The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be': 20 Wisdom-Speaking Covers
As the story goes, Paul McCartney was visited by his late mother, Mary, in a dream one night in 1968, during sessions for the White Album. He began writing a song about the vision, but it would be two years before fans heard "Let It Be." Billy Preston joined the Beatles for the sessions that produced the song, adding some Hammond organ and helping to smooth over tensions within the band at the time.
"Let It Be" was a huge hit when it was released as a single in 1970 and became a favorite of other artists from the start. The song has been covered by dozens of artists over the years. Some stick close to the original arrangement; others are by friends of McCartney. Even the song's writer loves it: McCartney has played "Let It Be" onstage more times than any other song.
We take a look at 20 of our favorite "Let It Be" covers below.
1. Joan Baez
Joan Baez was used to reshaping popular songs and putting a graceful spin on them. Her cover of "Let It Be" was included on her 1971 album Blessed Are ... , which also featured songs by the Band, the Rolling Stones and Kris Kristofferson. She also performed "Let It Be" onstage in the '70s.
2. Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora
Because the annual Royal Variety Performance was held in Liverpool in 2007, it wasn't a big surprise that Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora led a cast of performers in a rendition of "Let It Be." Other guests that evening included James Blunt, Joan Rivers, Kanye West, the cast of Hairspray and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
The soundtrack to Jessie Nelson's 2002 film I Am Sam, starring Sean Penn, was supposed to include original Beatles songs, but obtaining the rights proved difficult. So Nelson hired artists like the Wallflowers, Eddie Vedder, Sheryl Crow, the Black Crowes and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to record covers. Cave and his band check in with a straightforward version of "Let It Be."
4. Ray Charles
One of the all-time greatest R&B singers brought his distinctive voice to "Let It Be," the closing song on his 1977 album True to Life.
5. Joe Cocker
Joe Cocker's powerful version of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" was a hit in 1969. That same year, Cocker released his second album, which included more Beatles covers: "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and "Something." A cover of "Let It Be" was released as a B-side.
6. John Denver
John Denver spent much of the '60s playing, writing and helping to popularize acoustic folk music. It wasn't until he released his 1971 album, Poems, Prayers & Promises, that he started gaining some commercial ground. That LP included a cover of "Let It Be," as well as a McCartney solo song, "Junk."
While Dion is best known as a doo-wop pioneer, his career has been rich and varied since the '50s, including trips through folk and rock music. In 1971, he released a cover of "Let It Be" on You're Not Alone.
8. Ferry Aid
Paul McCartney took part in the 1987 Ferry Aid recording, but he was surrounded by superstars, including Boy George, Mark Knopfler, Gary Moore, Edwin Starr, Kate Bush, Rick Astley and Bonnie Tyler. Proceeds from the single supported charity groups created following the capsizing of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise ferry boat that claimed the lives of 193 people.
9. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin was the first artist to release a commercial recording of "Let It Be," even before the Beatles. Her soulful take arrived in January 1970 as part of her This Girl's in Love With You album, nearly two whole months before the Beatles released their single version. McCartney reportedly sent Franklin and Atlantic Records a demo of the song to use as a guide.
10. Guns N' Roses
Guns N' Roses included a cover of McCartney's "Live and Let Die" on their 1991 album Use Your Illusion I. But they also covered "Let It Be" on tour in 1993, complete with a face-melting guitar solo by Slash.
11. Chrissie Hynde
A collection of legendary artists contributed to an album of McCartney covers titled The Art of McCartney in 2014, including Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Barry Gibb and B.B. King. The honor of covering "Let It Be" fell to Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, who recorded a tender vocal that stuck close to the original arrangement.
12. Norah Jones
The Beatles performed on the Apple rooftop in London in 1969 around the time they recorded "Let It Be." Norah Jones — daughter of one of George Harrison's biggest inspirations, sitar player Ravi Shankar — continued the tradition when she sang a cover of "Let It Be" at the top of the Empire State Building in New York City in 2022.
13. Laurence Juber
"Let It Be" is still a powerful song, even without the words. Laurence Juber, who played guitar in McCartney's Wings from 1978 to 1981, recorded a gentle, acoustic instrumental cover of the song on his 2008 album, Pop Goes Guitar.
14. Gladys Knight and the Pips
Gladys Knight and the Pips often reshaped popular songs and made them a distinctive part of their catalog. In 1971, they covered "Let It Be" on their album If I Were Your Woman.
15. Claudia Lennear
"Let It Be" was part of Joe Cocker's 1970 tour that yielded the classic live album Mad Dogs & Englishmen. But it's not Cocker who sings lead on "Let It Be," which was recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Claudia Lennear, a onetime Ikette with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue who worked with Leon Russell, Freddie King, Taj Mahal and others, soars on this 1971 single.
16. Gerry Marsden
Gerry Marsden, leader of the Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers, was always a few steps behind the Beatles. His group was the second Liverpool band signed by Brian Epstein. The Pacemakers split in 1966, but Marsden kept his career going. In 1995, he released A Tribute to Lennon & McCartney, which included a cover of "Let It Be."
17. Meat Loaf
Meat Loaf's big, theatrical voice was suitable to all sorts of music. In 2011, a collector's edition of his 1995 album, Welcome to the Neighbourhood, included a cover of "Let It Be," originally a B-side from the era.
18. Billy Preston
If anyone earned the right to cover "Let It Be," it's Billy Preston, who played organ on the Beatles' original. Preston occasionally performed the song live; it showed up on his 1974 concert album, Live European Tour, recorded during his stint as the Rolling Stones' opening act.
19. Ike & Tina Turner
Ike & Tina Turner's 1970 album, Workin' Together, includes their classic take on John Fogerty's "Proud Mary." But keep listening through to the end of the LP and you'll hear their equally explosive version of "Let It Be."
20. Bill Withers
Bill Withers' debut album, Just As I Am, arrived in 1971 without much fanfare. But he was soon a star thanks to hits like "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Grandma's Hands." Two covers can be found on the album alongside Withers originals: Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" and the Beatles' "Let It Be."