Several songs in history have left a lasting effect on not only the music industry but on our lives. When in the right circumstance, we can turn to that song to listen or reflect. The turn of the 1970s coincided with one of those songs, one of the most prevalent songs of its time and one that still resonates today, and that song was No. 1 this week in 1970.
Before the release of the Let It Be album, Paul McCartney was going through a rough patch with the rest of The Beatles and trying to keep the band going. One night in 1968, McCartney had a dream where he saw his mother, Mary Patricia McCartney. She had passed away from an embolism more than a decade earlier. He dreamt that she came and spoke to him, telling him to just “let it be” and be content knowing everything will be okay. That dream was the inspiration for “Let It Be”, the song. “I felt so great. She gave me the positive words. I woke up and thought, ‘What was that? She said, ‘Let It Be.’ That’s good.’ So I wrote the song “Let It Be” out of positivity.”
Given this information, McCartney has been asked in interviews over the years if the Mother Mary he is referring to in the opening verse is a reference to the Virgin Mary, and he’s said that’s up for interpretation.
The Beatles recorded the song in January 1969, though it wasn’t released until the following year. McCartney played the piano, while Lennon played six-string electric bass, and George Harrison and Ringo Starr assumed their roles on guitar and drums, respectively, while Billy Preston contributed on Hammond organ. On that day, two versions of the song were recorded – the first which would serve as the basis for all released versions of the song, and the second that would be featured in the 1970 documentary Let It Be. While the second version has never been released, they are fairly different in style. For example, in the last verse, instead of the lyrics “Mary comes to me … there will be an answer”, the film version has “Mother Mary comes to me … there will be no sorrow.” The second version also features a dissimilar vocal style from Paul McCartney.
While the song was being recorded, John Lennon had the idea to bring in Phil Spector to remix the album version of “Let It Be”. When Spector came in, he made some changes to the song that did not sit well with McCartney, such as adding orchestral and studio effects which ultimately distracted from the intended sound and meaning of the song. Couple that with the fact that John Lennon didn’t like the song because of its hymnlike aspects, and the process of sorting out the dispute took so long that the demo of the song that was previously sent to Atlantic Records resulted in Aretha Franklin releasing “Let It Be” even before The Beatles. In 2003, when the Let It Be… Naked album was released, it featured a truer, stripped-down version of the song, something closer to what McCartney was aiming for the first time around.
The original album version of the song was released on March 6, 1970. At the time, it had the highest debut on the Hot 100 at No. 6. It would reach the top of the charts just weeks later. The song was ranked No. 2 on CILQ-FM‘s 2000 list of the Top 500 Pure Rock Songs Of The Century. Rolling Stone would also rank the track at No. 20 on its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
In May of that year, the Let It Be album would be released. It was The Beatles’ final studio album and had the largest initial sales in US record history at the time, a whopping 3.7 million advance orders, and would sit at No. 1 for four weeks.
“Let It Be” quickly became a universally recognized song of peace, love, and unity due to its demeanor and lyrics, and it’s fair to say that the song still retains that status in 2021. Even more, knowing that it was one of their last big hits collectively makes it stand out even further.