(i) Times of Trouble
As exemplified in the Let It Be
movie, the Beatles' relationship — musical and personal — had deteriorated to a state far beyond a passing 'problematic period'. The divorce had been on the cards for a good while before the band were prepared to admit it — or at least to announce it. At the time of the single's release, the public remained officially unaware of the imminent split, though the most perceptive must surely have sniffed it coming.(ii) Mother Mary
Whereas he'd dreamt the melody for "Yesterday", this time it was the essence of the lyric which came to McCartney as he slept. He was visited by his mother, Mary, who had succumbed to cancer some 15 years before — round about the time he was starting to jam with one John Lennon. Their shared experience of maternal loss was one of the bonds that drew them together: John's mum had been killed by a drunk-driving police officer when he was 17.(iii) Words of Wisdom
In the dream, she assured him that the future was going to be fine; the past was the past; that he should put it all behind him and move on without worrying about what might happen, and simply "let it be." Paul was entering a new phase in his personal life also: soon to be wed, and with Linda already carrying the child who would come to be 'Daughter Mary'.(iv) The Sound of Music
The line still makes me think of Julie Andrews like it did when I was a kid, but I digress. Given the origin of the song, its hymnal tone was inevitable. Billy Preston' churchy organ complements Paul's imposing grand piano motif to perfection, John playing the bass part. Pre-Preston, it was rehearsed and refined extensively during the movie sessions. The first recorded take can be found on Anthology 3
: they subsequently refrained from giggling in the solo.
The single, released in March 1970, and the May LP version are substantially different, although based on the same take. Vocal overdubs for the 7" were completed — minus Lennon but plus Linda — during what was to become the band's final studio session. George M added some subtle orchestration, and a previously recorded George H solo was mixed in. Past Masters
and The Blue Album
all include this mix, which they should probably have let be The Beatles' final 45.
For the eponymous and posthumous album, Phil Spector — of course — did it his way. The symphonic supplements were inevitably layered on more thickly, with the voice backing all but removed. A raunchier guitar solo was added, and Ringo's drums were also 'effect enhanced'.
Equally inevitable was Paul's stripping away of virtually everything for the Naked
issue. A completely different take was used; the drums left untampered with, and George's solo from the movie incorporated. The backing vox are played well down and orchestral effects are conspicuous by their absence.
It has remained an integral part of McCartney's live shows: from Wings, to Live Aid
, to date. Accompanied by George and Ringo, he also sang it at Linda's funeral in 1998.Shine on till tomorrow, let it be...