Friday, 21 December 2012

10:12 Long Long Long

Long Long Long was the last Harrison track recorded for the White Album and though it was a completely Lennon-less recording, stand in producer Chris Thomas made himself useful playing piano as George Martin was finally back off his month long holiday. The original title - It's Been A Long Long Long Time was ironically deemed too long. Harrison confessed to being inspired by the chord progression in Bob Dylan's (long long long) song Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands and it's one of the few completely diatonic compositions in the Beatles catalogue.The weird noise at the end (other than George howling like Yoko driving a fire-truck) is a bottle of wine vibrating sympathetically on top of a leslie speaker.

It holds the dubious distinction of being arguably the worst mastered track ever released by the Beatles (at least on the 'original' stereo release), incredibly quiet compared to every other track on the album and really muddy sounding. Less rare, but equally horrible, is how badly set up George's acoustic guitar sounds. Fretbuzz city.

As you might expect of a track that took 67 takes to record, it's a pretty uninspiring song. It retains some interest by maintain odd numbers of bars (19 in the verse and 15 in the bridge, the latter also seems to fit in blocks of 3).

Bb   F    C
Gm Gm Gm
Bb   F    C
Gm Bb  C
C    C    C

of course that's if you hear it in 3/4. Some scholars suggest it's 6/8 and the extra bars are time changes to 9/8.


This weirdness, however you slice it, keeps you from nodding off, as does the way the song resolutely stays off the root chord. The key is F (on guitar played in D capo 3). But the first progression

Bb  Am  Gm  F

can almost lull you into thinking Bb is the root chord (even though the Am instead of F/A would rule that out). But more than that, both the verses and the bridge keep 'resolving' to a C chord. Even the song itself ends there, descending into madness, seemingly communicating “it's been a long (x3) time and it's not over yet”.

Is C the root note?

That would put us in the mixolydian mode. But though Tomorrow Never Knows and Paperback Writer are clearly mixolydian, here the fact that we're constantly striving to get back to F tells me we're still in the major key. So staying off the root chord (ticket 6) is one trick we can pick up.

Having a few nice instrumental hooks (ticket 3) to pick up some melodic slack from the vocal line is another. The piano in the bridge and george's buzzy hammer-ons on acoustic guitar stand out. As does Ringo's A Day In The Life style 'lead drumming'. The way Harrison sings “long, long, long time” over the Bb Am Gm F chords is an example of both ticket 36 (emphasise a key lyrics by having one chord per syllable) and madrigalism (ticket 49) in the fact that he takes a long loong looooong time to sing it!

The lyrics are pretty poor to be honest, not enough to earn a place in the Hall of Shame, though “so many tears I've been searching” almost bought the song an invitation.

Not one of Harrison's best. I'm sure someone will disagree! Leave me a comment. What stands out for you here songwriting wise?

And with that we're pretty much done for another year. I hope to hit a few blogging milestones early next year & I'll try to do a special Christmas post but if I don't make it – Have A Very Merry Christmas and may you write some killer tunes in the new year!

Speaking of 'long songs' why not check out The Band Who Kept Expanding


  1. for such a "bad" song, it's interesting you dedicate so much time almost 70 years later to it's structure and composition. i love it, it's a very lovely song.

  2. Thanks David - you should see how much time I devoted to Maxwell's Silver Hammer!
    My purpose is not to diss everything the Beatles did, but to sort the good from the bad (and there is some bad!)

    What stands out for you as being lovely in this song? - Melody, chords. lyrics?

  3. Well, after this post I'll have to give the tune another listen, especially for that vibrating wine bottle (This song creeps me out for some reason, probably the howling at the end, so I don't put it on that often).

  4. Agree with David T.
    While I appreciate the useful information and discussion here about scales, personnel and wine bottle events, it could not be called an uninspired song, in my view. A clever piece of art pop offering a sweet yearning melancholy that stands up pretty well in the Beatles oeuvre.

  5. I'm with you on the sweet yearning melancholy. I think it's possibly one of the few Beatles songs that I might have a slightly different opinion on if the production was better. As for clever, I think they were almost always clever, but they didn't always succeed in pulling it off!

    Geordie - the ending is definitely creepy and think more people would be into the song without it. It's ironic that the most Yoko-like moment on a Beatles track was on one of George's songs.

  6. Again you're losing me again with an uber-critique. I'm sure that the Beatles understood that certain songs had more weight than others but I don't think they relegated any song to second class treatment either. The Beatles were very experimental and given the virtually unlimited amount of studio time they had, I think it impossible that a song they felt shoddily produced could make to an album. If anything they are guilty of over producing, I mean, look at a what they did with 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'. What I think is this haunting melancholy tone poem was probably recorded in the first take as it is on the album. They liked it. Thought it felt right and that any further screwing with it might take away from the emotional impact. It also fits perfectly within the album, which is a trait common on all Beatles albums from Rubber Soul on. Meaning though they weren't 'concept' albums, they were 'designed' albums. I appreciate your insight into the song but I think your familiarity with the subject might be clouding your perception.

  7. Jeff it wasn't a first take - it was the 67th take as it says in the post. Harrison more than any other writer tended to flog his songs to death in the studio.

    And also my main beef was with the mastering, not the production - which is something that was out of the Beatles control and may have even been something that happened at the CD stage.