Dateline 1970 – The Beatles released “The Long and Winding Road” on this day. It would turn out to be the last single The Beatles ever released in ‘Merka. A month earlier, on April 10th, Paul McCartney, citing “personal, business and musical differences” announced he was leaving The Beatles. Ten days later he released his first solo LP “McCartney” (recently re-released with bonus tracks) and four days after that Ringo Starr released his first solo LP, “Sentimental Journey.” Therefore, “The Long and Winding Road” had to compete with other Beatles on the ‘Merkin charts.
The backstory to “The Long and Winding Road” is worth repeating. When The Beatles set out to record “Let It Be,” Paul’s big idea was to do a Back to Basics album and “Making of…” documentary, without all the lush orchestrations and overdubs used on their previous LPs. It was also a way, McCartney hoped, to bring the band back together. It was clear during the recording of “The Beatles” (aka The White Album) that tempers were flaring. Maybe a return to the basics, the way they did it in the old day, would prevent the band from fragmenting.
It didn’t work. The fights that occurred during the making of “Let It Be” are legendary. George Harrison even quit the band at one point. Later, when he agreed to come back he brought in friend Billy Preston, hoping that might calm the waters. By the time the project was finished, no one had the patience to deal with the hundreds of hours of tapes resultant. A couple of test pressings and mixes were prepared by Glyn Johns, but no one was ever happy with them. Eventually, after sitting around for a year, all the tapes were turned over to Phil “Wall of Sound” Spector to do something with them for release.
Meanwhile, The Beatles went into the studio one last time and recorded “Abbey Road,” a fitting swansong to the extraordinary—but short—recording career of The Beatles. “Abbey Road” was released before “Let It Be,” which became the final Beatles LP. It was released in conjunction with the making of documentary of the same name.
When “Let It Be” was finally released it was as far from Paul’s original concept as possible. Instead of a stripped-down, back to basics record, Spector had smothered the tracks under strings and other overdubs. Paul was especially derisive of his composition “The Long and Winding Road.” He was, rightfully, proud of the song and felt Spector’s treatment ruined it. Paul eventually had the last laugh, 33 years later, when Let It Be…Naked, a stripped-down version like Paul had always intended, was released. According to the WickiWackyWoo:
For "The Long and Winding Road", the Naked producers used the final take, recorded five days after the rough run-through Phil Spector had selected for the original album. As per all songs on Let It Be... Naked, this version is devoid of any orchestral or choral overdubs. (The unadorned take from Let It Be is featured on Anthology 3.) Finally, there is a slight lyrical difference: whereas the original album version's lyric reads, "anyway, you'll never know the many ways I've tried," on this version it reads, "anyway, you've always known the many ways I've tried." Electric guitar and electric piano are also present in this version, played respectively by Harrison and Billy Preston.
Here’s the original version as released by Phil Spector, followed by the way it was always meant to be.
Sadly Let It Be has not been available for home video since forever. Are you listening, Paul? Imagine the bonus features with all that film and audio. I already own all of it on bootleg audio, but I’d pay for an official release.
Bonus Beatles – “The Long And Winding Road” from the movie “Let It Be.”