While “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles may not be the most lyrically intricate song that the iconic quartet produced, the song did emerge from a complex set of emotions. A chorus of four Don’t let me downs surrounds each verse as Lennon begs his second wife, Yoko Ono, to make their love a lasting love.
I’m in love for the first time / Don’t you know it’s gonna last / It’s a love that lasts forever / It’s a love that had no past, Lennon sings in the second verse.
“It was a very tense period,” McCartney told biographer Barry Miles for Many Years From Now (1997). “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, and [at] the same time it secretly terrified him. So ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ was a genuine plea… 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. It was a good song.”
Lennon’s relationship with Ono certainly caused tension in the Lennon household, but it also influenced the Beatles as a band. The Beatle’s sudden, and explosive pairing with Ono consequently inspired a plethora of musical content in the late ’60s and early ’70s (check out “Hey Jude” for one such example). Despite the personal overflowing into the professional, the Beatles came together to record the song in 1969 with keyboardist Billy Preston.
“We recorded it in the basement of Apple (Apple Corps Limited) for Let It Be and later did it up on the roof for the film,” McCartney told Miles. “We went through it quite a lot for this one. I sang harmony on it, which makes me wonder if I helped with a couple of words, but I don’t think so. It was John’s song.”
“Don’t Let Me Down” is credited to the prolific Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership, but was mostly written by Lennon. The three and half minute track debuted as the flip side of the song “Get Back,” and peaked at the number 35 position on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Perhaps falling into the underrated love song category, “Don’t Let Me Down” has an addictive quality as the pain of Lennon’s turmoil seeps through the lyrics.
“When it gets down to it, when you’re drowning, 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,” Lennon told Rolling Stone in 1970.
Listen to “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles below, and see if you can hear a snippet of Lennon’s authentic anguish.
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