When was it recorded? Jan. 22-30, 1969
When was it first released, and on which album? Apr. 11, 1969 as the B-side to “Get Back”
Who wrote it? Lennon
Have I heard this song before? No
What my research dug up:
“Don’t Let Me Down” is similar to one of my favorite Beatles songs “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” in that it’s an earnest, pleading love song from John to Yoko Ono. To quote Richie Unterberger’s song review, “Despite its assertions that the narrator is in love for the first time with a love that will last forever, there’s a slight underlying feeling of anxiety and uncertainty, as if the singer suspects it might be too good to be true.” Paul had a similar view of the number.
“It was a very tense period: John was with Yoko and had escalated to heroin and all the accompanying paranoias and he was putting himself out on a limb. I think that as much as it excited and amused him, and the same time it secretly terrified him. So ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ was a genuine plea… It was saying to Yoko, ‘I’m really stepping out of line on this one. I’m really letting my vulnerability be seen, so you must not let me down.’ I think it was a genuine cry for help. It was a good song.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
According to Alan Pollack, “In terms of style, underlying attitude, and the widely scattered number of alternate versions unofficially available of it, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is arguably about as archetypal and emblematic of the Get Back/Let It Be Era as either of one the latter’s alternating “title” tracks.” Despite being recorded during this era, “Don’t Let Me Down” was not released on “Let It Be.”
Trawling YouTube actually turned up two different demo versions of this song featuring just John on his guitar. Here’s one of them.
The version of “Don’t Let Me Down” that was used as a B-side for “Get Back” was recorded Jan. 28. Once again, Billy Preston appears on the electric keyboard.
The Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down” performed twice during the Jan. 30 rooftop concert, with one of the takes finding its way into the “Let It Be” film. This video seems legit.
An edit of the rooftop versions of “Don’t Let Me Down” appeared in lieu of “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae” on the album “Let It Be… Naked.” For those not familiar with that album, it was a 2003 release that stripped a lot of Phil Spector’s production. For obvious reasons, this sounds nearly identical to the previous video (you know, in case you feel like skipping one).
Furthermore, Pollack’s notes instructed the reader to seek out “the 1/22 version that was slated for the ‘Get Back’ project,” so seek I did. I don’t think this is the version he was talking about (SO MANY BOOTLEGS, YOU GUYS), but it was my favorite because of the studio chatter and the slight difference of the melody.
As Pollack notes, “Perhaps the apparently offhanded treatment of this song in official release combined with the sheer variety of alternates available suggests that the Beatles themselves weren’t sure exactly how they wanted to nail it down and just decided to let it (uh …) be.” Fair enough, but my head is still spinning at the sheer number of versions that exist. I doubt I listened to every single one available, but of the ones I listened to, I think the rooftop concert version of “Don’t Let Me Down” is my favorite. I think there’s more confidence in it than some of the other tinkerings.