In this final post on The Long And Winding Road we get to the heart of why this song is such a success. The song is about being on a never ending journey home to a loved one. Every element - chords, melody and lyrics - work together perfectly to that end.
More than anything else the chord progression is the key to the mood. As soon as we hear a root chord (in this case Eb major) we have a sense of arriving 'home' (in fact it is often called the home chord). So if you were writing a song about trying to get home but never really arriving what would you do with the 'home' chord? Well Paul McCartney doesn't really arrive at the home chord till the last word of the verse. And he never gets to it in the bridge.
But he's even smarter than that. Here's the verse chord progression
Cm, Ab/Bb , Eb Eb7, Ab
Ab Gm, Cm, Fm Bb7, Db/Eb
Ab Gm, Cm, Fm Bb7, Eb
as you can see we have a root chord in the 3rd bar. Isn't that home? Not when all we get is a lousy two beats we're interrupted by Eb7, which leads us strongly to the key of Ab major.
So now we're a little disorientated. Are we in Eb major or Ab major?
The Gm to Cm change quickly make us suspect we are in Eb major. Everything points to Eb and when we get Bb7 it seems beyond doubt. There is no other chord that leads to Eb as strongly. Let's go home!
Hey! Wait a minute! Db/Eb? That's not even in the same key! In fact it leads us strongly back again to, you guessed it, Ab major.
So are we in Eb major or Ab major? (and haven't we been here before?).
And now we have exactly the same chords cycling by again, like familiar landmarks turning up just when we thought we had taken a different path.
Yep! There's the Bb7 again!
Ah, you can't fool us so easily. Sure, it looks like you're going to lead us to Eb, but you tricked us and lead me back here once before.
Eb major! We're home.
Home Sweet Home
So chord-wise we thought we were heading home, but we took a few detours, which led us back to the long and winding chord sequence that eventually led us to (the) home (chord).
And it's more than a single V chord like Bb7 that tricked us into thinking we re going home.
Consider the progression that occurs twice in the verse
Gm, Cm, Fm Bb7, Eb
we are cycling through the circle of 5ths G - C – F – Bb – Eb (ticket 43) the long and winding road through the keys!
Let's look at the bridge chord progression -
Eb/Bb Ab, Eb/G Fm Bb7
Eb/Bb Ab, Eb/G Fm Bb7
This ends with a shorter version of the circle (F – Bb – Eb), the first time heading to Eb/Bb (a brief root chord unsettled by a different bass note) and the second time landing on the vi chord (Cm) instead of the root when it heads back to the verse. Another false ending!
If you listen to the LIB Naked album you can even hear McCartney deprive us of the last Eb chord in the final verse (lead me to your door) while he restates the main theme instrumentally, before finally finishing on one glorious full root chord.
Home Sweet Home.
Melody & Lyrics
The verse melody, like the chords is long and winding. It keeps returning to themes, without ever repeating the entire melody, it hits the root note but never rests there till the final note of the section.
Though the lyrics don't make complete sense they really capture a feeling of being on an epic journey, in one way in particular. Whenever we do land on the root note and the home chord together we get a phrase that speak of being home. As Paul sings lead me to your door and let me know the way the melody is literally leading him home to the root note.
Beautiful stuff. Let's call that Ticket 49.
Next Let It Be.