Tag Archive: Let It Be


Mother Mary

My own novelization of Let It Be might center on Paul, John and Yoko and the triangle of love/hate there, but that certainly wasn’t the only thing going on. Over the course of Beatles history, what commonly happened was John and Paul getting all the attention, both because of their individual brilliance and their feud. Because of that, George and Ringo get pushed to the side. Ringo seemed fine with that, but it had to be a disappointing thing for George.

He did actually have contributions to make, and he made them. Sgt. Pepper would have been very different (and not even close to as great) had “Within You Without You” not been there; it’s the peaceful eye that the storm of the album revolves around. Likewise, Let It Be would be incomplete without a word (or two) from George.

The first is “I Me Mine.” The popular theory is that George wrote it about Paul’s increasing control over the Beatles, and his troubling obsession with himself. The second is “For You Blue,” a bluesy ditty that’s both simple and beautiful. The whole thing follows the I-IV-V pattern, commonly called a twelve bar blues. George wrote it for his wife Patty Boyd.

Patty Boyd w/ George

If you wanna talk about love triangles, there’s one that’s even better than the Paul/John/Yoko one, and that’s George/Patty/Eric.  George Harrison and Eric Clapton were best friends; Eric played lead guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in ’68, and George played rhythm guitar on Cream’s “Badge” in ’69, co-writing the song with Eric. Patty, in the course of time, was married to both of them. At the time that “For You Blue” was released, George and Patty had been married for 4 years, and Eric was desperately, pathetically and devastatingly in love with Patty. This produced the album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs from Derek & the Dominos later in the year. I’ll talk more about the Patty Chronicle when I cover Layla.

Right smack in the middle of the album, there what I think would have been a very fitting closing song to both the album and the Beatles’ career in general. The song “Let It Be” is gentle and melancholy. The lyrics speak of letting things go and moving on with a smile, and learning what you can from experiences. On Let It Be… Naked, Paul resequenced the album, and put the title song last.

My mom hates “Let It Be.” The mention of “Mother Mary” and the fact that she “comes” to the listener (as if in a dream), is something she finds laughable and ridiculous. Personally, I tend to agree with her about Mary. I don’t want to speak ill of Catholic traditions, since Catholicism is something I respect deeply, but I’ve never understood the deification and worship of Mary. The Bible warns up down and sideways against idol worship – it didn’t work out too well for the Israelites in Exodus, for instance. As far as I understand it (and any Catholic can feel free to correct me), the logic is that since Jesus is sinless, his mother must also be sinless, thus Mary is of equal standing to Jesus, and is worshipped. The problem I see with that is that Mary’s mother must also be sinless, and her mother, and HER mother, and so on. How many sinless people can there BE, for crying out loud??

Anyway, if “Mother Mary” actually referred to the mother of Jesus, I would agree with my mom; but it doesn’t.  Paul wrote “Mother Mary” to mean his mother, whose name was actually Mary. He must have thought the double meaning was pretty cool, but John didn’t. He thought the Christian overtones and the obviousness of them to be beneath the Beatles. He did two things about it. First, he recorded a snippet of him saying in a mocking voice “and now we’d like to do ‘Hark, the Angles Come!’” just before the recording of “Let It Be,” and made sure it got on the album. Second, he also made sure “Maggie Mae” got on the album, too, and immediately followed “Let It Be.” “Maggie Mae” is a traditional piece, the unofficial anthem of the Beatles’ hometown, Liverpool. The central character in the song is a prostitute who steals from her johns.

For the Beatles, the end really came earlier, and was signaled by the song “The End,” the penultimate track on Abbey Road. It may have come out 7 months before what was arguably their “last” album,” but the material on Abbey Road was recorded after all the stuff on Let It Be. So in reality, Abbey Road is their “last” album; Let It Be is merely a look back. However, that look back is quite the look.

Farewell, Beatles; you served us well.

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The Story of the Beatles and Let It Be is one I can really get into. It’s drama that’s perfectly crafted, like a good play or movie. It has several strong characters, a man vs. man conflict, a very compelling MacGuffin (or series of MacGuffins, being the albums Get Back, Abbey Road, and Let It Be), and a kind of resolution. It even has a fake ending. Peter Jackson would be proud.

Like it or not, that story revolves around the tension between John and Paul. For a long time, that tension served them well – one acted as a foil for the other. Their pessimism/optimism thing worked in a paradigm quite nicely, most notably in the song “Getting Better.” But the problem was that as people change, paradigms change as well. At a certain point, that tension between them turned from a simple paradigm to an actual conflict. They never wrote songs together anymore, and that element of give-and-take was gone from both their songwriting and their personal relationship.

Quite poignantly, we have a chronicle of the disintegration of the John and Paul bond (and thus the disintegration of the Beatles) in Let It Be. Abbey Road was their swan song, but Let It Be revealed why that swan song had to come about in the first place.

It starts off with audio footage from the rooftop concert; John saying some nonsense to introduce a song (“Two of Us” on the record, but something else in the actual concert). You can try to figure out who “Charles Hawtrey” is, how this is “phase one,” or what it means for “Doris [to] get[s] her oats.” Honestly, I don’t think it’s worth it. In the end, that doesn’t get you any more results that just smiling and saying, “oh, John, you so crazy…”

“Two of Us,” was written by Paul McCartney, supposedly about his near-future wife Linda. Beatles fans the world over interpret it as being about John and Paul, though. That’s helped along by the fact that, except for one line in the bridge, the whole thing is a duet between John and Paul. What seals the deal for me is the line, “You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” It’s a rather melancholy testament of a friendship that has a lot of mileage on it. It’s been stretched and warped, smashed and battered, but despite everything, it’s still holding on.

Next up is a beautiful and tender moment from John, a simple guitar piece with little adornment called “Across the Universe.” As with most pieces of great art, John acknowledges that he can’t lay complete claim to its ownership. Here’s what he said on the matter.

Cynthia Lennon, John’s first wife

“I was lying next to my first wife in bed and I was thinking. It started off as a negative song and she must have been going on and on about something. She’d gone to sleep and I kept hearing, ‘Words are flowing out like endless streams…’ I was a bit irritated and I went downstairs and it turned into a sort of cosmic song rather than, ‘Why are you always mouthing off at me?’… The words are purely inspirational and were given to me – except for maybe one or two where I had to resolve a line or something like that. I don’t own it; it came through like that.”

The song’s lyrics are the most poetic John has ever written. They represent a moment where the entire cosmos clicked into perfect order for John, and for a second, he understood everything. Then, the moment was gone, and all he had was the memory, which he made into a song. Good thing he did, too, because now we as listeners can have the same experience of the entire universe making absolute sense when we listen to it.

The phrase “Jai guru deva om” from the lyrics is a Sanskrit saying. It is most commonly paraphrased in English as “victory to God divine,” and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi commonly invoked this phrase meaning “all glory to Guru Dev,” referring to his spiritual teacher. But I find the literal and dry translation to English to be the most beautiful: “glory to the shining remover of darkness.” This is a marvelous statement about the God I know as an illuminator, a gracious giver of knowledge and understanding.

I’ll also mention Fiona Apple’s marvelous cover version. It’s pretty different from the original; it employs some mechanized techno beats and electronic motifs. Fiona’s vocal delivery is slow and spacey, emphasizing the childlike wonder to be found in the lyrics; that combined with the trip-hop music create something new and exciting. I think John would like Fiona’s cover very much.

Also beautiful (if a little cloying) is “The Long and Winding Road.” Paul’s tendency to tip over into the sentimental is in play here, but it’s completely forgivable in this setting. After all, the Beatles were dead, and their fans all dressed in 7 shades of black. Where’s the harm in a little bittersweet nostalgia? The “long and winding road” the song speaks of most easily matches up to the road the Beatles’ took, the crazy journey they went on since John and Paul first got together with their guitars as teenagers. The song is important, if for no other reason, because it moved every mourning Beatles fan from the Depression stage of grief to the Acceptance stage. They go from thinking, “there’s no point in carrying on” to, “farewell, Beatles; you served us well.”

Producer Phil Spector, genius though he was, added unnecessary window-dressings to “The Long a Winding Road” and “Across the Universe.” Orchestral swells and dramatic embellishments work on some songs, but they only interfere with the beauty and grace inherent here. Pure and simple versions can be heard on Let It Be… Naked, Paul McCartney’s 2003 version of Let It Be that preserves the original spirit of the Get Back sessions. By subtracting what Spector added, they lend more grace and wonder to what was already great.

More on Let It Be on Friday!

The Beatles started out that rooftop concert with “Get Back,” followed immediately by another run-thru of the same song. It’s a driving and catchy ditty with great guitar moments. Like a lot of Beatles songs, the lyrical interpretation is pretty loose. I don’t think Paul wrote with specific persons or situations in mind, but things could have been going on subconsciously that came out in the lyrics. Fans talk out of their asses all the time saying “Jojo is really John Lennon” or “Loretta is really Yoko Ono” or “Paul was looking at Yoko every time he sang ‘get back to where you once belonged.’” While that’s a case of fans creating things that probably weren’t there, I do think there was probably something  churning under the surface, as is fitting the Paul pattern.

After two versions of “Get Back” comes “Don’t Let Me Down.” Even though it wasn’t included on Let It Be, it deserves a quick mention here. It’s yet another chronicle of John’s sexual preoccupation with Yoko, but less adolescent than “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”  It’s sweeter, too, and reveals that John’s a colossal romantic sap. While John and Yoko’s relationship wasn’t particularly healthy, they enjoyed an extremely intimate connection and had a passion that a lot of couples could learn from.

After that comes “I’ve Got a Feeling,” a rapturous, soul-filled number. Paul sings like a southern Baptist preacher filled with the Holy Spirit, jittering in a seizure-like spasm. George’s guitar matches him, his notes seeming to quiver with passion. John even contributes, interjecting his own lyrics over Paul’s chords right in the middle. As the song fades out, John and Paul are singing their own individual lyrics to make a pretty gorgeous soup. It reminds me of the “Hard Day’s Night” years, when their collaboration was a wondrous thing to behold. The lyrics are pretty unspecific, but I think “I’ve Got a Feeling” is one of the most spiritual songs the Beatles ever did. It taps into something wild and free, something unknowable.

Next comes a blast of glorious blues, noisy and reckless, filled with smiling abandon. “One After 909” is a song written by John and Paul when that wondrous collaboration was first beginning, when the Beatles were still the Quarrymen. It had been kicking around since then, and was even recorded back in the Please Please Me days, being scrapped shortly after. Finally, it saw the light of day on Let It Be. I don’t think the Beatles were really intending for it to be one of the new Get Back songs, but were enjoying playing live again and the spontaneity it yields.

“Dig a Pony” is next, a song with meaningless lyrics that, as John put it, “sound good together.” I remember one moment from a documentary that’s stuck with me. It’s from the film Imagine: John Lennon that came out in 1988, chronicling the making of John Lennon’s second solo album, Imagine. Like the album that gives it its name, the film is an incredibly honest glimpse into John’s inner workings, personality, and work habits.

The moment: John recorded the album secluded in a mansion off in the forest, and a Lennon fanatic made his way to that very house. He was dirty, unshaven, shabbily dressed, and a little crazy. John and Yoko met him in the driveway, and there they had a discussion/argument with him in which it really came to bear that John was not all the things his fans expected him to be. This was something John had struggled with ever since he became famous, his public persona being something that he couldn’t quite control. This fan quoted some lyrics from “Dig a Pony,” citing them as inspirational and life-changing. John shook his head in dismay and said, “It’s just words! Words that sound good together!” Clearly, the fan was incredibly disappointed in the man who, until a few seconds ago, had been his idol. The scene ends with John inviting him inside for a bite to eat.

Next comes a snippet of “God Save the Queen,” yet another example of the Beatles being energized and a little giddy at the anything-goes live setting they were in. Then just comes more versions of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Get Back.” The police then promptly shut them down.

Thursday: “glory to the shining remover of darkness.”

The Beatles – Let It Be – 5/8/1970

January 30th, 1969. It was chilly and damp; not rainy, but there was a dreary moistness to the air like there always is in January in London. It was noon, lunch time, when the four Beatles emerged from the hatch in the roof of 3 Savile Row, the Apple Corps headquarters. With them was a cadre of crew, both sound and film, as well as producers and engineers. Yoko was looking down to the street, and John was plugging in. He was visibly cold, so Yoko lent him her fur coat. Amused by this, Ringo also donned his wife Maureen’s red mac. They tuned up and did a few sound checks, then went right into “Get Back.”

It was about noon, coinciding with lunch hour for the lawyers and accountants populating the buildings surrounding Apple headquarters. This idea for a live, unannounced concert to premiere their new material – and simultaneously record their new album – had been around for awhile. Some grand locations were thrown around, like a peak in the Himalayas and even the moon. But in the end, they didn’t feel like hauling all their stuff around, so they just went upstairs instead. After only 42 minutes (not enough time to perform all the new stuff), the police intervened and shut the concert down.

The sessions and rehearsal for the Get Back album in the closing months of 1968 were fraught with disaster. Personal and professional problems reared their ugly heads around nearly every corner. The egos of all four Beatles had grown to mythic proportions. The capstone was when John insisted that Yoko, whom he had married only a few months before, was to be physically with him at all times. His rationale was that Yoko was a part of him now, in every sense of the phrase.

After the experience of The White Album in which each of the band members had functioned almost independently, nobody was willing to work for the greater good. There was no compromise, no give-and-take, and no understanding. In truth, they weren’t really a band anymore; the Beatles were over.

After that rooftop concert, Get Back was scrapped. The concert idea hadn’t really panned out seeing as they hadn’t gotten enough good material on tape to construct a full album. That lark on the Apple rooftop would prove to be the final public performance that all four Beatles would give together – they broke up just a few months later, but not before recording a one-last-hurrah album of new new material, called Abbey Road.

It quite often seems impossible and unthinkable to me, but the entirety of the Beatles’ meteoric rise to the absolute pinnacle of pop stardom and then their implosion and sad demise… took 8 years. While they were together, they released 11 albums of new material, a bevy of singles, and were without a doubt bigger than sliced bread and the wheel combined (though not Jesus). No band today could accomplish all that in less than 20 years; the Beatles did it in 8. Hell, some bands don’t release 3 albums in 8 years!

I’m not done. Adding amazement to amazement, the Beatles even released an album of original material after they had broken up. And it wasn’t “unreleased studio material” or “archival studio footage,” leftovers and snippets never meant to see the light of day assembled piecemeal by some studio hotshot in an effort to squeeze the last tiny drop of milk from that dried-up, crusty teat. What became Let It Be was the pieces of an almost-album that didn’t quite make it to release. All it took was impresario producer Phil Spector to swoop in and finish what the Fab Four had started; it turned out to be one of their best, most enduring releases. Even the wasted ashes of the former Beatles are beautiful; they just need the right lighting.