Song facts: The Long and Winding Road
Paul McCartney wrote The Long and Winding Road while on his Scottish farm in 1968, inspired by what he called the calm beauty of Scotland. In September of 1968 McCartney played a demo of the song for Beatles engineer Alan Brown, while the band were still recording The White Album.
"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
McCartney originally had Ray Charles in mind while writing the song, to give him a sense of how he wanted it to take shape.
"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
On January 26th 1969, with John Lennon on bass guitar, The Beatles recorded Paul McCartney's The Long and Winding Road. Although the band revisited the song on January 31st, the recording on the 26th was chosen as the master.
McCartney was angered by the version released on Let It Be, as producer Phil Spector added string arrangements and a choir to the track without getting permission from Paul or the other Beatles. Paul later cited Spector's meddling as one of six reasons for dissolving The Beatles as a legal entity.
"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 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 1970
"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
"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 on May 8th 1970 on Let It Be, and then as a single on May 11th, with George Harrison's For You Blue as the B-side. The single sold 1.2 million copies in the US in only two days. It also reached the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 on June 13th 1970, and remained there for ten weeks; The Beatles' 20th and final US number one.
Anthology and Let It Be... Naked versions
The same take recorded on the 26th of January was released on Anthology 3, minus Spector's post-production. A take from January 31st was remixed and released on Let It Be... Naked in 2003.
"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
- Paul McCartney – lead vocals, piano
- John Lennon – bass
- George Harrison – guitar
- Ringo Starr – drums
- Billy Preston – electric piano
- Uncredited – Phil Spector's orchestral and choral arrangements