alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Let It Be"


Notes on ... Series #165 (LIB)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: C Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Refrain |
                  | Coda |
                  | Verse (Instrumental) | Refrain |
                  | Verse | Refrain | Refrain |
                  | Coda / Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "Let It Be", Track 6 (Parlophone 0777-7 46447-2); and
            "Past Masters", Volume 2, Track 14 (Parlophone CDP 90044-2)
  Recorded: 25th, 26th, 31st January 1969, Apple Studios;
            30 April 1969, Abbey Road 3; 4th January 1970, Abbey Road 2
UK-release: 6th March 1970
            (A Single / "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)");
US-release: 11th March 1970
            (A Single / "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note "Let It Be" quite effortlessly overflows with an emotional earnestness and prodigious melodic thrust that are both familiar qualities common to much of Paul's best work. But, "Let It Be", with its quaint, diatonic style, its inclusion of pseudo-religious imagery in the lyrics, and its lingering afterglow of having stated some mysterious truth, earns it a unique, high place in Macca's songbook, a niche that it shares, perhaps alone, with "Hey Jude".
  Next note At risk of provoking still more calls for silly "Top 5" lists in the r.m.b. newsgroup, I'd also propose that "Let It Be", somewhat independent of its intrinsic musical virtues or the question of whether you particularly like it or not, is deserving of the rarified label "definitive" with respect to the Beatles, both as a group, and in terms of their output.
  Next note We've got three different versions of "Let It Be" all based on the same Take 27 recorded 1/31/69. Two are official releases — the single, and the "Let It Be" album track — and the third one — the "Get Back" album track — is readily available on bootleg. Pardon me, but I will use the latter "unofficial" version in this study as our authoritative point of reference because, among the three, it is the least tampered with, the one closest to the "unvarnished truth;" even if its guitar solo, in flagrant violation of the all natural, no overdub policy of the "Get Back" project, was overdubbed much later.
  Next note Additional alternate versions abound in the channel of so-called unofficially released recordings for the entire reportoire of the "Get Back" era, as we've been noting the few studies we've already completed of songs from the period. Though I do not have the bandwidth needed to give such outtakes the measure-by-measure attention they deserve on some level, I do plan to make at least passing reference to the most notable aspects of the most interesting outtakes as we continue our studies.
  Next note In the case of "Let It Be", consider the following:
  • A rough Twickenham runthrough that is clearly much earlier than the one 1/23 version on "Anthology" 3. This take has:
  • No intro.
  • Mumbled scat singing and the phrase "read the Record Mirror" to fill space where lyrics were not yet written.
  • Paul explaining over the music that the backing track to the solo section is the same as the verse.
  • Following the solo there are two refrains, no final verse, and a three-peat of the coda.
  • 1/23 version on "Anthology" 3:
  • Single coda phrase used for the intro.
  • Lyrics of final verse are an identical repeat of first verse.
  • Version in the "Let It Be" film:
  • Three refrains and single coda phrase before guitar solo.
  • Final verse and refrain substitute the phrase "no sorrow" for the expected "an answer;" compare with "Unsurpassed Masters", volume5, below.
  • Lead-off track from so-called "WBCN" "Get Back" acetate; also appears on "Celluloid Rock":
  • Intro preceded by Paul's campy count in of "a-one-two-three-four!"
  • Double coda used for intro.
  • Lyrics of final verse repeat the first verse but with the order of the couplets reversed.
  • Outtake on "Unsurpassed Masters", volume 5:
  • Opening giggle about "second clapper" helps date this as a later take from 1/31, since the original remark about "synch the second clap" is associated — on the "Get Back" album track — with the take used for the oficial version.
  • Lead vocal sounds horse, backing vocals sound off key.
  • Final verse and refrain substitute the phrase "no sorrow" for the expected "an answer".
  Next note But let's get back to musical reality for a change.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note The tune — as well as the guitar solo — is almost 100% purely pentatonic; i.e. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 / C, D, E, G, A. The only exception is the way that the fourth scale degree (F) shows up as a neighboring tone, as in the phrase "speaking words of wisdom," on the word "words".
  Next note The melodies for both verse and refrain span the range a ninth, but the refrain is pitched a third higher than the verse; the verse runs from E up to F, and the refrain runs from G up to A.
  Next note The final phrases of both verse and refrain are identical, but they sound somehow different in their respective contexts. In the verse, the phrase appears near the very top of the melodic arch. In the refrain it's part of the arch's closing downward path.
  Next note The harmony is limited to just four chords: I, IV, V, and vi, and it never strays from the home key. Both harmony and tune are diatonic to an unusually strict degree that is relieved only by a frequent use of appoggiaturas — along with a veritable textbook's worth of examples of other sophisticated ornamentation techniques which will repay careful study — and a lonesome appearance of the bluesy flat seventh in the instrumental arrangement of the coda section.
  Next note In spite of the V chord's ample appearance, the song retains a modal harmonic flavor due to the almost consistent use of Plagal (IV -» I) cadences and the way in which V seems to almost move to either IV — like in the blues — or to vi — like the classical deceptive cadence — instead of to I.
  Next note Don't tell your Music Theory 101 Professor, but Paul leaves a number of parallel fifths between the bassline and tune in this song that are barely disguised by the ornamentation of the tune. We'll single these out in our walkthrough.


  Next note The basic ensemble includes piano, organ, bass (John!, at least in the film), lead guitar, and light drumming. Paul's solo vocal is accompanied by backing voices in parallel thirds for the refrain.
  Next note In terms of instrumental layering, the basic plan starts off with piano solo, adds in cymbals followed at a discreet distance by bass in the second verse, then adds the full drum kit for the following refrains and solo section, and pulls back to less percussion for the final verse before restoring the fuller sound for the big finish.
  Next note The only overdub on the "Get Back" album track is the lead guitar solo. The single version adds a brass arrangement in the refrains that is mixed relatively quietly, an electric piano ovedubbed in the codas, and marracas in the final verse. The Spectorized "Let It Be" album track features a different guitar solo, the brass, marracas, cymbals and original bass part mixed very loud, additional lead guitar licks in the final sections of the track, a different drumming pattern on the cymbals, and an additional refrain section tacked on before the bitter end. They didn't call it the "wall of sound" for nothin'.
  Next note Paul shows off his talent for Chopinesque melodic variation in the handling of the phrases "they will see" in the second verse, and "shine on 'til tomorrow" in the final verse. He also starts throwing in those trademark flips of an octave upward toward the end of each section starting with the refrain that follows the guitar solo. In a number of the outtakes, he starts using those upflips a bit much earlier in the game; an idea apprently dropped as unwise for the final version.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The eight measure intro cleverly exposes the harmony of the first half of the verse without giving away what will be the tune:
      |C           |G           |a           |F           |
   C:  I            V            vi           IV

      |C           |G           |F           |C           |
       I            V            IV           I

   [Figure 165.1]
  Next note The harmonic shape is closed and the harmonic rhythm steady. In fact, a relaxing subliminal backbeat of "1, 2-and, 3, 4-and, 1" lies at the heart of the music.
  Next note A pair of fine characterizing details on the backing track:
  • Frequently — but not 100% of the time — Paul uses a 7 -» 6 appoggiature on the downbeat of measure 4, making the chord sound possibly like ii6/5 instead of IV.
  • Parallel tenths run between the bassline and the accompaniment from measure 6 through 8, including a couple of passing notes in the second half of measure 7.
  Next note Is mine the only copy of the "Let It Be" album CD in which one hears a small click — like the accidental tapping of two drum sticks — toward the very end of this intro?


  Next note The Verse is built on a repeat of the Intro.
  Next note The second repeat of the basic phrase reiterates the parallel tenth trick in the second half of measure 8 in order to lead into the refrain.
  Next note The parallel fifths I promised you are:
  • In measures 2 - 4 between the final syllables of the words "trouble" and "mother" and the first syllable of "Mary" and the word "to".
  • In measures 6 - 7 between the final syllable of "wisdom" and second note of the melisma on the word "be".


  Next note The refrain is eight measures long in an AB phrasing pattern:
 Soprano: |E           |-           |-           |C           |
    Alto: |E           |D           |C           |-           |
   Tenor: |C           |B           |A           |G           |
  Chords: |a           |e           |F           |C           |
           vi           iii 6/5      IV           I

          |C           |G           |F           |C           |
           I            V            IV           I

   [Figure 165.2]
  Next note Both phrases end on I. The first phrase at least starts away from it.
  Next note That first phrase features a symmetrical chord progression in terms of root movement — the move of a fourth downward between vi -» iii and IV -» I. The stepwise bassline and the voice leading of the upper parts — dig it, parallel tenths all over again! — disguise this a bit.
  Next note In particular, note how the pitch 'E' is sustained through the first three measures and with G in the bass makes the chord in measure 2 sound ambiguously as much like V — with an added sixth — as the iii7 in first inversion that I'm labelling it as.
  Next note Again, the parallel fifths I promised you are in measures 1 - 3 between one of the backing vocals and the bassline.


  Next note In its basic form the coda is a four measure phrase with a convergent harmonic shape. In its initial appearance before the guitar solo, it is repeated with the second half of the final measure implying a move to the IV chord to better motivate the section that follows:
   |F           |C           |G     F     |C           |
    IV           I            V     IV     I

   |F           |C           |G     F     |C    (F)    |
    IV           I            V     IV     I    (IV)

   [Figure 165.3]
  Next note In the first phrase, a Bb passing tone in the second half of measure 2 provides the only appearance of a non-diatonic tone in the entire song, and sets up a cross relation with the B-natural in the G-Major chord that follows.


  Next note The outro uses just one iteration of the coda phrase, giving us a wonderful object lesson in how "less is more". Play out the doubled up alternative in your head and observe how turgidly pompous is sounds.
  Next note The bass part does its own delayed and quite slow glissando up an octave as the final chord fades away. Makes you wonder if John was inspired by Paul's vocal use of the same effect.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note Connections or comparisons between the Beatles and Beethoven can as easily run aground of their own over-reaching fatuous facility, as they can hit their mark. I dare say that with our current song we hit the jackpot.
  Next note Beethoven's last completed and published work is the "String Quartet in F", Opus 135. He prefaces the final movement with a half-joking musical puzzle that reads, "Muss es sein? Es muss sein!" — "Must it be? It must be!" — The question phrase is set to a theme that is halting and ominous in tone with the accent of the phrase on the last word, "be". The answer phrase is set to a theme that is forthright and calmly cheerful in tone, with the accent of the phrase on the middle word, "must". The two themes are both alternate with, and are pitted against each other throughout this final movement, with the answer phrase very definitely getting the upper hand and the final word in the end.
  Next note Musicologists are undecided on how we should realistically read into this apparent "valediction" from the composer. Did he neccessarily realize it would turn out to be his last work? Did he intend the riddle to be taken so "seriously?"
  Next note The parallels with our current song --"Lass es sein" — and its context within the released works of our Own Sweet composers are hopefully obvious.
  Next note In either case, I think that one is intruigued and also challenged by an ambiguous duality in the message:
  • Petition: May something I want to happen but which might not be forthcoming be allowed to become an actuality.
  • Acceptance: With complete faith and patience in the inevitability of the outcome that is not the one I may "want," I wistfully let go of any desire for that different eventuality, and ask that whatever is decreed by fate to be may happen with all good speed.
  Next note Our human foible here is to be trapped into the unquestioned assumption that the two prayers above are automatically in opposition to each other. Indeed, the truly sublime appeal of "Let It Be" as well as LVB's Opus 135 is in the extent to which each encourages us toward a vivid foretaste of that blessed state in which both desires converge and become one and the same.
  Alan (051699#165)
Copyright © 1999 by Alan W. Pollack. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.