20. The Beatles - Let It Be

Fresh on the heels of "Sugar Mice" by Marillion, a song that was released as a band was breaking up, comes "Let It Be," by the Beatles, released after the band broke up.  But let's get to the real question.  In response to those who might question how only one song by The Beatles made it on this list, it's an easy answer.  Only one Beatles album, Let It Be, was released* during my lifetime (released in May 1970).  There would undoubtedly be more Beatles songs on this list if I were older, but them's the rules.  Okay, let's get on with the entry for "Let It Be."

Paul McCartney isn't your typical bass player.  He's not content to just sit back and lay the musical foundation for songs at the lower end of the sound spectrum.  Bass players are usually the guys in the band photo that look real familiar but you can't quite come up with their name.  They stand to the side of the stage, don't move around much, and usually provide solid backing vocals to go with their solid bass playing.  They're the consummate team players who do what's best for the band, sacrificing their own ego for the good of the band.  So again, Paul McCartney isn't your typical bass player.

Paul McCartney threw all conventions of the "in the background" bass player out the window.  He was the sole songwriter on many of The Beatles biggest hits.  He sang lead vocals.  He played the piano on many of their songs.  When you add in the genius of John Lennon's songwriting, it's no surprise that The Beatles are considered by most as the greatest band ever.  They quote Shakespeare on Star Trek all the time to prove that genius knows no century.  I'm just shocked that they never quoted any Beatles songs, because trust me, we'll be singing "Let It Be" in the 23rd century.  
Starting off with that simple piano refrain, Paul keeps things simple, from start to finish.  John plays a simple bass line, taking over Paul's instrument for a song.  Ringo plays some simple drums, but they're pretty prominent in the mix, so it comes through as a solid backing to the song.  Horns add a bit of punch, and the church organ gives it a bit of gravity.  George's guitar solo isn't flashy in the least, which for most guitarists is maddening.  But if it had been, it would've detracted from the song, so he made the right choice.  Although Phil Spector added his "wall of sound" production to the album version#, the song holds on to its core of simple melody with deceptively simple lyrics.

When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

The "mother Mary" that Paul sings about isn't the Mother Mary (mother of Jesus), but rather Paul's own mother, Mary.  She died when he was fourteen and as any son would, he missed her terribly.  During the tense sessions around the recording of The White Album, Paul often had difficulty sleeping.  One night, however, he had a full night's sleep, where he dreamed of his mother.  It wasn't a sad dream, it was a wonderful, soothing dream.  Paul said,  "It was great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing 'Let It Be'."

As someone who has also lost a mother (at least I had mine for twenty years longer than Paul), I've had the same dream.  It's the one where I'm spending quality time with my Mom and don't know that she's gone.  The few lucky times I've had these dreams, they've been just mundane settings, like eating at a restaurant and then walking down the street together with my wife and family, talking and laughing.  I can close my eyes and still treasure them.  When I wake up, instead of being depressed that my reality has been shattered from the reality in those dreams, I hold those dreams dear to my heart, remembering them with fondness, not sadness.  So "Let It Be" speaks to me on a deeper level than most, I suppose.

The way Paul sings his lyrics, though, speaks to millions, not just me.  And although John Lennon didn't like the misconception that this song was talking about the other Mary and became associated with Christianity, even he had to admire the way Paul delivered the lyrics.  When a singer's story is actually his story, it's so much easier to sing it with conviction and emotion.  And that's exactly what Paul does.  With all of the times that "let it be" are in the lyrics, it gives him a chance to be vocally creative with each utterance.  It's not like Phil Collins' cookie cutter delivery of singing "One more night" twenty-six times in that song (yes, I counted).  Paul can let emotion overtake him as he sings his mantra, or can sing it with a more restrained plea.  Paul sings it as I remember my dreams, with optimistic fondness, even when things aren't going right.

And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light, that shines on me,
shine until tomorrow, let it be.

When my Mom died, my night was indeed cloudy.  I grieved.  I was depressed.  I was in a dark tunnel without any light.  Luckily for me, my wife (who also loved my Mom and was grieving as well) stayed right by me and we made it to the end of the darkness together.  The light on the other side will never be as bright as the light before, but it's still light.  When tragedy strikes, you're given a choice.  It almost always plunges you into an uncertain darkness, and it's easy to just stay there, alone with your grief and sadness.  Escaping this darkness takes a monumental effort that's very difficult by yourself.  That's why many people stay there for a long time.

But there are usually people around you who want to help.  In the dark, though, you can't see them, unless you let them touch you.  Then, if you truly let them in to help, they can lead you, step by step, out of the darkness and into a new light.  Like mine, it'll never be the same, but you'll be able to get on with your life.  So if you're in your own darkness, just reach out and touch someone you trust to lead you out.  No one can promise that there won't be other tragedies and tunnels in your life, but as long as you keep working your way towards a brighter day, your life will be all the better for it.  Mine is.

*The Beatles album Let It Be was, for the most part, recorded in early 1969, before the recording and release on an entirely different album, Abbey Road.  So even though Let It Be was released almost a year later, some critics and fans belive that Abbey Road, and not Let It Be, should be considered The Beatles last album.

+So I got curious.  Who wrote what?  How the heck can you find it out if it's all Lennon/McCartney?  Well, John did a verrrrrrry long interview with UK magazine Record Mirror in 1971 where they asked him about almost every Beatles song.  Luckily for me, somebody else did most of the work, I just cleaned it up and compiled the numbers.  Of the 169 songs John talked about, he wrote 75 of them (44%).  Paul wrote 70 (42%).  They collaborated on the final 24 (14%).  That's a pretty even split. The only other bassist who beats him in songwriting productivity is The Police's Sting, who was sole composer on an astounding 67% of The Police's songs.  Including one's he co-wrote, it's a staggering 80%.  Drummer Stewart Copeland once said, "It's not that Andy (Summers, The Police's guitarist) and I didn't write songs, it's just that Sting's were the best."

#Since there was so much strife within The Beatles during this time, especially between John & Paul, there was no real agreement about how "Let It Be" should be produced and mixed.  Because of that, there are five official versions of "Let It Be" that The Beatles have released.  Check out the Wikipedia page on "Let It Be" to read more about it, if you're interested.  I found it fascinating. 

(Fun Fact #9:  Paul McCartney wrote "Let It Be" early one day.  Instead of resting on his laurels and going to see a movie, reading a book or eating a salad, McCartney decided to ride the creative wave a bit further and buckled down to continue writing.  The result?  Just another little diddy, this one called "The Long And Winding Road."  On the same stinkin' day!  Genius, indeed.)
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