How Let it Be Brought The Beatles Back to Their Roots


McCartney was very particular in how he wanted his songs to sound. If he wrote a piece for piano, guitar, bass, drums, and an elegant electric piano solo, it should sound as it is conceived. It’s not that McCartney was afraid of schmaltz. He embraced it for songs which called for it. He didn’t hate the harp. He let it be used to great effect on “She’s Leaving Home,” and it had that Marx Brothers connection, which must have pleased him on a cellular level. But he despised the harp on “The Long and Winding Road.” And who can blame him? The only reason it’s bearable is because the vocal choir is worse. The song has one of the greatest set of lyrics in the Beatles’ catalog. They are poetry. We don’t need all those guardian angels acting as road signs telling us how to feel.

To be fair, once Spector was brought in, the Beatles broke the no-overdubs rule by coming in to add parts. When United Artists said the finished soundtrack album would include Lennon’s ”Across the Universe” and Harrison’s ”I Me Mine,” The band re-recorded a two minute version of “I Me Mine,’ which Spector expanded the same way George Martin had elongated the song “I’ll Cry Instead.” It was just the same recording doubled. Spector slowed down a 1968 take of ”Across the Universe” and cushioned it in lush strings and droning eastern instruments.

The Songs

The album opens with McCartney’s ode to getting lost, “Two of Us.” He always claimed the song is written about traveling with his newly wed wife, Linda. But that relationship was only getting started, so the line “you and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead” sounds more like something he would be saying to Lennon. The “you and me chasing paper, getting nowhere” line also sounds more like the contractual “funny papers” he sang about in Abbey Road‘s “You Never Give Me Your Money.” But there is no bitterness in the recording. The film captures a chunky electric version with Lennon and McCartney sharing a mic and trying to crack each other up.

The album’s version is acoustically driven with tight Everly Brothers-style harmonies. A clip of it was broadcast on The Ed Sullivan Show on March 1, 1970. It was the last time the Beatles would appear on the show which broke them in America. The song opens with Lennon larking about, saying “‘I Dig A Pygmy’ by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-Aids! Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats!” Hawtrey played a flamboyantly gay character on Britain’s The Carry On film series.

“Dig a Pony” is a neat piece of messy word play in 6/8 time. While Lennon does a strong vocal, he’s got his tongue firmly in his cheek while insisting he can also “feel the wind blow” as well as Bob Dylan, and insinuating the Rolling Stones “can imitate anyone you know,” while he would “pick a moondog,” a reference to the Beatles’ short-lived name Johnny and the Moondogs. Lennon also sounds vaguely Jaggeresque in “Dig It,” which is the second song credited to all members of the band. The first was the instrumental “Flying” from the Magical Mystery Tour album. “Dig a Pony” is the first of the three rooftop songs on the album, performed live on Jan. 30, 1969. Lennon plays Epiphone Casino electric guitar, McCartney is playing his 1963 Hofner 500/1 bass, Harrison fingers his rosewood Fender Telecaster, Starr is on Ludwig Hollywood Maple drums, and Preston is tinkling a Hohner electric piano.

“Let It Be” is introduced by Lennon saying “That was ‘Can You Dig It’ by Georgie Wood, and now we’d like to do ‘Hark the Angels Come.'” And it is an angelic song with a very earthly premise. The “Mother Mary” Paul is singing about is his own, who died when he was 14. He wrote the song during the White Album sessions when the band was in a rough patch. Like “Yesterday,” McCartney said it came in a dream. When McCartney wrote “Let It Be,” he sent an acetate demo to Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records to give to Aretha Franklin.

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