ON THIS DATE (42 YEARS AGO)
May 13, 1970 – The Beatles’ last film, “Let It Be,” has its North American premiere in New York City.
Let It Be is a 1970 documentary film about The Beatles rehearsing and recording songs for the album Let It Be in January 1969. The film features an unannounced rooftop concert by the group, their last performance in public. Released just after the album, it was the final original Beatles release.
The world premiere of the film was in New York City on 13 May 1970. One week later, UK premieres were held at the Liverpool Gaumont Cinema and the London Pavilion. None of The Beatles attended any of the premieres. The Beatles won an Oscar for Let It Be in the category “Original Song Score”, which Quincy Jones accepted on their behalf. The soundtrack also won a Grammy for “Best Original Score”.
The film was originally planned as a television documentary which would accompany a concert broadcast. When plans for a broadcast were dropped, the project became a feature film. Although the film does not dwell on the dissension within the group at the time, it provides some glimpses into the dynamics that would lead to The Beatles’ break-up.
The film observes The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr) from a “fly on the wall” perspective, without narration, scene titles, or interviews with the main subjects. The first portion of the film shows the band rehearsing on a sound stage at Twickenham Film Studios. The songs are works in progress, with discussions among themselves about ways to improve them. At one point, McCartney and Harrison have an uncomfortable exchange, with McCartney criticising a guitar riff played by Harrison on “Two of Us.” Harrison responds: “I’ll play whatever you want me to play, or I won’t play at all if you don’t want to me to play. Whatever it is that will please you, I’ll do it.” Also appearing are Mal Evans, providing the hammer blows on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, and Yoko Ono, dancing with Lennon.
The Beatles are then shown individually arriving at Apple headquarters, where they begin the studio recording process with Harrison singing “For You Blue” while Lennon plays slide guitar. Starr and Harrison are shown working on the structure for “Octopus’s Garden” and then demonstrating it for George Martin. Billy Preston accompanies the band on impromptu renditions of several rock and roll covers, as well as Lennon’s improvised jam “Dig It,” while Linda Eastman’s daughter Heather plays around the studio. Lennon is shown listening uninterestedly as McCartney expresses his concern about the band’s inclination to stay confined to the recording studio. The Beatles conclude their studio work with complete performances of “Two of Us,” “Let It Be”, and “The Long and Winding Road”.
For the final portion of the film, The Beatles and Preston are shown giving an unannounced concert from the studio rooftop. They perform “Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “One After 909,” and “Dig a Pony,” intercut with reactions and comments from surprised Londoners gathering on the streets below. The police eventually make their way to the roof and try to bring the show to a close, as the show was disrupting businesses’ lunch hour nearby. This prompts some ad-libbed lyrical asides from McCartney: during the second performance of ‘Get Back,’ he sings, “Get back Loretta … you’ve been out too long Loretta … you’ve been playing on the roofs again … and your mummy doesn’t like that … it makes her angry … she’s gonna have you arrested! Get back Loretta!”. In response to the applause from the people on the rooftop after the final song, McCartney says, “Thanks Mo!” (to Ringo’s wife Maureen) and Lennon quips, “I’d like to say ‘thank you’ on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition!”
While the album Let It Be contains many of the song titles featured in the film, in most cases they are different performances. The film has additional songs not included on the album.
The following songs are listed in the order of their first appearance, with songwriting credited to Lennon–McCartney except where noted.
“Paul’s Piano Intro”
based on “Adagio for Strings” (Samuel Barber), and titled “Paul’s Piano Piece” on Let It Be… Naked
“Don’t Let Me Down”
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”
“Two of Us”
“I’ve Got a Feeling”
“One After 909”
“Jazz Piano Song” (McCartney/Starkey)
“Across the Universe”
“Dig a Pony”
“Suzy Parker” (Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey)
“I Me Mine” (Harrison)
“For You Blue” (Harrison)
“Bésame Mucho” (Consuelo Velázquez/Sunny Skylar)
“Octopus’s Garden” (Starkey)
“You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” (Smokey Robinson)
“The Long and Winding Road”
“Rip It Up” (Robert Blackwell/John Marascalco)
“Shake Rattle and Roll” (Jesse Stone, under his working name Charles E. Calhoun)
“Kansas City” (Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller)
“Miss Ann” (Richard Penniman/Enotris Johnson)
“Lawdy Miss Clawdy” (Lloyd Price)
“Let It Be”