he Long and Winding Road" began in the seaport town of Liverpool, the birthplace of four young men who met through one twist of fate or another, and formed a band because they loved rock and roll. They had dreams of fame, but not in their wildest dreams could they have imagined what the future held for them. Even when "I Want to Hold Your Hand" went to number one in America, even when they occupied the top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100, they did not dare believe their career would last longer than a few years.
"The Long and Winding Road," which was not released as a single in Britain, was a track from the Let It Be album, and it entered the Hot 100 at number 35 on May 23, 1970, while the single "Let It Be" was number six. Backed with George Harrison's "For You Blue," Paul McCartney's "The Long and Winding Road" moved 35-12-10 and then jumped to number one. It was the second double-sided number one for the Beatles (the first was "Come Together"/"Something" in November 1969), and the second chart-topper with a Harrison song.
Only two Beatles were present in the studio for the recording of "The Long and Winding Road." Paul played piano and sang a solo vocal. John Lennon played bass guitar. The original version as they recorded it could only be heard on bootleg Beatles albums, until Capitol Records released the Let It Be... Naked album in 2003. The 1970 album track and single release were produced by Phil Spector, who overdubbed an orchestra, complete with strings, and a backing choir of female singers.
Philip Norman related in Shout! what happened after the Beatles heard Spector's production work: "An acetate went to each Beatle accompanied by a long letter from Spector, justifying what he had done but assuring them he could make whatever changes they wished. When Paul McCartney played the acetate, he was stunned. His ballad, "The Long and Winding Road," had been remixed by Spector, then dubbed with a violin and horn section and topped with a sickly celestial choir. Paul tried to contact Spector, but he could not. He wrote to (Beatles manager) Allen Klein, demanding restoration of the original version, but to no avail.
George Harrison made no comment on Spector's production mix of "For You Blue." He didn't have to -- he asked Phil to produce his first solo album, All Things Must Pass, which was statement enough. "For You Blue" featured a solo vocal from George, who played acoustic guitar. John played steel guitar, Paul played bass and piano, and Ringo Starr played drums.
Just as "Someday We'll Be Together" was an appropriate final single for the Supremes, "The Long and Winding Road" summed up the state of the Beatles in 1970. The break-up of the group had already been announced on April 10, but somehow it didn't seem final just yet. Many believed that there would only be a temporary lull, that after experimenting with solo careers the four Beatles would come together once more. As time passed and it became obvious the dream was over, fans held on to an undying hope that there would be a Beatles reunion. Despite denials, rumors of an impending worldwide satellite broadcast, or a charity concert, or an unexpected surprise get-together, continually cropped up. It was only on December 8, 1980, that the world tragically realized the Beatles would never play together again. John Lennon was assassinated by a deranged fan as he and wife Yoko Ono returned to their Dakota apartment building in New York, after working late into the night in the studio on a track prophetically named "Walking on Thin Ice."
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
"Only two Beatles were present in the studio for the recording of "The Long and Winding Road." Nope. All 4 were there playing. Full recording history here: https://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/the-long-and-winding-road/
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