The Beatles' most iconic song may have been written for Aretha Franklin

10 July 2023, 10:12 | Updated: 6 October 2023, 11:23

One of The Beatles' most iconic songs could have in fact been written for the 'Queen Of Soul' Aretha Franklin, considering she released her version first.
One of The Beatles' most iconic songs could have in fact been written for the 'Queen Of Soul' Aretha Franklin, considering she released her version first. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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The Beatles wrote a seemingly endless list of songs that changed people's lives.

We all have a song written by the Fab Four which shifted our perspective on the power of music, in particularly pop music, which The Beatles completely transformed.

One song of theirs which people attach a lot of meaning is 'Let It Be', the Paul McCartney number that served as the title for the band's final album.

A song that supposedly came to Macca in a dream, it was inspired by his mother who passed away when he was just fourteen, hence the "Mother Mary" which listeners mistook as a biblical reference.

Fans of The Beatles and beyond took solace from the song, and considered it one of, if not the, most iconic songs they'd ever written. Apart from John Lennon who wasn't a fan precisely because of its religious connotations.

One artist who was a huge admirer of The Beatles was soul and gospel goddess Aretha Franklin.

When she released her debut album, I Never Loved a Man ( The Way I Love You), in 1967, The Beatles were undoubtedly the biggest and most influential band in the world.

Paul, John, George, and Ringo were likewise enormous fans of Aretha's. She was a bonafide American icon from the get-go, and lived the music that inspired the boys to even become musicians.

But 'Let It Be', a Paul McCartney standard that he still frequently performs today, could have very well been written for Aretha Franklin. She even released a version before The Beatles did.

Let It Be (Remastered 2009)

It'd be hard to comprehend Paul McCartney giving away a song which held such dear sentiment and personal feelings for him.

So how on Earth did Aretha Franklin get her hands on one of The Beatles' most iconic songs and record a version two months before it was even released?

Well, Macca had sent a demo of 'Let It Be' to record producer and former journalist Jerry Wexler, who signed Aretha Franklin to Atlantic Records.

He supposedly told Wexler that Aretha had the right to release the song first - though that doesn't confirm if he intentionally wrote it with Aretha in mind, he perhaps thought she could grasp the biblical connotations more meaningfully as a gospel singer.

But why else would Paul McCartney, one of two of the biggest songwriters in the world at the time, offer a song to Aretha Franklin without wanting her take on it?

She did in fact record her rendition for her album This Girl’s In Love With You, but it sounded nothing like Paul's original and featured a solo by the great American saxophonist King Curtis.

Let It Be

Aretha recorded her version of 'Let It Be' with the Alabama-based Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, with David Hood playing bass.

In an interview discussing the situation, Hood said: "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."

Aretha refused to release it as a single despite Wexler's protestation, which was rather lucky as Paul handed Wexler legal notice barring him from doing so anyway, as The Beatles' now-classic version came out two months later.

The legal matter didn't disintegrate Aretha's friendship with The Beatles however. She recorded a version of 'Eleanor Rigby' on that very same album, later covering 'The Fool on The Hill' and 'The Long and Winding Road' too.

The respect - no pun intended - between the two remained until Aretha's death in 2018, when Paul paid tribute to her talent saying: "Let’s all take a moment to give thanks for the beautiful life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of our souls, who inspired us all for many many years."

The Long and Winding Road