Let It Be, the final original album released by the Beatles, arrived in records stores on May 8, 1970. The LP’s toweringly brilliant music becomes even more powerful upon considering that it arose from the insanely intense bad feelings that did, in fact, break up the Beatles. That palpable strife uncomfortably dominates the film Let It Be, an unflinching documentary on the making of the album. All these years later though, the music, of course, is what matters.
Let It Be has entertained, enlightened, and inspired countless millions worldwide for four-and-a-half-decades, with no end in sight. Fans have loved trading bootlegs of alternate song versions and, in 2003, some of those turned up on Let It Be: Naked, an official release of Paul McCartney’s original, raw, rock-and-roll notion of what the record might have been.
As with all other Beatles efforts, Let It Be has also launched innumerable cover versions of its contents. Today we’ve assembled a song-by-song Let It Be cover playlist composed of unique takes by world-class artists. So press play on each number and then just… Let It Be.
“Two of Us”- Aimee Mann and Michael Penn
Paul McCartney’s romantic paen to bride-to-be Linda Eastman “Two of Us” opens Let It Be with a driving, enchanting melody over which Paul finding gorgeous harmonies John Lennon (the irony!). Real-life spouses Aimee Mann and Michael Penn brought their lush voices to the song for the 2001 I Am Sam soundtrack, and their playing brings particular potency to its percussive moments. The road of love is beautiful, to be sure, but it’s also the very definition of rocky.
“Dig a Pony”- St. Vincent
Although John Lennon at least once decried his own Dylan-esque composition “Dig a Pony” as “a piece of garbage,” we’re fortunate the rest of the Beatles did not agree. Nor did avant-garde pop artist St. Vincent, who covers the surreal number in concert, where it feels perfectly in place with her daring variations on the possibilities of a rock performance.
“Across the Universe” – David Bowie
“Across the Universe” sounds and feels like a beautiful dream shared at once by the whole of humanity. John Lennon composed the gentle, mystical masterwork as a result of the Beatles’ interest in Eastern spirituality and Transcendental Meditation. The chorus mantra—“Jai guru deva om”—translates roughly to “Glory to God, the remover of darkness.” That also describes the general effect of “Across the Universe” upon all who hear it.
Numerous “Across the Universe” listeners have been moved to create their own versions. Among the most unguarded and effective is David Bowie’s take from his 1975 milestone, Young Americans. If the guitar and backing vocals sound slightly reminiscent of the original, it’s because none other than John Lennon is performing them.
“I Me Mine”—Elliot Smith
“I Me Mine” is George Harrison’s glorious socking to to his fellow Beatles. He drew the song from the bitterness and surrounding the creation of Let It Be in general, and how he repeatedly felt short-shrifted by Lennon and McCartney in particular. Troubled songwriter Elliot Smith covered “I Me Mine” as an encore in the early 2000s, packing palpable emotion into each performance that, in hindsight (as Smith killed himself in 2003), can be haunting.
“Dig It” – Michael Jackson
The 50-second ditty “Dig It” is one of only two songs credited to all four Beatles from the group’s original run of albums (the instrumental “Flying” from Magical Mystery Tour is the other). It’s a quick, fun, stream-of-consciousness jam over which John Lennon pays homage to Bob Dylan and rattles off seemingly disconnected names.
Curiously, “Dig It” held special appeal to Michael Jackson, who sings the song in part and talks about how great it is in on a rare tape from a studio session. It’s brief but fascinating.
“Let It Be” – Chrissie Hynde
Angelically powered by Billy Preston’s mighty organ-playing, “Let It Be” is Paul McCartney’s hymn-like ode to graceful acceptance, inspired by a dream in which his late mother Mary assured him, “It will be all right, just let it be.”
“Let It Be” remains not just one of the Beatles’ most profoundly beloved anthems, but one of the most inspirational and cherished compositions in all of rock. As such, few songs have been covered more than “Let It Be.” One of particular distinction is by the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, who recorded her take for the 2014 tribute project, The Art of McCartney.
“Maggie Mae”—The Quarrymen
The rough-and-tumble, down-and-dirty “Maggie Mae” is a traditional folk song hailing, like the Beatles, from England’s waterfront district of Liverpool. The 39-second Let It Be run-through of “Maggie Mae” is the second shortest track the Beatles ever recorded (Abbey Road’s 23-second “Her Majesty” finishes first). It was a fun tune for the band to just pick up during a jam, as Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison had been playing it in full all the way back to their skiffle days in their pre-Beatles endeavor, the Quarrymen.
“I’ve Got a Feeling” – Pearl Jam
Akin to Abbey Road’s “A Day in the Life,” Let It Be’s “I’ve Got a Feeling” started as two distinct songs that were combined into one perfect beast that embodies the Paul McCartney/John Lennon dynamic that Ozzy Osbourne was perfectly nailed as “sweet and sour.”
McCartney’s “I’ve Got a Feeling” was a declaration of gratitude and commitment to his fiancée Linda Eastman, while Lennon’s “Everybody Had a Hard Year” arose from his previous twelve months of divorce, a drug bust, Yoko Ono experiencing a miscarriage, and the Beatles crumbling around him.
Pearl Jam issued their take on “I’ve Got a Feeling” as a bonus track, and performed the song in concert throughout the early ’90s.
“One After 909” – Willie Nelson
One of the earliest Lennon-McCartney compositions, the all-out rocker “One After 909” may have been written as early as 1957. It finally hit vinyl on Let It Be, after being recorded live during the Beatles famous farewell rooftop concert atop the group’s Apple headquarters. Artists that have recorded “One After 909” range from ’50s idol Ricky Nelson to industrial marauders Laibach to the great Willie Nelson.
“The Long and Winding Road” – Aretha Franklin
Paul McCartney came up with “The Long and Winding Road” while sitting at a piano in Scotland. After super-producer transformed McCartney’s sad piano ballad into the mammoth symphonic anthem of uplift with which we are all familiar, Paul filed suit to officially break up the Beatles. It’s a shame he didn’t love that version the way the rest of the world did. “Road” is also one of the most frequently interpreted Beatles classics. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, imbues her take with gospel sounds and deep spirituality.
“For You Blue”- Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, and Dhanny Harrison
George Harrison trippy blues doodles are rarely more intoxicating than they are on “For You Blue,” the B-side to “The Long and Winding Road” on which John Lennon plays wicked steel guitar and Paul McCartney creates a one-of-a-kind piano sound by placing paper between the instrument’s strings.
At the 2002 Royal Albert Hall tribute event The Concert for George, Paul McCartney played his recently deceased friend’s number with joy and gusto while being backed by Eric Clapton, ELO’s Jeff Lynne, and George’s guitarist son, Dhanny Harrison.
“Get Back” – Lenny Kravitz
Get Back was the original title of what became the album Let It Be. Paul McCartney envisioned Get Back as a return to the Beatle’s rough-edged rock-and-roll roots. That was not to be. Still, we ended up with at least the classic song “Get Back” as a result.
Lyrically, “Get Back” describes a series of somewhat surreal characters starting over again, while the instrumentation arose from various spontaneous jam sessions. John Lennon griped that he suspected the song took a shot at Yoko Ono, as he told Playboy that McCartney looked right at Yoko in the studio every time he sang, “Get back to where you once belonged.”
“Get Back” is a favorite Beatles cover among hard rockers, including Lenny Kravitz, who blew the roof off the Ed Sullivan Theater in 2014 during “Beatles Week” on The Late Show With David Letterman.