When was it recorded? Jan. 25-31, 1969; Apr. 30, 1969; and Jan. 4, 1970
When was it first released, and on which album? Mar. 6, 1970 as a single (later on “Let It Be”)
Who wrote it? McCartney
Have I heard this song before? One version of it, anyway
What my research dug up:
Paul was inspired to write the song after having a dream about his mother, Mary, who died of cancer in 1956. According to the Beatles Bible, “The song was written during the sessions for the White Album, at a time when Paul McCartney felt isolated as the only member of The Beatles still keen to keep the group together. His enthusiasm and belief had kept them going after the death of Brian Epstein, but increasingly he found the others at odds with his attempts to motivate them.”
“One night during this tense time I had a dream I saw my mum, who’d been dead 10 years or so. And it was so great to see her because that’s a wonderful ting about dreams: you actually are reunited with that person for a second; there they are and you appear to both be physically together again. It was so wonderful for me and she was very reassuring. In the dream she said, ‘It’ll be all right.’ I’m not sure if she used the words ‘Let it be’ but that was the gist of her advice, it was, ‘Don’t worry too much, it will turn out OK.’ It was such a sweet dream I woke up thinking, ‘Oh, it was really great to visit with her again.’ I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing the song ‘Let It Be.’ I literally started off ‘Mother Mary’, which was her name, ‘When I find myself in times of trouble’, which I certainly found myself in. The song was based on that dream.” — Paul McCartney (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now)
Like Day 2: “Across the Universe,” I’ve realized I’ve heard one version of “Let It Be” without knowing there’s like four billion different versions. Let’s break things down.
Paul first rehearsed “Let It Be” at Twickenham Film Studios on Jan. 3, 1969 while working on the “Let It Be” documentary.
On Jan. 8, the Beatles together attempted three takes of “Let It Be.” They did 16 takes Jan. 9 and one more solo Paul take Jan. 10.
Skip forward to Jan. 23, when the Beatles recorded two more takes of the song, now moved to Apple Studios. They recorded 18 takes on Jan. 25. The first take from this day appeared on “Anthology 3.”
On Jan. 25, the Beatles (with Billy Preston) recorded 28 takes of “Let It Be.” They recorded 12 more takes Jan. 27 and one more take on Jan. 29. Finally, on Jan. 31, the band recorded around 30 takes of “Let It Be.” Take 27-A became “the basis for all officially released versions of the song” (Wikipedia). Take 27-B became part of a “live studio performance” seen in the “Let It Be” film.
George dubbed a new guitar solo on Apr. 30 that was used on the single version of “Let It Be.” Work stopped on the track until George dubbed a different new guitar solo on Jan. 4, 1970 that was used on the album version of the song. Paul also added a new bass guitar part, trumpets, trombone, a tenor saxophone, and descending piano lines. Paul, George, and Linda McCartney also added harmony vocals.
So on Mar. 6, 1970, “Let It Be” was released as a single. Here’s that version.
20 days later, Phil Spector mixed “Let It Be” for the album “Let It Be.” Here’s that version.
In 1969, English musician and producer Glyn Johns mixed the “Let It Be” album before Phil Spector get involved. His mix has officially never been released. Bootleg-wise…
In 2003, another version of “Let It Be” was mixed for “Let It Be… Naked.”
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “‘Let It Be’ was the last single to be released by The Beatles before their split was announced to the press.” It was #1 on the US charts the week the band’s breakup was announced. Although it also reached #1 in Australia, Italy, Norway and Switzerland, “Let It Be” peaked at #2 in the UK. The RIAA eventually certified it double Platinum.
“Let It Be” actually won the 1971 Academy Award for Best Original Song Score for its appearance in the “Let It Be” documentary. The song also won a Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special. Rolling Stone ranked “Let It Be” #20 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and #8 on its list of the Beatles’ 100 Greatest Songs.