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The Story Behind the Song: The Beatles dreamy classic 'Let It Be'

In the late 1960s, there was a beautiful blossoming of creativity amidst the tumult of turmoil that dominated the streets. It was a time of unrest and the prevalent music scene of the time mirrored this. By the late 60s, the situation in Vietnam and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had left an indelible mark on a, rightfully, indignant music industry.

Amidst the musical outpouring, however, was a simple song of transcendence that seemed to run counter to the rhetoric of the day with the uncomplicated message of ‘Let It Be’. It was an equanimous epithet with a simply incredible back story. “I had a dream in the sixties,” Paul McCartney explained during an episode of Carpool Karaoke, “where my mum who died came to me in a dream and was reassuring me saying: It’s going to be okay. Just let it be.”

At the time Paul was suffering an anxiety dream owing to ongoing stresses with the band, the industry, the trappings of fame and the same day to day worry that we all carry around. His mother, Mary McCartney, who had passed when Paul was only 14, came to him as a benevolent apparition in his slumber. As McCartney puts it himself, “She was reassuring me, saying, ‘It’s going to be ok, just let it be.’ It felt so great. She gave me positive words, [..] So I wrote the song ‘Let It Be’ out of positivity.”

It is a beautiful backstory to a gorgeous piece of music, however, it is one that does not go uncontested. Malcolm Evans was a fundamental figure behind the band’s management and acted as a sort of personal assistant and therapist rolled into one. 

Speaking to David Frost in 1975, a year before he was killed in a confrontation with armed police, Malcolm stated, “Paul was meditating one day and I came to him in a vision, and I was just standing there saying “let it be, let it be…” And that’s where the song came from…”

Adding, “It’s funny because we were coming home from a session one night, and it was 3 o’clock in the morning, raining, dark in London, and Paul was telling me this, saying I’ve written this song. ‘It was going to be Brother Malcolm, but I’ve had to change it in case people get the wrong idea!”

This contrasting backstory does indeed gain a semblance of credibility as in the 50th Anniversary edition of the White Album Paul can be heard yelling the lyric, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Brother Malcolm comes to me,” during a studio rehearsal rendition of ‘Piggies’.

Now that we have the words straight from Paul’s mouth regarding the inception of the song, this extraneous link can be put to bed as a simple bit of studio mucking about. 

The retrospective sad note to an otherwise joyous song is that it was the final single released by the four-piece before Paul announced his departure from the band. It was also a track that John Lennon loathed owing to how easily “Mother Mary” can be misinterpreted as a biblical reference and not to Paul’s own late mum. In fact prior to recording the track John called out, “And now we’d like to do ‘Hark The Angels Come’,” and ensured the tracklisting followed up with the tale of a Liverpudlian prostitute in the form of ‘Maggie Mae’. 

In its own way, the track acts a beautiful swansong for the four-piece heralding in a new age away from the tempestuous tensions of the studio, to a more tranquil thereafter for the band that Paul entreaties passionately in the final crescendo. It has entered pop-culture in everything from Sesame Street to Bowie singalongs.

In the end, the tale behind the song is as touching as the music itself. It is an ode to Pauls mother, Mary, and it not only offers exultation from loss but represents the powerful force for transfiguration that it can become in time.