The Wisdom of Timeless Songs
“Let it Be” by McCartney
I’m not a Beatles fan. I’m not a McCartney fan. But I can appreciate why they were so significant to popular music for decades. Actually…over half a century!
Paul McCartney wrote some cracking good numbers and “Let it Be” is one of them. It’s one of those universal songs that many musicians might admit to wishing they had been the one had written it.
It’s covered countless times by so many artists, and for good reason. It’s simplicity. It’s message speaks to the listener. It is a piece of wisdom shared lyrically, and figuratively:
When I find myself in times of trouble, /
Mother Mary comes to me /
Speaking words of wisdom, /
let it be.
I have split this into 4 lines, much like the lyrics in my previous post on Jinder’s “The Birds Will Still be Singing.” That’s deliberate, since the same musical structure applies. You’ll hear the tonal “weep” in the third line — or 2nd phrase, for pedants — which is followed by the soft sigh of wisdom: “Let it be.”
We could analyse this until the cows come home. But I don’t have any cows, so that would make my blog very long. It’s more than that, though. The message is in the simplicity of three words. That lyric is the absolute opposite to the teenager shoulder-shrugging “whatever.”
The simplicity is also in its music. Most popularly played in C Major — that’s the “easy key” with just the white notes on a keyboard — the song nods along a gentle tempo, and the star phrase first hits us with the notes E, D, C. (Ignore the detail of “how” and just accept it, if you can’t read music!) Tonally, especially in Western culture, and whether you are aware of it or not, that sound is very pleasing and reassuring. It is comforting.
Warning: Irrelevant tangent
Apparently, casinos in Las Vegas have their coin slot machines ringing out notes of C, E and G. The notes of a C Major chord. This bright, positive and reassuring, helping to reduce anxiety. It encourages longer playing from customers, and more money for the house.
When you descend a scale in a major key the last three notes — E, D, and C in this case — let you arrive safely at the “Home” note. The “C”. We are so familiar with this sound that, subconsciously, it feels “right.” I’m not saying McCartney composed this song with science in mind, but what I am saying is that the message of the song fits almost perfectly between lyric, melody, and meaning.
Relax. Everything will be okay. You’re home. Don’t worry.
Someone else tried this with a musical fad. It was a musical. It infuriates me. I hate it with a passion. I have never watched the whole thing because I cannot stand the idea. You know the song I am talking about. The third word is “go”, and not “be”. The melody of those three notes… C, D, E — the opposite to E, D C. The song tries to “launch” when McCartney did the opposite: he landed.
Feet on the ground.
That is why “Let it Be” has lived for half a century in the hearts of countless millions, but “Let it Go” will die off as a fad.
The Blue Bit
This is the “weeping phrase,” as I call it. The notes, so simple: E, E, F, E — and it is the “F” that matters. This is just a semi-tone, a “half” note above the E, and moving around notes like that can give that great sound of woe, and pain. Blues singers and musicians have used it for yonks. That “bend” of the note, a whining quality to it.
Want an example? Of course you do!
Everyone knows, by ear if not by name, that stunning piece of saxophone playing in “Baker Street”. Listen to it here for a reminder (or an education, if somehow you have never heard it.) Notice two important things:
1: count how many “phrases” in that whole melody — yep, you guessed it, 4.
2: listen to that beautiful whining bend of the notes in one of the phrases — yep, you guessed it, the 3rd. The weeping phrase.
You go listen. We’ll wait here. (It’s at 0:25–0:44)
But why is all this relevant? Why does any of this matter?
Important questions indeed. We shouldn’t try to mimic the success of the song, but to recognise why works so universally. The story in the lyrics touch us all.
Some people draw on their faith. I find a similar faith in music. “Let it Be” is so simple a song you can play it with just a few chords. Four or five easy chords on a guitar, or using only the white keys on a piano. Or you can put instruments down and sing it a Capella if you like.
If you would like proof of the universal truth in that song I urge you to try something on Google.
Type the three word, “let it be.” If you ask a copywriting or marketing guru they would tell you that those words are called “stop-words.” They are so common that Google all but ignores them on most of your searches. But you type them together and something magic happens.
The whole of the first two pages are all about the song, the Beatles, McCartney, and so on. There’s only two real ways to achieve that on Google: being completely unique, or being universal.
We are all living in very troubled times at the moment. Our society is fractured. Too many world leaders are behaving in ways more akin to vicious dictators of the past than great minds of the future. The youth of tomorrow is being betrayed by the selfishness of their elders today. To top it all, we are on the brink of pushing our planet past the point of no return.
Each of us has our own challenges to face. The tests, tribulations and tragedies. Cruelty is thrown at us every day, whipping us into a frenzied mob of defensive and socially decrepit beasts.
Unless we change our mindset, hope is under threat. We need to let the shit hit the fan, wash it off, and keep on going. We need to let ourselves get knocked down, then get back up and keep on going.
It’s not the challenges we face, or the mistakes we make that defines us — it’s what we do about them.
Feel the pain, burn the anger, shed the tears, but as the song so rightly, and universally says in its voice of wisdom:
Let it be.
If somehow you have never heard this song, or any other reason you want to listen again: LET IT BE