The Long And Winding Road

Let It Be album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 26, 31 January 1969; 1 April 1970
Producers: George Martin, Phil Spector
Engineers: Glyn Johns, Peter Bown

Released: 8 May 1970 (UK), 18 May 1970 (US)

Paul McCartney: vocals, piano
John Lennon: bass
George Harrison: guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
Uncredited: 18 violins, four violas, four cellos, harp, three trumpets, three trombones, two guitarists, 14 female vocalists

Available on:
Let It Be
1
Anthology 3
Let It Be... Naked

If ever there was a song which summed up the fraught nature of The Beatles' final months, it was The Long And Winding Road.

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Paul again. He had a little spurt just before we split. I think the shock of Yoko Ono and what was happening gave him a creative spurt including Let It Be and Long And Winding Road, 'cause that was the last gasp from him.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The song started out as a simple McCartney ballad, written in Scotland in 1968 at a time in which the cracks in The Beatles' relationships were become ever deeper. A demo was recorded during the White Album sessions, but taken no further.

I was a bit flipped out and tripped out at that time. 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.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

The song was written with Ray Charles in mind, although McCartney acknowledged that the similarities are well hidden.

It doesn't sound like him at all, because it's me singing and I don't sound anything like Ray, but sometimes you get a person in your mind, just for an attitude, just for a place to be, so that your mind is somewhere rather than nowhere, and you place it by thinking, Oh, I love that Ray Charles, and think, Well, what might he do then? So that was in my mind, and would have probably had some bearing on the chord structure of it, which is slightly jazzy. I think I could attribute that to having Ray in my mind when I wrote that one.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

In the studio

The Beatles rehearsed The Long And Winding Road on a number of occasions during the filming sessions at Twickenham in early January 1969. By the time they entered Apple Studios later in the month they were familiar with the song.

The song was recorded on 26 January, and again during the 'Apple studio performance' on the 31st, an indoor counterpart to the previous day's rooftop concert. Seven takes were recorded on that second date, but it was a recording from 26 January was also chosen by producer Glyn Johns to appear on the unreleased Get Back album, and which formed the basis for the Let It Be version.

The unadorned song can be heard on Anthology 3, complete with a multitude of bass guitar errors by John Lennon. In truth, the song was little more than a run-through, with little care given to making it perfect.

When Phil Spector came to work on the Let It Be tracks in April 1970, he overdubbed strings and a choir, arranged and conducted by Richard Hewson. Ringo Starr also played drums at the session. The overdubs were intended to mask the original version's shortcomings. This wasn't without its hazards, however.

On The Long And Winding Road he wanted to overdub orchestra and choir but there weren't the available tracks on the tape, so he wiped one of Paul's two vocal tracks in order to put the orchestra on.
Brian Gibson, technical engineer
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Mark Lewisohn

When McCartney was sent a pre-release acetate of the song he was furious, and demanded that changes be made. His thoughts were captured in an interview given to the London Evening Standard newspaper.

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 send a re-mixed version of my song The Long And Winding Road, with harps, horns, an orchestra and women's choir added. No one had asked me what I thought. I couldn't believe it. I would never have female voices on a Beatles record. The record came with a note from Allen Klein saying he thought the changes were necessary. I don't blame Phil Spector for doing it but it just goes to show that it's no good me sitting here thinking I'm in control because obviously I'm not. Anyway I've sent Klein a letter asking for some of the things to be altered, but I haven't received an answer yet.
Paul McCartney
Evening Standard, April 1970

The letter was reproduced in the Anthology book. It was addressed to Allen Klein at Apple Corps Limited, and dated 14 April 1970.

Dear Sir,

In future no one will be allowed to add to or subtract from a recording of one of my songs without my permission.

I had considered orchestrating The Long And Winding Road but I had decided against it. I therefore want it altered to these specifications:-

1. Strings, horns, voices and all added noises to be reduced in volume.
2. Vocal and Beatle instrumentation to be brought up in volume.
3. Harp to be removed completely at the end of the song and original piano notes to be substituted.
4. Don't ever do it again.

Signed

Paul McCartney

c.c. Phil Spector
John Eastman

Anthology

Despite Paul McCartney's protestations, Let It Be was released a month later with Phil Spector's augmentations still in place. George Martin supported his objections, claiming that the work had been done without his knowledge or involvement, and saying they were "so uncharacteristic" of The Beatles' reputation.

That made me angry - and it made Paul even angrier, because neither he nor I knew about it till it had been done. It happened behind our backs because it was done when Allen Klein was running John. He'd organised Phil Spector and I think George and Ringo had gone along with it. They'd actually made an arrangement with EMI and said, 'This is going to be our record.'

EMI came to me and said, 'You made this record originally but we can't have your name on it.' I asked them why not and they said: 'Well, you didn't produce the final thing.' I said, 'I produced the original and what you should do is have a credit saying: "Produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector".' They didn't think that was a good idea.

George Martin
Anthology

The dissolution hearing for the break-up of The Beatles' partnership took place in February 1971 at the High Court of London. One of the reasons given by McCartney for wishing to leave The Beatles was that Allen Klein's company ABKCO had arranged for The Long And Winding Road to be altered without McCartney being consulted.

Spector, for his part, was unrepentant, adopting a typically combative approach.

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.
Phil Spector

The Long And Winding Road was released as a US single on 11 May 1970, with For You Blue as the b-side. 1.2m copies were sold in the first two days, and it was The Beatles' 20th and final number one single in America.

McCartney eventually got his way with the 2003 release of Let It Be... Naked. The album featured the final take from the 31 January 1969 session, originally meant to be included on the unreleased Get Back album, and without any of Spector's overdubs. This was also the version that featured in the Let It Be film.

52 responses on “The Long And Winding Road

  1. MisterPleasant

    “I would never have female voices on a Beatles record.” Yet it was Paul’s decision a few years earlier to bring in two female Apple Scruffs from the street to sing out of tune harmonies on John’s “Across The Universe”. John apparently considered it as unconscious sabotage of one of his finest songs. Perhaps Phil Spector was wreaking some karmic justice.

    I love Paul but sometimes he can be just a bit full of it.

    1. Joe Post author

      Very true. There were female voices on I Am The Walrus and Good Night too, not to mention Yoko ‘singing’ on Bungalow Bill, Jane Asher and Maureen Starkey providing various backing vocals, and so on.

      1. John

        they were John’s songs, Paul probably just didn’t want them on his songs and couldn’t care less if they were on John’s or George’s. Also, he wanted “Long and Winding Road” to be a simple piano ballad.

      2. Rolindadice

        Linda McCartney sang on Let It Be as well. I do, however, feel it was wrong to make changes to Paul’s song without allowing his input. That is simply unprofessional.

  2. BlackBird

    All of the songs you mention are Lennon songs, therefore it would not have been Paul’s decision to add female vocals to any of those tracks. The backing vocals done by Asher, Starckey, and Yoko were minimal at best, and are not considered to be main elements of the songs.
    In regards to the 2 females singing harmonies on Across the Universe, this was a group decision. Paul did not say, “I demand you put these 2 females on harmonies for this song.” Nor did he add the voice harmonies after the track was already completed and without the knowledge of the original songwriter, John, which is exactly what Kline and Spector did.

    1. Joe Post author

      If it was a group decision to add the Apple Scruffs to Across The Universe, could it not have been a group decision to add the voices to John’s other songs too? And particularly before 1968, when they were collaborating much more closely, the non-writers of each individual song didn’t back off from making decisions and suggestions about how they should be recorded (ie I Am The Walrus was very much a collaborative effort, though I don’t know who decided on the choir).

      I think you possibly underestimate Paul’s dominant role in The Beatles’ recordings from around 1967 onwards. I’m not implying that he made all the decisions, but he frequently pushed for certain things to be done when others seemed not to care as much. I suspect in this case it’s less the fact that there were female voices on the track, and more that the idea wasn’t one of his.

  3. Vonbontee

    Yeah, that “no female voices” was a bit of an exaggeration on Paul’s part. Also, he probably wanted an excuse to leave the band – while saving face, since he’d previously dissuaded John and George from leaving.

    Me, I don’t like the song and never have, orchestra/choir or not.

  4. Paul B

    In Spector’s defense, I would say he did pick the better take as far as Paul’s vocal was concerned; the vocal take that appears on “Let it Be… Naked” actually sounds more like a run-through. One question: Can anyone hear all the individual Beatles on the Spector-produced version? You’ve got Paul singing, of course, and Ringo on drums, and I THINK I hear John’s bass now and then–but is what I THINK is George on guitar actually his playing?

  5. TheOneBeatle (from Youtube)

    I don’t think that female voices weren’t bad. On the contrary, i think that in some songs it could use it.
    But well, talking about Long And Winding Road i love more what is the real original version even with the multitude of mistakes on John’s bass that i really don’t care, i think that with the solo that Billy Preston did in the middle is very beatiful. In fact, i play that song in piano thinking only in the original version featured on the film and the Anthology and …Naked.

  6. Rhys

    Even without the Spector interference this is an overly long and schmaltzy song. It reminds me of the kind of thing a lesser songwriter might have come up with if they tried to emulate an earlier McCartney classic.

  7. mr. Sun king coming together

    While it is not Paul’s finest moment, IMO It is one of the best songs on LIB. Personally I prefer the Spector version, though hearing it unadorned on Naked was nice however.

    1. julio

      I can honestly say I like every Beatle song but this one does not do much for me. The lyrics are sort of dull and the piano fills are a bit pretentious. Having said that, when you are hung over at 2:30 in the morning and eating pancakes in an all night diner and this comes on the easy listening radio, I definetly have a small McCartney moment and all is forgiven. By the way the original Let it Be is far superior then the digitized Naked version. The charm and warm sound has just been stripped and suck out of the Naked version. I applaud Spector’s work on this album and think it is dum to try and re-do a Beatles album. Can you imagine if McCartney try to clean up the White Album? Or if someone decided to revise one of Picasso’s paintings.

  8. Andrew Kenah

    I hated Spector’s orchestration, except for the ta-TAH of the horns after “…winding road” (ta TAH).

    Then recently, I acquired my own copies of the 3 Anthology CDs, and listened to the unorchestrated version. Flawed, but better.

    Then, using some freeware audio editing software, I created (STRICTLY for my personal use) a version that follows Paul’s prescription.

    The orchestrated version has strings on one channel(left), brass on the other (right). The Anthology version has a strong vocal track on the left.

    By using just the brass channel and the vocal channel (along with some nifty track flips, volume adjustments, etc) I was able to put the Spector frou-frou in the background and bring the simpler instrumentation forward. Did you know that there’s an electric piano track?

    Anyway, I finally have a verion of the song that retains the few good things that Spector added, but mostly retains the simple song that Paul wrote.

    1. John Hancotte

      Hi Andrew. I had just read this, after having the Anthology 3 version come up in my itunes shuffle mode. Poked around and found this thread by chance. I utilize Audacity for editing songs – slowing down parts to learn fast passages, changing keys to practice for a singer’s range, and also to edit tunes that belong together if broken apart ie 2nd side of Abbey Road medley. It also allowed me to combine the 2 stereo tracks you mentioned, pan to the desired channels (thus muting the strings, which I still sorta like in a way), and for some crazy reason, they lined up timing wise perfectly. Was there a click track on this originally? I used the Spector horns channel and the opposite channel from A3. No fancy work really. And I can hear the electric piano halfway through (if it’s not that it must be George’s guitar, but it does sound like what Billy was using on Get Back). Very cool – thanks for the tip!

    1. Vonbontee

      Spector’s orchestration pretty much drowned it out, or maybe Phil erased it from the mix entirely. Anyways, the Naked version has Billy in all his glory.

  9. Jim Chio

    You all have it wrong, it’s referred to as “The Long & Whining Road”….Just Kidding – It’s a great song – orchestrated or not & PM was caught up in the frustration of Artistic Merit, which is understandable….But Phil Spector did produce an amazing version, and the one that is imprinted on us all…..

  10. AutomaticButt

    This is, by a long way, the most divisive end product they ever made. Nothing even comes close except Free As A Bird.

    But I love the song. Uncharacteristic though it is, it’s not like they’d never done anything unusual before. I just think of it as an unexplored avenue rather than a fatal mistake. In a weak song, a massive orchestra results in either bathos or schmaltz, but here the song is done justice because of the great song it is, while the accompaniment and especially Ringo’s drums really make it work. One of their best songs.

  11. Bronx Boy Billy

    `Long and whining road’ Hahaha… IMO the “Naked” version sounds like a freakin’ demo, i.e boring, with mundane piano playing. Imagine Billy Preston jamming on the piano, gospel-like on this… would have been oh so sweet!

  12. Von Bontee

    Hahaha, OK…so far we have:

    The Long And Boring Song
    Long-Winded Road
    long and schmaltzy song
    “The Long & Whining Road”
    The Boring And Blinding Load

  13. Mathew

    I actually don’t mind Spector’s added instrumentation and vocals, though I agree with Paul in his letter when he stated he wanted their volume reduced on the track.

    I think song sounds very empty and dull without it.

  14. GabrielAntonio

    I’m really surprised with all this disapproval.
    This is not different that some earlier work of Paul, rooted on american standards.
    But the melody of this one works perfectly for me. Always brings me to the ground

    The lyrics are dull? C’MON
    I always saw as a beautiful analogy to all the mishaps and difficulties of an album recording, everything that the beatles and their crew had to pass to make their work arrive at the “doors” of all listeners.

  15. GeorgeTSimpson

    The strings are i think too much on the let it be bersion, some strings wouldn’t be bad, although. At first I thought george’s guitar wouldn’t be on the let it be version but now I heard the spector version again and there is one part wher I think I hear george’s guitar, because it sound very similiar to the guitar on the anthology version

  16. David Hall

    Wow, I’ve always been reluctant to tell people that I hate this song…till now. :-) It’s refreshing to learn I’m not the only Beatles fan who doesn’t swoon over this. I’ve always thought it was one of Paul’s sly nonsense songs. If you listen to the lyrics, they’re absolutely meaningless.

  17. hotdogsforbrains

    Wow . . . I guess I am the outcast here but, I love this song! I think the strings and choir are beautiful! Almost every time I hear it, this one makes me cry. (No, I’m no tree hugging hippy) It’s just such a sad and beautiful song/melody. I suspect Paul wrote the lyrics when a person realizes. . .. ‘Well. . . that’s it. It’s over. Nothing more I can do.” Like, when your wife leaves for good or you say goodbye to your dog as the Vet. gives her that last shot. . . . . . . . . . . .

    1. Oudis

      First of all, I don’t think you have hot dogs for brains –a wonderfully self-deprecatory, humorous name, congratulations. I think that you are a sensitive individual, and you hit the nail in the head. For all of you who have criticized this song, have you paid attention to the lyrics? The way they match the tune and the way Paul sings them –with restrain yet very expressively? I agree with Hot Dog Brains. Haven’t you ever been deserted by your friends, abandoned by your significant other, suffered the loss of a beloved person? Isn’t there any grief in your lives, are you that lucky? Haven’t you been wounded, haven’t you mourned any loss of any kind? That is what this song is about –and indeed it is a long and winding road what we must take when faced by such adversities. And it always leads us back to the ones that we’ve loved but are gone.

  18. trcanberra

    Of course – the funny thing is that when Paul had the chance to fix it – on ‘Give My Regards to Broad Street’ it sounds pretty much like the Spector version – so much for all his complaints.

  19. Hammer 109

    I was excited to hear this song on Let It Be – Naked. I thought I might actually like that version. But no, it’s still a crappy song. Maybe it would work with just an acoustic guitar and vocal.

  20. Leonard Meyer

    I think this is a beautiful song. Unlike Paul, I like Phil Spector’s production. I think it gives an ‘epic’ feeling to it. I believe I read that Ray Charles cried when he first heard this song. When I first heard this song it had a similar affect on me. A song of frustration and futility despite great effort–like trying to keep the Beatles together.

  21. Nick

    Phil specters version is so much better.The orchestra and female vocals give an angelic sound to an already great song. I guarantee this song never would have been a number one song if the naked version was originally released in 1970.

  22. Baggio

    I like Phil’s version much much more than Paul’s Naked version.
    I think the strings and choir make the song a bit more emotional which suits the lyrics. Paul’s singing is great on this one.

    The stripped down version feels empty and boring. And Paul’s singing is not as good in this take

  23. Garret

    My vote goes for the over-produced Phil Spector version. No one has weighed in on John’s bass on this song. I’m no musician, but even as kid listening to this song I always thought the bass playing was awful.

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