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The Long and Winding Road

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


"The Long and Winding Road" is a pop ballad written by Paul McCartney that originally appeared on The Beatles' album Let It Be. It became The Beatles' last number-one song in the United States on June 13, 1970. While the released version of the song was very successful, the post-production modifications to the song by producer Phil Spector angered McCartney to the point that when he made his case in court for breaking up The Beatles as a legal entity, he cited the treatment of "The Long and Winding Road" as one of six reasons for doing so.

Innocent inspiration

McCartney originally wrote the song at his farm in Scotland, inspired by the growing tension between The Beatles at the time. McCartney said later: "I just sat down at my piano in Scotland, started playing and came up with that song, imagining it was going to be done by someone like Ray Charles. I have always found inspiration in the calm beauty of Scotland and again it proved the place where I found inspiration." [1] (Ray Charles covering this song can be heard on the posthumously-released 2006 album Ray Sings, Basie Swings.)

Although McCartney was the sole writer of the song, like all Beatles songs written by him or John Lennon, it would be credited to "Lennon/McCartney" by long-standing contractual agreement.[specify]

McCartney recorded a quick demo version of the song, with Beatles engineer Alan Brown assisting, sometime in September of 1968, during the recording sessions for The White Album.[specify]

The song takes the form of a piano-based ballad, with an unconventional structure and some of the most inventive and sophisticated chord changes heard in The Beatles' catalogue. The song's home key is in E-flat major, yet the song constantly attempts to upstage it with its relative minor, the key of C minor. [2]

Lyrically, the song is a somewhat ambiguous evocation of an as-yet unrequited, though apparently inevitable, love. The "long and winding road" of the song is sometimes claimed to have been inspired by the B842, a thirty-one mile (50 km) winding road in Scotland, running along the east coast of Kintyre into Campbeltown, and part of the eighty-two mile (133 km) drive from Lochgilphead. [3] In an interview in 1994, McCartney described the lyric more obliquely: "It's rather a sad song. I like writing sad songs, it's a good bag to get into because you can actually acknowledge some deeper feelings of your own and put them in it. It's a good vehicle, it saves having to go to a psychiatrist ... It's a sad song because it's all about the unattainable; the door you never quite reach. This is the road that you never get to the end of." [4]

The song structure is equally sophisticated: while the opening theme is repeated throughout, the song lacks a traditional chorus, and the melody and lyrics are considerably ambiguous about the opening stanza's position in the song; it is unclear whether the song has just begun, is in the verse, or even is in the bridge. This ambiguity has been a characteristic of other Beatles songs, such as "She Loves You." [2]

A turbulent recording session

"The Long and Winding Road" was originally released on Let It Be, the result of The Beatles' recording sessions for the abandoned Get Back album.
"The Long and Winding Road" was originally released on Let It Be, the result of The Beatles' recording sessions for the abandoned Get Back album.

The Beatles recorded "The Long and Winding Road" on January 26 and 31, 1969, with McCartney on piano and Lennon on bass guitar, during a series of sessions for an album project then known as Get Back. The original intent of the Get Back project was to make a simple, unadulterated document of the songs, but the band was often conflicted during the sessions and the results were generally ragged. McCartney claims that he did not plan on including the rough version of the song on Get Back; Lennon, who was not a skilled bass player (McCartney himself was the band's usual bassist), had made many mistakes on the recording. [1]

In May 1969 Glyn Johns, who had been asked to mix the 'Get Back' album by The Beatles, selected the January 26 as the best version of the song [5] . The Beatles had recorded a master version as part of the 'Apple studio performance' on January 31, which had different lyrics and structure, but this was passed over. [6] Bootlegs of the recording sessions of that day, and the film, clearly show the band recorded take after take of the song in a concerted effort to create a master. For both the 1969 and 1970 versions of the 'Get Back' album Glyn Johns used the January 26 mix as released on the Anthology 3 album in 1996. When the project was handed over to Phil Spector he also chose the January 26 take. [7]

In spring 1970 the other Beatles, barely speaking to one another and disgruntled with the quality of their work, effectively abandoned the Get Back project. Subsequently John Lennon and Beatles' accountant Allen Klein turned over the recordings to Phil Spector in the hope of salvaging an album, now titled Let It Be, out of the project. [1]

Spector wrought various changes on the songs that would be included on Let It Be, but his most dramatic embellishment would occur on April 1, 1970, when he turned his attention to "The Long and Winding Road." At Abbey Road studios, he recorded the orchestral and choir accompaniment for the song. The only member of The Beatles present was Ringo Starr. Already known for his eccentric behaviour in the studio, Spector was in a particular mood that day, as balance engineer Pete Brown recalled: "He wanted tape echo on everything, he had to take a different pill every half hour and had his bodyguard with him constantly. … He was on the point of throwing a wobbly, saying 'I want to hear this, I want to hear that. I must have this, I must have that.'"[cite this quote] Brown and the orchestra eventually became so annoyed by Spector's behaviour that the orchestra refused to play any further, and at one point, Brown left for home, forcing Spector to telephone him and persuade him into coming back, after Starr told Spector to calm down. [8]

Finally, Spector succeeded in remixing "The Long and Winding Road," using 18 violins, four violas, four cellos, three trumpets, three trombones, two guitars, and a choir of 14 women.[citation needed] The orchestra was scored and conducted by Richard Hewson, who would later work with McCartney on his album, Thrillington. This lush orchestral treatment was in direct contrast to The Beatles' stated intentions for a "real" recording when they began work on Get Back. [8]

The breakup of the Beatles

When McCartney first heard the Spector version of the song, he was outraged. Nine days after Spector overdubbed "The Long and Winding Road", McCartney announced that The Beatles were breaking up. On April 14 he sent a sharply worded letter to Apple Records business manager Allen Klein demanding that the added instrumentation be reduced, the harp part eliminated, and that he should "never do it again."[cite this quote] These requests went unheeded, and the Spector version went on to be included in the album.

In an interview published by the Evening Standard in two parts on April 22 and April 23, 1970, McCartney said: "The album was finished a year ago, but a few months ago American record producer Phil Spector was called in by John Lennon to tidy up some of the tracks. But a few weeks ago, I was sent a re-mixed version of my song 'The Long And Winding Road' with harps, horns, an orchestra, and a women's choir added. No one had asked me what I thought. I couldn't believe it." [4] The Beatles' usual producer, George Martin, agreed, calling the remixes "so uncharacteristic" of The Beatles. [9]

McCartney asked Klein to formally dissolve The Beatles partnership, but was refused. Exasperated, he took the case to court, naming Klein and the other Beatles as defendants. Among the six reasons for dissolving The Beatles named by McCartney was that Klein's company, ABKCO, had caused "intolerable interference" by overdubbing "The Long and Winding Road" without consulting McCartney. [8] [10]

Spector claimed that his hand was forced into remixing "The Long and Winding Road" due to the poor quality of Lennon's bass playing. Others agreed: in his book Revolution In The Head Beatles scholar Ian MacDonald wrote: "The song was designed as a standard to be taken up by mainstream balladeers. … It features some atrocious bass-playing by Lennon, prodding clumsily around as if uncertain of the harmonies and making many comical mistakes (...) [It] amounts to sabotage when presented as finished work."[1] McCartney argued that Spector could have merely edited out the relevant mistakes and rerecorded them, a technique Spector used elsewhere on the album.[specify]

The controversy surrounding the song did not prevent a chart-topping single from being released in the United States on May 11, 1970, joined by "For You Blue" on the B-Side. 1.2 million copies were sold in the first two days, and the song began its ten-week long chart run on 23 May. On 13 June, it became The Beatles' twentieth and final number one single in America, according to Billboard magazine.[citation needed] "The Long and Winding Road" brought the curtain down on The Beatles' six years of domination in America, beginning with "I Want To Hold Your Hand" in 1963. [11] [12]

The song in years since

In the years after its original release, "The Long and Winding Road" became a staple of Paul McCartney's post-Beatles concert repertoire. On the 1976 Wings Over the World Tour, where it was one of the few Beatles songs played, it was performed on piano in a sparse and effective arrangement using a horn section. In McCartney's 1989 solo tour and since, it has generally been performed on piano with an arrangement using a synthesiser mimicking strings, but this string sound has been much more restrained than on the Spector recorded version. [13]

McCartney also played the song to close the Live 8 concert in London.[14] It was meant to symbolise the long road to justice.[citation needed]

"The Long and Winding Road" has been covered on occasion since its original release (though less so than many other Beatles ballads). Notable vocal versions were released by Olivia Newton-John (1976), Peter Frampton (with McCartney playing rhythm guitar), Cher, Leo Sayer for the 1976 evanescent musical documentary All This and World War II, Aretha Franklin, and Tom Jones; the song is also a popular choice for Beatles instrumental collections and has been used as Muzak. A version of the song spent two weeks number one in the UK in 2002 as a duet by Pop Idol winner Will Young and runner-up Gareth Gates, having sold 132,500 copies in its first week of release.

A version of the song was recorded by Ray Charles and can be heard on the 2006 album Ray Sings, Basie Swings. This album is a posthumous release based upon a live Ray Charles and Count Basie concert in the 1970s - the sound had been recorded only through Charles's vocal microphone, leaving the band practically inaudible. In 2006, the recording was discovered and new big band parts were recorded by the present Basie band.[15]

Beatles recording, redux


A take of the song from the original recording session (from which the "final" Spector version was derived, but minus the orchestration and Spector overdubs) was included in the Anthology 3 release in 1996. This version included a bridge section spoken, rather than sung, by McCartney.

The original master recording of "The Long and Winding Road" (minus orchestration) was released in 2003 on Let It Be... Naked.
The original master recording of "The Long and Winding Road" (minus orchestration) was released in 2003 on Let It Be... Naked.

Let it be... Naked

Main article: Let It Be... Naked

In 2003, the remaining Beatles and Yoko Ono released Let It Be... Naked, touted as the band's version of Let It Be remixed by independent producers. McCartney claimed that his long-standing dissatisfaction with the released version of "The Long and Winding Road" (and the entire Let It Be album) was in part the impetus for the new version. The album included the master version of "The Long and Winding Road" recorded on January 31 closer to McCartney's original intention; with no strings or other added instrumentation beyond that which was played in the studio at the time. [1]

Ringo Starr was impressed with the Naked version of the song: "There’s nothing wrong with Phil's strings, this is just a different attitude to listening. But it's been 30-odd years since I've heard it without all that and it just blew me away." [1] Spector himself argued that McCartney was being hypocritical in his criticism: "Paul had no problem picking up the Academy Award for the Let It Be movie soundtrack, nor did he have any problem in using my arrangement of the string and horn and choir parts when he performed it during 25 years of touring on his own. If Paul wants to get into a pissing contest about it, he's got me mixed up with someone who gives a shit." [8]

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e f Merritt, Mike. (Nov. 13, 2003). Truth behind ballad that split Beatles. Sunday Herald.
  2. ^ a b Pollack, Alan W. (1999). Alan W. Pollack's analysis of "The Long and Winding Road". Retrieved March 15, 2006.
  3. ^ Marck, J. I Am The Beatles. Retrieved Sept. 11, 2004.
  4. ^ a b The Beatles Ultimate Experience. Retrieved Sept. 11, 2004.
  5. ^ Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. Hamlyn Publishing Group. ISBN 0-600-55784-7.
  6. ^ Miles, Barry (2001). The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatles Years - Chapter 11. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-8308-9.
  7. ^ The Beatles Official Website. Retrieved Sept. 11, 2004.
  8. ^ a b c d Cross, Craig. "Beatles Songs - L". Retrieved March 15, 2006.
  9. ^ Miles, Chapter 12.
  10. ^ Cross, Craig. "Beatles Court Case". Retrieved March 15, 2006.
  11. ^ Cross, Craig. "American Singles". Retrieved March 15, 2006.
  12. ^ Whelan, John (2005). "The Beatles Timeline". Retrieved March 15, 2006.
  13. ^ Badman, Keith (2001). The Beatles Diary Volume 2: After The Break-Up 1970-2001 - Chapter 6. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-7119-8307-0.
  14. ^ Live 8 Rocks the Globe. (July 3, 2005). Associated Press.
  15. ^ Ray Sings, Basie Swings

Other references

  • Brown, P. & Gaines, S. (1983). Love You Make, The : An Insider’s Story of The Beatles. McGraw-Hill Book Company.
  • Lewisohn, Mark (1996). The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Chancellor Press. ISBN 0-7607-0327-2.
  • Miles, Barry (1998). The Beatles: A Diary. Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-71-196315-0.
  • Sulpy, Doug & Schweighhardt, Ray (2003). Get Back: The Beatles Let It Be Disaster. Helter Skelter Publishing. ISBN 1-900-92483-8.


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