The Beatles

The Long and Winding Road

Composed by John Lennon / Paul McCartney

Song Review by

"The Long and Winding Road," along with "Let It Be," was one of two outstanding ballads that Paul McCartney contributed to the Let It Be album. And, like "Let It Be," it would be a number one single, although by the time it reached number one the Beatles would no longer exist, in part because of "The Long and Winding Road" itself. The role "The Long and Winding Road" played in this sad event needs some explanation and is intimately connected with how it was presented on record. In its initial form, "The Long and Winding Road" was a melancholy, piano-based ballad, casting a nostalgic eye on an apparent longtime friendship or relationship and pleading for that relationship to continue. McCartney -- aided, unusually, by no harmony vocals -- delivered the sentimental lyric in a sincere, gentle fashion that avoided, well, undue sentimentality. Particularly effective and plaintive are his repeated urgings that the subject of the song not leave him waiting and standing; it's also a nice device how he ends the bridge with a lyric about being led back to the long and winding road, which simultaneously lands the song right back at the verse with which it started. On an unconscious level, perhaps, this was a plea for the Beatles -- who were beginning to unravel in early 1969 when the song was recorded -- to pull it together to reconcile their differences and manage to continue, using the long and winding road as a metaphor for their own long, winding, and incredible career. A year later, the Beatles had all but broken up when Phil Spector was brought in for post-production on the material, largely recorded in early 1969, that comprised most of 1970's Let It Be album. In the remixes and occasional overdubs he performed on those tapes, the most substantial alteration was bestowed upon "The Long and Winding Road," which was embroidered with heavenly vocal choirs, horns, and strings. This turned what was originally a dignified, stately track into overly grandiose, orchestral mush, more saccharine than anything else the Beatles had ever released (except perhaps for "Good Night," in which the orchestration was obviously ironic). Worse, Paul McCartney, who was not consulted during this post-production process, was enraged when he heard what had been done to the song. It may well have been one of the last straws in McCartney's decision to officially leave the group. McCartney would cite "The Long and Winding Road" in particular as an example of why it was artistically necessary for him to quit in his suit to dissolve the Beatles' legal partnership. Issued as a single just after the Beatles had split, it reached number one anyway -- a sad and clumsy note on which to bow out. The original, unvarnished, and much superior undubbed version of "The Long and Winding Road," fortunately, was made available on Anthology 3.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Let It Be 1970 Apple Records / Capitol 3:38
No Image 1970 magnetic
1967-1970 1973 Apple Records 3:40
No Image 1977 Capitol 3:38
No Image 1982 Capitol 3:38
No Image 1982 Odeon 3:38
Get Back and 22 Other Songs 1991 Yellow Dog Records
No Image 1994 Big Music 3:44
The Ultimate Box Set 1995 Capitol 3:37
Anthology 3 1996 Apple / Capitol 3:40
No Image 199? VigoTone
1 2000
Capitol 3:39
Let It Be... Naked 2003 Capitol / EMI Records / Apple Records / EMI Music Distribution 3:34
The Beatles: Stereo Box Set 2009 Capitol 3:38
1962-1970 2010 EMI / Parlophone 3:40