stages. For example, Paul performed this tune during the massive 1985 charity event called Live Aid.
Some More Famous Live Performances
Other notable live performances include:
- 2001’s Concert for New York City (that was held in the aftermath of 9/11)
- During Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebration in 2012
Also to note, Macca, Starr and George Harrison sang it together during Linda McCartney’s memorial service in 1998.
Paul also laid down a private rendition of “Let It Be” for Vladimir Putin, when he performed in Moscow in 2003. And with that in mind, interesting to note is that in 1972, this song marked the first Beatles’ track to be released in what was then known as the Soviet Union.
“Let It Be” by Ferry Aid
Paul McCartney was also down with the very-large supergroup known as Ferry Aid, which included a plethora of other notable musicians, including:
- Boy George
- Kate Bush
They banded together in the name of raising funds in the aftermath of what is known as the Herald of Glee Enterprise disaster, a terrible event which transpired in Germany in early 1987. And they did so by dropping a rendition of “Let It Be” shortly thereafter, in which they all participated and that proceeded to top the UK Singles Chart.
Cover Versions of “Let It Be”
To reiterate, “Let It Be” is an indisputable classic, and as such numerous and diverse A listers have covered it throughout the decades. Those who have done so include:
- Ike & Tina Turner (1970)
- Gladys Knight & The Pips (1971)
- Bill Withers (1971)
- John Denver (1971)
- Meat Loaf (1996)
- Jennifer Hudson (ft. the Roots) (2010)
- Vybz Kartel (2011)
- The cast of Glee (2013)
- Alicia Keys (ft. John Legend) (2014)
- Dolly Parton (ft. Macca, Ringo and others) (2023)
And of course there is unforgettable parody of this song, by “The Beetles” which first appeared on Sesame Street in 1979, titled “Letter B”.
Aretha Franklin, whose rendition came out in 1970, is also on that list. And of particular interest in the Queen of Soul’s case is that her cover actually came out prior to the Beatles’ original.
The following four members of the Beatles made contributions to the recording of this song:
- Paul McCartney
- John Lennon
- George Harrison
- Ringo Starr
Macca served as lead vocalist, in addition to playing a number of instruments.
John and George acted as background vocalists. The the latter also held down lead guitar duties. Ringo Starr played the drums.
As explained earlier, Paul’s wife Linda also contributed vocals. There was also another musician who was extremely close to the Fab Four, ‘Fifth Beatle’ Billy Preston (1946-2006). On this song, Preston played an instrument known as the Hammond organ.
Appearance in Movies and TV Shows
- “Across the Universe” (2007). This is a musical romantic drama film that incorporates many Beatles songs, including “Let It Be.”
- “The Killing Fields” (1984). This biographical war film features the song.
- “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986). The song was not directly featured. However, a rendition of it was used briefly.
- “I Am Sam” (2001). A cover version was utilized in this drama.
- “The Simpsons”. The song has been referenced or covered in multiple episodes of this TV show.
- “Glee”. “Let It Be” was covered in the episode “Grilled Cheesus”. The said episode is from Season 2.
- “Mad Men”. The song is referenced in this show. However, it is not directly used in the series.
- “This Is Us”. “Let It Be” is one of the many songs featured in this show.
The Lyrics of “Let It Be”
This all began with a dream Paul McCartney had about his late mother. Via that vision, she instructed Macca that “it will be all right, just let it be”. Those could be considered pretty-profound words in general. However, they really struck a chord with Paul since said instruction came to him around the time that it was becoming increasingly obvious that the Fab Four, reportedly against his own desires, were on the verge of disintegrating as a unit. (And indeed, “Let It Be” proved to be their last studio album.)
So in the first verse, we find the vocalist celebrating the fact that ‘when he finds himself in times of trouble’, he is visited by “Mother Mary”. During this visit, “Mother Mary” proceeds to impart “words of wisdom” unto him.
In days past, before the information age if you will, many listeners were understandably under the impression that said “Mother Mary” was a reference to the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary is a very-popular figure from the Bible who is revered to this day in some notable religious circles.
But the Beatles weren’t really on it like that, in terms of embracing mainstream religion. And again, said shoutout is actually a reference to Macca’s deceased mom. His late mom was actually named Mary. Furthermore, he genuinely believed she sent him a posthumous message not to get too bent out of shape over certain matters.
Verses 2 and 3
That narrative is reiterated in the third verse, though with slightly different wording/metaphors. But the second verse of “Let It Be” is not readily understandable. It starts off with Macca seemingly asserting that even though the world is plagued with problems, these matters will eventually “answer” themselves. Owing to this, we therefore should “let it be”.
The latter half of the verse, if taken literally so to speak, appears to put forth a notion akin to arguing that even those who passed away may come to see the world reach a better day, or something like that.
We’ve spoken in the past about songs whose hooks are so catchy that most people don’t know the words of the actual verses. “Let It Be” would likely fall into that category. And for some of us who may actually know the lyrics, such as John Lennon, even he admitted that he doesn’t know what this song is about.
Also as stated earlier, if a listener isn’t knowledgeable of who “Mother Mary” is, the wording of this song can, to some degree, be misleading.
But the chorus is very straightforward, effective, catchy and easy to understand. Moreover, the message contained therein is timeless, in that every once in a while, we all tend to need “words of wisdom” along the lines of reminding us to keep things in perspective.
And all things considered, it isn’t as if The Beatles were espousing passivity. Instead, going back to this piece being inspired by their imminent breakup, the “wisdom” that “Mother Mary” imparted would be along the lines of letting Macca know that not every battle or disappointment (such as the death of a loved one) are such that we can control the eventual outcome.
“Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be”
What Genre of Music is “Let It Be”?
This classic falls into the following genres of music:
- Soft Rock
Was “Let It Be” released as a Single?
Yes. It served as its album’s second single release.