Track of the Day: 'Let It Be' by Gladys Knight and the Pips

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader in Pittsburgh, Josh, has a moving tribute to his friend:

I’ve been following your cover series and would like to contribute a favorite. In March, I lost my best friend Chris—far, far too young at only 36. In suburban Pittsburgh in the ’90s, we were an unlikely pair. He was black, I was white, and about as physically and socially different as could be. In 10th grade, Chris joined the marching band, and playing together in the trumpet section, we became inseparable.

In band, you played a wide variety of genres and were exposed to many influences. Chris and I cultivated eclectic musical tastes, and in the pre-Napster/iTunes/Spotify days, when people defined identity by the contents of their CD binder, we could exchange any band or genre without shame. He blew my mind with a Prince record; I floored him with the White Album. It united us, and as we passed through the momentary catastrophes and tender triumphs of adolescence, we always had a soundtrack.

So my selection for this cover series is “Let It Be” by Gladys Knight and the Pips:

McCartney’s sparse hymn is transformed by Gladys’ soaring gospel performance and the call and response into an urgent demand. It almost seems as if the Pips’ plaintive echoes are restraining her from ascending to another plane of existence.

The Beatles began by playing Motown songs, and after their explosion, Motown artists covered them frequently. This cover of “Let It Be” has been solace in my personal grief, but also as an echo of the troubled times in which it was written and recorded, and a tonic to the current unrest in our civic society. I know Chris loved this song, and I know he would agree.

(Submit a cover via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)