Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Let It Be

First recorded (as a demo) by Paul McCartney (1969).
First released by Aretha Franklin (1970).
Hit versions by The Beatles (US #1/UK #2/CAN #4/AUS #1/NZ #1/IRE #1/MOR #1/GER #2 1970), Ferry Aid (UK #1 1987).

From the wiki: “‘Let It Be’ was written by Paul McCartney (but credited to Lennon-McCartney), recorded by The Beatles, and released in March 1970 as a single and (in an alternate mix) as the title track of the group’s album Let It Be. But, The Beatles weren’t the first to release this song: Aretha Franklin was. The Queen of Soul recorded it in December, 1969, and it was released on her album This Girl’s In Love With You (but not as a single) in January, 1970, two months before The Beatles released their US and UK single in March 1970.

“Franklin recorded ‘Let It Be’ with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who traveled to New York City for the recording session. Muscle Shoals bass player, David Hood, remembers that Paul McCartney sent demos of the song to Atlantic Records (Franklin’s label) and to the Muscle Shoals musicians. Said Hood, ‘I kick myself for not grabbing that demo. Because I think they probably dropped it in the garbage. Our version was different. We changed it a little bit from his demo, where their version is different from that demo and from Aretha’s version, as well. Just slightly, but little things.’

Rolling Stone magazine would later write of Franklin’s recording, ‘Nobody ever sang the Beatles like Aretha. Since she was one of the few Sixties musicians as famous and revered as they were, she felt free to take any approach she pleased to a Fabs song — sometimes radically reworking it, as when she sang ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in the first person. When Aretha sang any song, even a Beatle song, she claimed it as her own — and the Beatles knew it. Nothing could make them prouder than getting one of their songs stolen by the Queen. When Paul McCartney wrote ‘Let It Be’, he sent an acetate demo to Aretha in hopes she’d record it, knowing full well she’d outsing him on it.’

“At the time of its release as a Beatles’ single, ‘Let It Be’ made the highest debut of any Beatles recording on the Billboard Hot 100, debuting at #6 (and soon to reach #1). It would be The Beatles’ final single release before McCartney announced his departure from the band.

“McCartney said he had the idea of ‘Let It Be’ after he had a dream about his mother during the tense period surrounding the sessions for The Beatles (the ‘White Album’). Contrary to popular belief, the song’s reference to ‘Mother Mary’ was not Biblical: McCartney explained that his mum — who died of cancer when Paul was fourteen — was the inspiration for the ‘Mother Mary’ lyric, later saying ‘It was great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing ‘Let It Be’.’

“The first Beatles rehearsal of ‘Let It Be’ took place at Twickenham Film Studios on 3 January 1969, where the group had, the previous day, begun what would become the Let It Be film. During this stage of the film they were only recording on the mono decks used for syncing to the film cameras, and were not making multi-track recordings for release. A single take was recorded, with just McCartney on piano and vocals. This was the version included in the film Let It Be as part of the Apple studio performance along with ‘Two of Us’ and ‘The Long and Winding Road’, and has never been officially released as an audio recording.

“The first attempt at a master take with the other Beatles was made on 8 January, and included studio talk between Lennon and McCartney. Work continued on the song throughout the month. This master take would serve as the basis for all officially released versions of the song. Multi-track recordings commenced on 23 January at Apple Studios.

“On 30 April 1969, Harrison overdubbed a new guitar solo on the best take from 31 January that year. Harrison overdubbed another solo on 4 January 1970 (the last recording session by any of The Beatles until 1994’s session for ‘Free as a Bird’). The first overdub solo was used for the original single release, and the second overdub solo was used for the original album release. (Some fans mistakenly believe that there were two versions of the basic track.)

“On 26 March 1970, Phil Spector remixed the song for the Let It Be album. This version features the ‘more stinging’ 4 January 1970 guitar solo, no backing vocals (except during the first chorus), and more prominent orchestration.

“‘Let It Be’ is widely considered to be one of the greatest songs of all time. In 2004, it was ranked #20 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song won Academy Awards in 1971 in Original Song Score category as a part of documentary film Let It Be. It also won Grammy Awards for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special.

“‘Let It Be’ was the first Beatles song released in The Soviet Union. The single made it there in 1972.”

“In 1987, Ferry Aid covered the song as a charity single raising money for victims of the Zeebrugge Disaster. Notable featured artists included Paul McCartney (of course!), Boy George, Paul Young, Mark Knopfler and Kate Bush as well as an ensemble chorus made up of media personalities and musicians. Sesame Street adapted ‘Let It Be’ for a Muppet band called ‘The Beetles’, changing the title to ‘Letter B’ to list words that begin with B.”

The Beatles, “Let It Be” take one (1969):

The Beatles, “Let It Be” the “naked” version (1969):

The Beatles, “Let It Be” released single (1970):

The Beatles, “Let It Be” album version (1970):

Ferry Aid, “Let It Be” (1987):

Sesame Street, “Letter B”:

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