“Let Me Be” was written by PF Sloan, one of my all-time favourite songwriters, producers and performers. I was fortunate to have the time to read his biography (with the great title… “What’s Exactly The Matter With Me”) during a recent holiday.
PF Sloan’s name isn’t well known anymore, but he played a central role in the Los Angeles music scene of the 1960s. A talented songwriter, guitar player, singer and producer, he was signed to Screen Gems by the legendary Lou Adler while he was just a kid.
Back in the 1960s, Screen Gems was the biggest music publisher on the West Coast, so this was a pretty big deal for the young PF Sloan (originally known as Philip or “Flip” but better-known as PF Sloan for the bulk of his professional work in the mid-60s, so that’s what I’ll call him here).
The acts that PF Sloan wrote for, produced or played guitar for reads like the Who’s Who of 1960s bands— Jan and Dean, The Turtles, Johnny Rivers, The Mamas and Papas, Hermans’ Hermits, The Searchers and many others.
PF Sloan had a tough time in the music industry and was cheated out of his royalties, leading to him disappearing from sight for many years while his mind lost its bearings.
His old friend and songwriting partner, Jimmy Webb, even wrote a song called “PF Sloan” in which he wonders where his old buddy might be. It’s a truly lovely song and a delightful version of it was released by Rumer back in 2012 which you can find here.
I’m a big fan of this song and the man it was written about. Thankfully, in large part due to Rumer picking up Jimmy Webb’s song and making it into a hit again in 2012, PF Sloan did get some of the recognition he deserved towards the end of his life.
It was definitely “to little, too late” by any standards, but a lot better than not getting any recognition at all.
One of the PF Sloan songs that gets written about in “What’s Exactly The Matter With Me” is “Let Me Be” by The Turtles.
The Turtles first foray into the charts was a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” in 1965 and their biggest hit was “Happy Together” — a Billboard Number One for three weeks in 1967.
In between the two came “Let Me Be”, written by our old friend PF Sloan, which made it into Billboard’s Top 30 in November 1965.
“Let Me Be” is a protest song of sorts. I generally love protest songs, but “Let Me Be” is several orders of magnitude less intense than PF Sloan’s chart-topping protest song “Eve Of Destruction” — a Billboard Number One for Barry McGuire earlier in 1965. (If you want a listen to my favourite song of all-time, it’s here.)
That said, “Let Me Be” is a perfectly decent song on its own merits and The Turtles do a great job with it.
It conveys the sort of sentiments that teenagers through the ages — and a few people who left their teenage years behind rather too many years ago — can identify with…
Please don’t mistake me or try to make me
The shadow of anybody else
I ain’t the him or her you think I am
I’m just trying hard to be myself
Oh, society’s goal is to be part of the whole
That may sound good to you, not to me
It’s tempting, of course, for parents, grandparents and other responsible adults to try to make sure the younger family members conform to society’s norms, do well at school and launch successful careers. We all want the best for our children.
But sometimes that advice isn’t heeded by the young people we care about. What they want instead is this…
Let me be, let me be
To think like I want to
Let me be, let me be
That’s all I ask of you
I am what I am and that’s all I ever can be
Which I can understand too. As someone who did his best to please his parents with hard work at school, a “proper” professional career and a business-like attitude I fell for the well-meaning advice I got growing up.
I’ll leave it to you to think about why someone who really wanted all that of their own volition would spend all his spare time writing about the songs he’s enjoyed listening to down the years…
It’s too late for me now, but I resolutely refuse to give my own children career advice or to live out my own fantasies through my children. I tell them to do whatever makes them happy and trust that life will make it all work out for them somehow. So far my success rate with this approach is nearly 100%…
But with a sporty son, in particular, I’ve seen all-too many parents…mostly, but not exclusively, fathers…pushing their little boys to play football (soccer, that is, if you’re outside Europe) well so they can sign for a top team and their parents can experience their own childhood fantasies vicariously through their children.
That’s always a recipe for disaster and I haven’t seen a single kid with the proverbial “pushy parent” make it through the selection process for a top team (although I have had a lot of satisfaction when one of the nicest lads who used to be in my son’s team, with great and supportive parents, was selected to go down that very path…ahead of so many boys whose talents were ruined by too much of the wrong sort of pressure from their parents).
PF Sloan had that tapped too in “Let Me Be”…
Don’t try to change me, or rearrange me
To satisfy the selfishness in you
I’m not a piece of clay to mould to your moods each day
And I’m not a pawn to be told how to move
I’m sorry I’m not the fool you thought would play by your rules
But to each, his own philosophy
Nobody gets everything right all the time. That’s true whether you’re a teenager or a middle-aged man.
We learn what really makes our heart sing by trying different things and doing more of the things we enjoy, and less of the things we don’t. That’s as true for teenagers as it is for anyone else.
So if you’ve got kids, give them their heads. As long as they’re safe, let them experiment a bit and design their own lives. They should be living their own lives, not reliving your childhood fantasies.
You never know, they might just be like the 16-year-old PF Sloan who got signed by the largest music publisher on the West Coast, even though he was just a kid, because his talent shone out even then.
And wouldn’t that be grand…
Check out the book “What’s Exactly The Matter With Me” if you can. If you’ve got any interest in the music of the 1960s at all, this is a fascinating story from perhaps the ultimate “insider’s insider”.
In the meantime, however old you are, take a moment to reflect on PF Sloan’s lyrics for “Let Me Be”. They really do sum up the best approach to life beautifully, whether you’re 17 or 70.
Here’s The Turtles to explain…
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).