Paul McCartney, you were right.
Have you ever not listened to a song for years, and then you hear it and it just sounds off from the way you remember it? I’m having that feeling right now as I play “The Long and Winding Road” as released in 1970.
It’s not that I’ve completely shunned the song, but the understated Let it Be…Naked rendition has been my go-to version for so long that when I went back to listen to the original just now, I’m so thrown by the shimmering strings and pristine choir. Some backstory: in January 1969, the Beatles recorded what was intended to be an album called Get Back, named both for their next single and the fact that it was supposedly a back-to-basics project. The next year, the tapes were controversially handed off to producer Phil Spector to either salvage or ruin them, depending on your perspective.
John Lennon fell in the former camp, telling Rolling Stone, “[Spector] was given the shittiest load of badly recorded shit–and with a lousy feeling to it–ever. And he made something out of it. It wasn’t fantastic, but I heard it, I didn’t puke.” Paul McCartney though? Decidedly less impressed. The chief reasoning for his resentment was the finishing touches Spector chose to add to “The Long and Winding Road.”
“I was sent a re-mixed version of my song ‘The Long And Winding Road,’ with harps, horns, an orchestra, and women’s choir added,” Paul noted. “No one had asked me what I thought. I couldn’t believe it. I would never have female voices on a Beatles record.” That last sentence is blatantly untrue, as Paul had enlisted his soon-to-be-wife Linda for harmonies on “Let it Be.” But still, Spector’s arrangement transformed Paul’s pensive ballad into saccharine elevator music.
The only reason it wasn’t used in The Shining was because Stanley Kubrick couldn’t afford the rights.
This isn’t an absolute favorite track of mine by any means, but it’s clearly a beautiful piece of songwriting. But I highly suggest opting for the Naked version that allows its stunning melody and emotional lyrics to truly shine.