I’ve always resonated with Paul McCartney’s song, “Let it be,” probably because of the “Mother Mary” lines in the song. It has a nice soothing feel to it, even while it acknowledges the frustrations of life and work for a better world, even while it encourages us to press on. So, one day in a moment of aimlessness I did a bit of searching to find the story behind the story. Here’s what Paul McCartney seems to have to say about writing “Let it be”
McCartney says that he was going through a really difficult time around the autumn of 1968. It was late in the Beatles’ career and they had begun making a new album, a follow-up to the “White Album.” As a group they were starting to have problems. McCartney thought he was sensing that the Beatles were breaking up, so he was staying up late at night, drinking, doing drugs, clubbing, the way a lot of people were at the time. He was really living and playing hard.
The other Beatles were all living out in the country with their partners, but he was still a bachelor in London with his own house in St. John’s Wood. At the back of his mind he says that he was also thinking that maybe it was about time he found someone. This was before he got together with Linda.
McCartney says that he was exhausted! Then one night, somewhere between deep sleep and insomnia, he had the most comforting dream about his mother, who died when he was only 14. McCartney described his mother, saying, “She had been a nurse, my mum, and very hardworking, because she wanted the best for us. We weren’t a well-off family- we didn’t have a car, we just about had a television – so both of my parents went out to work, and Mum contributed a good half to the family income. At night when she came home, she would cook, so we didn’t have a lot of time with each other. But she was just a very comforting presence in my life. And when she died, one of the difficulties I had, as the years went by, was that I couldn’t recall her face so easily. That’s how it is for everyone, I think. As each day goes by, you just can’t bring their face into your mind, you have to use photographs and reminders like that.”
So in this dream twelve years later, his mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to him very gently, very reassuringly: “Let it be.”
He said it was a lovely dream. He woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited him at this very difficult point in his life and gave him this message: “Be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out.”
So, being a musician, he went right over to the piano and started writing a song: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me”… Mary was his mother’s name… “Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” There will be an answer, let it be.” It didn’t take him a long time to write it. He wrote the main body of it in one go, and then the subsequent verses developed from there: “When all the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.”
McCartney thought it was special, so he played it for the other Beatles and ’round a lot of people, and later it also became the title of the album, because it had so much value to him, and because it just seemed definitive, those three little syllables. Plus, when something happens like that, as if by magic, it has a resonance that other people notice too.
Not very long after the dream, McCartney got together with Linda, which he says was the saving of him. And it was as if his mum had sent her, you could say.
The song is also one of the first things Linda and Paul ever did together musically. They went over to Abbey Road Studios one day, where the recording sessions were in place. He lived nearby and often used to just drop in when he knew an engineer would be there and do little bits on his own. And he just thought, “Oh it would be good to try harmony in mind, and although Linda wasn’t a professional singer, I’d heard her sing around the house, and knew she could hold a note and sing that high.”
So she tried it, and it worked and it stayed on the record. You can hear it to this day.
These days, the song has become almost like a hymn. McCartney sang it at Linda’s memorial service. And after September 11 the radio played it a lot, which made it the obvious choice for him to sing when I did the benefit concert in New York City. Even before September 11th, people used to lean out of cars and trucks and say, “Yo, Paul, let it be.”
So those words are really very special to him, because not only did his mum come to him in a dream and reassure him with them at a very difficult time in my life – and sure enough, things did get better after that – but also, in putting them into a song, and recording it with the Beatles, it became a comforting, healing statement for other people too.
From Paul McCartney