Wednesday 9 November 2011

11:5 The Long And Winding Road (pt.1)

Let's dig into the song that is arguably McCartney's last great Beatles song (feel free to disagree that's what the comments section is for!) with some background and a roundup of cool songwriting points. Future posts will look at how McCartney develops the central melodic theme and how he evoked such a strong sense of being on a restless journey.

If you want any evidence of what a songwriting monster Paul McCartney was (is? Discuss!) how about this – He wrote The Long And Winding Road and Let It Be on the same day!!! (sorry I don't think that as enough exclamation marks. !!!!). Feeling inadequate yet?

Both this song and Harrison's Something were written with Ray Charles in mind. You can hear this on the way Paul sings a b3 over a Db/Eb chord (seen that road before). Very jazzy, very Ray. Bluesifying the melody (ticket 22) also happens on the second line of the verse (leads to your door) but this time using a b7. The sparse and tasteful use of this 'trick' really rescues the song from just being a straight melodic ballad and gives it a slight cool edge.

It's no coincidence that the only two 'out of key' chords in the song (ticket 28) occur in the same place as the 'blue notes' in the melody. There's a lot of subtlety and restraint here, Paul is not bashing you over the head with wrong chords 'Walrus' style (though there's nothing wrong with that!). The chord progression in general is quite creative, avoiding the V chord (Bb major) till the end of bar 7 (ticket 7) and not really coming to rest on the root chord (Eb major) till the end of the verse (ticket 6).

The AABA structure (ticket 26) harks back to the earliest songs like Love Me Do – verses and a bridge, but no chorus. The strong contrast between the two sections (ticket 5) helps keep the song interesting - the bridge is short, regular and repetitive but the verse is long, meandering and only cycles through the melody once. The 12 bar long verse - a 'non 12 bar blues' (ticket 35) also hints at the Beatles influences. It's almost as if 12 bar blues were so ingrained in Paul that he slipped into writing sections 12 bars long even when he wasn't using blues progressions. He did this a few times, most notably on the verse of Fool On The Hill. The old Beatles economy comes back too – there's no intro (ticket 2) and the ending is an instrumental restatement of the vocal hook (ticket 4).

Speaking of the ending, McCartney uses an Aeolian cadence (ticket 10) at the end, using the vi chord, Cm, instead of the I, Eb major (listen to 'Naked'). But unfortunately Lennon (and Harrison?) miss the substitution and play Eb anyway (listen closely to Anthology 3) which caused Richard Hewson to orchestrate it as a Eb (I) on the original album. Shame.

Next time we'll take a quick look at the lyrics.



  1. Great analysis! However, you called it...I definitely don't agree that this is the last great Beatles song. I would cite the end of Abbey Road, though I know you don't agree. Two Of Us also comes to mind. It's a perfect example if painting a picture and a 'vibe' and has a great pop sensibility, despite being a folk song (kind of).

    Also, I had no idea he wrote this and Let It Be on the same day! That's incredible. Where did you read that?

  2. I thought the business about The Long & Winding Road and Let It Be being written on the same day was common knowledge. Not sure where I heard it though.

    Because of the way that the last two Beatles albums were issued, being able to say what was the last set of Beatles songs is a difficult subject to go into.

    I sort of see Abbey Road as the Beatles swansong personally, but that's just me.

    One big problem with the whole Let It Be/Get Back project is that they were left with songs that, in some cases, were basically just run through's, rather than actual completed pieces, so mistakes like the Eb chord when McCartney was playing a Cm were bound to happen. It's just like any band working through new material. They had to cover for it in some way and, unfortunately, they were no longer working together as a unit to work on it, albeit with the exception of McCartney, Harrison & Starr going in to re-record Harrison's I Me Mine was it?

  3. @Phil - Whoa whoa whoa!!! Not Beatles Song! McCartney song! Something, Here Comes The Sun, Come Together are all awesome songs. I'd say You Never Give Me Your Money could have been a great song... I'm assessing on recording dates so Two Of Us is earlier - I'll let you know ;-)

    The story comes from Spencer Leigh: Speaking Words Of Wisdom: Reflections On The Beatles quoted in Ian McDonald's Revolution In The Head.

    @Marv - I agree/concur with everything you said! Darn it! Say something controversial - Linda was the true talent in Wings!

  4. Ah yes, McCartney song is what I meant. As for the time of each song, I was going by the release of each album. Thanks, I'll check that book out!

  5. I'd definitely recommend Revolution - I've never even seen the other book....