The Beatles classic track ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is a bittersweet number for fans of the Fab Four across the globe. It’s largely remembered as their final goodbye and, alongside the iconic video footage of the now-famous gig atop the roof of Apple Records, remains the final image of a band in harmony. Despite their growing distaste for being in the band, on this song the put the music front and centre and let everything else fall away.
Featuring as a B-side on the single ‘Get Back’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is seen by some as one of John Lennon’s greatest creations. With it, he encapsulates everything that was great about The Beatles, a big concept broken down to the simplest form and delivered through an emotionally charged pop song. He also managed to provide one of his most perfect vocal sessions, proving he was every bit the archetypal rocker the proclaimed himself to be.
Originally recorded in 1969 as a part of the Let It Be sessions, the song was written by Lennon and, as is the way with a large majority of Beatles songs, is attributed to the Lennon-McCartney writing partnership. However, McCartney had little to do with the track apart from his impeccable performance. The song, it is safe to say, derives from Lennon’s begging soul.
When discussing the song, Paul McCartney interpreted the track as a “genuine plea” from Lennon to his partner Yoko Ono saying, “I’m really stepping out of line on this one. I’m really just letting my vulnerability be seen, so you must not let me down.” It’s an expected plea, considering the turmoil that had seemingly erupted around the relationship, Ono emboldening Lennon to think of life beyond the Fab Four.
Lennon doubled down on the interpretation and said in an interview to Rolling Stone in 1970 that, “When it gets down to it, when you’re drowning, you don’t say, ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me’, you just scream,” in reference to his infatuation with Yoko Ono.
Relatively simple in a lyrical style, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ hangs on the musicianship of all four members of the group, Harrison’s guitar is revered for its idiosyncratic style but it’s the vocals which really hit the notes Lennon intended. You can hear every single colour of the complex palette that rendered the sticky situation Lennon and Ono had found themselves in.
It was a vulnerability Lennon had neglected to share during the heady days of Beatlemania. As they cruised around the world, swarmed by fans and adored wherever they went, the inner struggles the band were facing weren’t something that it felt appropriate to share. But as the members grew older they began to express themselves more fully in their songs, ditching pop numbers for more personal ones. None more so than Lennon.
Lennon mentions his fears a lot more vividly in his later work, using his solo career to not only express his emotions but to take a stand and send a message of peace. The songs would become more purposefully poignant, they’d be complimented by PR stunts and grandiose messaging. They would cement Lennon’s iconography forevermore.
But, for us, it doesn’t get any better than this simple and raw performance. Stripped back and painful to touch Lennon begs for the mercy of love and the savings grace of Yoko Ono on one of The Beatles most potent recordings. Lennon leads the group but is amply backed by McCartney on Harrison, harmonising in the background, just as they had at the beginning of their journey.
Listen to the isolated vocals of The Beatles on ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and take a trip back to an iconic moment in the band’s history.