The Paul McCartney Project

Long, Long, Long

Written by George Harrison

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

Long, Long, Long” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their 1968 album The Beatles (also known as “the White Album”). It was written by George Harrison following the group’s attendance at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation course in India in early 1968. Although Harrison later stated that he was addressing God in the lyrics, it is the first of his compositions that invites interpretation as both a standard love song and a paean to his deity.

Harrison wrote “Long, Long, Long” during a period that marked his emergence as a prolific songwriter, coinciding with his return to the guitar after two years of studying the Indian sitar. His musical inspiration for the song was “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” by Bob Dylan, while the understated arrangement reflects the influence of the Band’s 1968 album Music from Big Pink. The Beatles recorded the song in London towards the end of the troubled sessions for the White Album. Sequenced to follow the heavy rock-styled “Helter Skelter“, the otherwise gentle and meditative track ends with a partly improvised segment, which was inspired by the eerie sound of a wine bottle vibrating on a speaker in the recording studio.

Long, Long, Long” has received praise from many music critics for its lilting, expressive qualities. Ian MacDonald described it as Harrison’s “touching token of exhausted, relieved reconciliation with God” and considered it to be his “finest moment on The Beatles“. Elliott Smith and Jim James are among the other artists who have recorded or performed the song.

Background and inspiration

George Harrison wrote “Long, Long, Long” in August 1968, while the Beatles were part-way through the recording of their eponymous double album, also known as “the White Album”. It was one of many songs that marked Harrison’s return to the guitar as his principal musical instrument, after he had dedicated himself to mastering the Indian sitar in 1966. This period coincided with a new, prolific period in his songwriting, which musicologist Walter Everett likens to the arrival of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as composers in 1963.

According to author and critic Kenneth Womack, the “origins” of “Long, Long, Long” date from the Beatles’ stay in Rishikesh, India, between February and April 1968. Led by Harrison’s commitment, the four band members studied Transcendental Meditation there under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They departed for England separately, however, between 1 March and 12 April, and their mixed experiences on the course contributed to the divisiveness that pervaded the group upon their return. Alone among the Beatles, Harrison continued to espouse the Maharishi’s teachings, a position that left him isolated within the band. Author Simon Leng describes “Long, Long, Long” as the first song in which Harrison “share[d] the spiritual refuge he’d found” through meditation, as well as “a confluence of the Indian, folk, and spiritual influences” that had preoccupied him since 1966.

In his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, Harrison states that “the ‘you’ in ‘Long Long Long’ is God.” He also says that his musical inspiration for the composition was Bob Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” – specifically, “D to E minor, A and D – those three chords and the way they moved“. As a further influence in “Long, Long, Long“, Leng cites the release of the Band’s debut album, Music from Big Pink, which “signaled the rebirth of ‘the song’” as an alternative to the excesses of 1967-era psychedelia.

Composition

According to musicologist Alan Pollack, “Long, Long, Long” is “an off-beat mixture” of contemporary musical styles; he identifies it as “a three-way cross between jazz waltz, folk song, and late sixties psychedelia“. The song is in the key of F, played with a capo on the guitar’s third fret, so allowing for the chord shapes that Harrison admired in “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands“. The melody appears to fluctuate from the home key, however, due to its avoidance of perfect cadences, as the dominant, C7 chord resists anchoring on the tonic I chord of F major. In addition, all plagal changes (in this case, B♭ to F major) are fleeting. The composition also makes use of jazz-style ninth chords.

Lyrically, the song takes the form of a reconciliation with a loved one after a long period of estrangement. Theologian Dale Allison considers that, given the “cryptic” nature of the lyrics, it is only through Harrison’s subsequent comments that the listener knows that he is addressing God rather than a woman. Allison likens the song’s message to that of later Harrison compositions such as “Try Some, Buy Some” and “Heading for the Light“, through its conveying of a “conversion experience“.

The lyrics’ reference to an extreme length of time is accentuated by the stretching out of an already slow 6/8 metre into 9/8, and, during the verses, by the appending of a measure-long instrumental tag after each two bars of vocal melody. Partly as a result of the absence of resolution in the home key, the descending bassline in the verses – a 4-3-2-1 sequence of notes mirroring the IV-iii-ii-I chord pattern – establishes an almost subliminal tonic.

The mood of the song is gentle and meditative, with the more strident middle eight providing a brief departure from the calmness. In this section, Harrison sings of “So many tears I was searching / So many tears I was wasting“, a statement that, according to author Ian Inglis, reflects the singer’s “rejoicing in his discovery of a deity to guide him through the vicissitudes of life“. Everett remarks on the close similarity between “Long, Long, Long” and “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands“, as well as an understated musical mood akin to the Band’s early work. The song’s ending, which would come about through happenstance while the Beatles were working in the recording studio, is marked by Harrison playing a final, G minor 7th chord, which author Ian MacDonald considers “one of the most resonant [chords] in The Beatles’ discography“.

Recording

Under the working title “It’s Been a Long, Long, Long Time“, recording for the song began at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London on 7 October 1968, during the final week of sessions for the White Album. Since the start of the project, in late May, the album sessions had been fraught with disharmony, partly as a result of the constant presence of Yoko Ono, Lennon’s new partner, and disagreements within the band over their new business venture, Apple Corps. While noting the context of the song’s recording, MacDonald describes “Long, Long, Long” as Harrison’s “touching token of exhausted, relieved reconciliation with God“.

The session for “Long, Long, Long” was a relaxed occasion, with the burning of Indian incense helping to create the requisite atmosphere in the studio. The Beatles recorded 67 takes of the rhythm track, with Harrison on vocals and acoustic guitar, McCartney playing Hammond organ, and Ringo Starr on drums.

In his book on the history of ambient music, Mark Prendergast cites “Long, Long, Long” as a ballad “noteworthy for its Ambient production“. The idea for the end of the song was inspired by the sound created by a wine bottle sitting on a Leslie speaker, through which the organ was connected. Whenever McCartney played a certain note on the keyboard, the bottle began to vibrate, producing an eerie clattering sound that the Beatles decided to incorporate in their subsequent performances of the track. To compound the effect on the selected take, Starr played a fast snare drum roll and Harrison vocalised a prolonged, high-pitched wail. While noting the “palpable spiritual longing” conveyed in the song, Chris Gerard of PopMatters describes this coda as a “weird spectral ending, with Harrison wailing like a wounded ghost while the band members rattle their instruments ominously“.

Nine hours after this all-night session, the band returned to Abbey Road to carry out overdubs. Harrison added a second vocal and another acoustic guitar part, the latter consisting of riffs that recall the sound of a sitar, due to the strings buzzing against the frets. During the same session, McCartney overdubbed bass guitar onto the track. The recording was finished on 9 October, with the addition of a brief harmony vocal from McCartney and piano, over the middle eight, played by Chris Thomas.

Mixing on “Long, Long, Long” was completed on 14 October, with Starr’s drum fills given prominence in the mix. Relative to the stereo version, the contrast between the song’s quiet and louder moments is less pronounced in the mono mix, where Harrison’s second vocal part also arrives earlier on the opening line.

Release and reception

Apple Records released The Beatles on 22 November 1968, with “Long, Long, Long” appearing as the final track on side three of the double LP. The sequencing ensured that the song provided what author Mark Hertsgaard terms “a calm landing pad” after McCartney’s heavy rock-styled “Helter Skelter“. Shortly after the album’s release, Harrison spent time with Dylan and the Band in Woodstock, in upstate New York. In addition to co-writing “I’d Have You Anytime” with Dylan, Harrison further established his independence from the Beatles during this visit, which music critic John Harris views as the foundation for his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass.

Among contemporary reviews of The Beatles, Alan Walsh of Melody Maker admired the song as “a gentle, lilting track” while, less impressed, Record Mirror considered it “not a strong tune“, with drums “monopolising the sound“. In his review for The Times, William Mann described “Long, Long, Long” as “a melting love song in slow waltz tempo” and rated it the equal of the nine best, “superbly inventive” compositions credited to Lennon–McCartney.

Recalling the release in his 1977 book The Beatles Forever, Nicholas Schaffner said that in departing from the overtly Indian style of his previous compositions for the Beatles, Harrison had provided “a quartet of more conventionally accessible pop songs that many felt were among the finest on the [White Album]“. While acknowledging Harrison’s limitations as a singer compared with Lennon and McCartney, Schaffner added: “but when he tones his voice down to an ethereal near-whisper, as in ‘Long Long Long,’ he can evoke as well as anyone the magic and the mystery of what [music journalist] Jonathan Cott has called ‘the music of deep silence.’” […]

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

  • [a] stereo 10 Oct 1968.
    UK: Apple PCS 7068 white album 1968.
    US: Apple SWBO 101 white album 1968.
    CD: EMI CDP 7 46443 2 white album 1987.
  • [b] mono 14 Oct 1968.
    UK: Apple PMC 7068 white album 1968.

Doubletracking starts at the first “long” in stereo [a], the third “long” in [b], and sounds somewhat different thereafter. In mono [b] the rhythm guitar is softer but the lead guitar is louder, especially in the later part of the song.

Last updated on May 15, 2017

Lyrics

It's been a long, long, long time
How could I ever have lost you
When I loved you?

It took a long, long, long time
Now I'm so happy I found you
How I love you

So many tears I was searching
So many tears I was wasting, oh oh

Now I can see you be you
How can I ever misplace you?
How I want you
Oh, I love you
You know that I need you
Oh, I love you

Officially appears on


The Beatles (Mono)

Official album • Released in 1968

3:06 • Studio versionB • Mono

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Bass, Hammond organ
Ringo Starr:
Drums
George Harrison:
Acoustic guitars, Vocals
George Martin:
Producer
Chris Thomas:
Piano
Ken Scott:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Oct 07, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Oct 08, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Oct 09, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 14, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


The Beatles (Stereo)

Official album • Released in 1968

3:06 • Studio versionA • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Bass, Hammond organ
Ringo Starr:
Drums
George Harrison:
Acoustic guitars, Vocals
George Martin:
Producer
Chris Thomas:
Piano
Ken Scott:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Oct 07, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Oct 08, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Oct 09, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 14, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


The Beatles (2018)

Official album • Released in 2018

3:06 • Studio versionR2018 • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Backing vocals, Bass, Hammond organ
Ringo Starr:
Drums
George Harrison:
Acoustic guitars, Vocals
George Martin:
Producer
Chris Thomas:
Piano
Ken Scott:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Oct 07, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Oct 08, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs:
Oct 09, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 14, 1968
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


The Beatles (2018)

Official album • Released in 2018

Outtake • Take 44

Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.


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