John Lennon’s Raw, Soul-Baring Vocals From the Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ (1969)

“When you’re drown­ing,” John Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970, “you don’t say, ‘I would be incred­i­bly pleased if some­one would have the fore­sight to notice me drown­ing and come and help me.’  You just scream.”

“Don’t Let Me Down” is Lennon’s anguished scream to his lover, Yoko Ono. When he and the Bea­t­les record­ed the song dur­ing the Let It Be ses­sions in late Jan­u­ary of 1969, Lennon asked Ringo Starr to hit the cym­bal very hard at the begin­ning, to “give me the courage to come scream­ing in.”

The Bea­t­les were in the process of break­ing apart when Lennon wrote the song. It was a dark time in my ways, and he was becom­ing more and more depen­dent upon Ono for per­son­al and cre­ative sup­port. As Paul McCart­ney told writer Bar­ry Miles in Many Years From Now:

It was a very tense peri­od: John was with Yoko and had esca­lat­ed to hero­in and all the accom­pa­ny­ing para­noias and he was putting him­self out on a limb. I think that as much as it excit­ed and amused him, at the same time it secret­ly ter­ri­fied him. So ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ was a gen­uine plea, ‘Don’t let me down, please, what­ev­er you do. I’m out on this limb, I know I’m doing all this stuff, just don’t let me down.’ It was say­ing to Yoko, ‘I’m real­ly step­ping out of line on this one. I’m real­ly let­ting my vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty be seen, so you must not let me down.’ I think it was a gen­uine cry for help.

You can get a strong sense of Lennon’s anguish and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty when you lis­ten to the iso­lat­ed vocal track above. And for the full arrange­ment, includ­ing Star­r’s cym­bal-crash near the begin­ning and Bil­ly Pre­ston’s bril­liant elec­tric piano play­ing, see below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mick Jag­ger Tells the Sto­ry Behind ‘Gimme Shel­ter’ and Mer­ry Clayton’s Haunt­ing Back­ground Vocals

Lis­ten to Fred­die Mer­cury and David Bowie on the Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pres­sure,’ 1981

Kurt Cobain’s Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track From ‘Smells Like Teen Spir­it,’ 1991

The Bea­t­les’ Rooftop Con­cert: The Last Gig Filmed in Jan­u­ary 1969

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