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“Let It Be” is one of the most famous songs the Beatles ever released. It’s easy to see why. The song’s combination of soul, gospel, and pop music helps it to connect with many different types of music fans.

Surprisingly, the Beatles were not the first artists to release their version of the song. Aretha Franklin’s version was released shortly before the Fab Four’s. Franklin is largely responsible for her version of the track languishing in obscurity.

A poster for the Beatles documentary Let It Be | Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

The original version of ‘Let It Be’ wasn’t by the Beatles

“Let it Be” was written for the Beatles’ album of the same name. Like many Beatles songs, it was inspired by the work of another artist. In this case, Franklin inspired Paul McCartney to write “Let It Be.” The track was written in 1969, near the end of the sessions for its parent album.

Franklin wasn’t just the inspiration behind the song. Paul sent a copy of it to Jerry Wexler, a producer for Atlantic Records. He wanted Franklin to record a version of the song. Wexler said it’s highly possible Paul wrote the song specifically for Franklin.

The Beatles’ version of “Let It Be”

Franklin did record a cover of the track. It was included as one of several covers on her album This Girl’s in Love with You. The record also features a cover of the Fab Four’s hit “Eleanor Rigby.” Franklin’s version of “Let It Be” is notable because it was released to the public in January 1970, two full months before the public heard the Beatles’ rendition of the song. From a certain point of view, Franklin’s version is the original version.

Why Aretha Franklin’s version never became a single

Franklin’s “Let It Be” was well-received by critics, her fans, and Beatles fans. However, it would become an obscure album track rather than a hit. Why?

Aretha Franklin’s version of “Let It Be”

Wexler says Franklin did not want her version of “Let It Be” to become a single. Wexler felt Franklin’s take on the song was beautiful and would have been a smash hit. Franklin, however, wouldn’t play ball.

For months, Franklin’s recording remained obscure. Then the Beatles decided to put out their own version of the song. The Fab Four sent Wexler and Franklin a “legal notice” barring them from releasing Franklin’s track as a single. Franklin never expressed any remorse for refusing to release “Let It Be” as a single while she could. Wexler said this “no regrets” attitude was characteristic of her.

Despite any legal notices, there didn’t seem to be any enmity between Franklin and the Fab Four. Franklin would later release covers of two more Beatles classics: “The Long and Winding Road” and “The Fool on the Hill.” When Franklin died, Paul said “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.”

Also see: Beatles Passed on the Song That Became George Harrison’s Last #1 Hit