The Long and Winding Road - The Beatles

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"The Long and Winding Road" - The Beatles (1970)

The road McCartney is talking about in "The Long and Winding Road" is the B842 roadway which runs down the east coast of Kintyre and on into Campbeltown near his Scottish farmhouse.

He says in his autobiography:

“I just sat down at my piano in Scotland, started playing and came up with that song, imagining it was going to be done by someone like Ray Charles. I have always found inspiration in the calm beauty of Scotland and again it proved the place where I found inspiration.”

Legendary producer Phil Spector was known for his “Wall Of Sound” recording technique, where he added many instruments and layered the tracks to create a very full sound. When asked to re-work this song, he took out most of The Beatles instruments and added a layer of strings, harps, horns, an orchestra and women’s choir- all of which McCartney didn’t like. Harrison and Ringo had their parts removed entirely.

McCartney writes:

“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 it. I like writing sad songs, it’s a good thing to get into because you can actually acknowledge some deeper feelings of your own and put them in it. It’s a good vehicle and it saves having to go to a psychiatrist. Songwriting often performs that feat- you say it, but you don’t embarrass yourself because it’s only a song. Or is it? You are putting the things that are bothering you on the table and you are reviewing them, but because it’s a song, you don’t have to argue with anyone.”

While the song might easily have become swept up in their composer’s well-known penchant for sentimentality, McCartney- perhaps sensing the magnitude of this late moment in the life of the Beatles—succeeded in transforming would-be schmaltz tune into the stuff of poetry.

McCartney crafted a rueful tone about the manner in which the past continues to elude us despite our best efforts to memorialize it and render it into permanence through the auspices of music and language. It provides excursions into nostalgia’s death-defying limbo, a place in which disillusionment and anguish commingle ad infinitum.

For the speaker, nostalgia’s tortuous road “will never disappear.” And while it always leads us back to the memories of lost friends and loved ones, the long and winding road never quite gets us there.

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