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The Beatles Songs: Long, Long, Long

The history of this classic Beatles song

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The Beatles Songs: Long, Long, Long

The original US sheet music for "Long, Long, Long"

rarebeatles.com

Long, Long, Long

Working titles: It's Been a Long Long Long Time Written by: George Harrison (100%)

Recorded: October 7-9, 1968 (Studio 2, Abbey Road Studios, London, England)
Mixed: October 10 and 12, 1968
Length: 3:03
Takes: 67

Musicians:

Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 4001S), organ (Hammond RT-3)
George Harrison: lead vocals (double-tracked), lead and rhythm acoustic guitars (1968 Gibson J-200)
Ringo Starr: drums (Ludwig)
Chris Thomas: piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand "Mrs. Mills")

Available on: (CDs in bold)

The Beatles (a/k/a "The White Album"; UK: Apple PMC 7067-8; US: Apple SWBO 101; Parlophone CDP 7 46443 2; CDP 7 46444 2)

History:

  • The mutual admiration between the Beatles and Bob Dylan began as early as January 1964, when Beatlemania first began to invade America. Dylan was on a cross-country drive with friends when he heard "I Want To Hold Your Hand" on the radio; according to one witness, he "nearly leapt out of the car" with the shock of it, while Dylan himself later recalled thinking the Fab Four was the future of music. A month earlier, while on tour in France, George Harrison found a copy of Dylan's second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and brought it back to the hotel room where the entire band listened to it over and over, transfixed. They would meet later in the year, and by the end of 1968, they would become close friends.
  • Although all four Beatles were fans, it was George Harrison on whom Bob seemed to have made the most lasting impression. "Long, Long, Long," composed just as George was coming into his own as a songwriter, was described by Harrison himself as a homage of sorts to Dylan's epic, 11-minute ballad "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," which he had released on the Blonde on Blonde album in 1966. George remembered being taken with the songs chords and "the way they moved," and set about to create a track that would do the same thing.
  • Though on first listen the simple, brief and direct "Long" doesn't seem to have that much in common with the sprawling and lyrically ambitious "Lowlands," closer inspection reveals striking similarities, more in the melody than the chord structure, which is actually somewhat different, and in a different key than Dylan's composition at any rate. George seems to have taken the melody from the first line of Dylan's song -- "With your mercury mouth in the missionary times" -- and altered it slightly, using a Beatlesque descending chord structure to land on the home key of D (G, F#m, Em, D) instead of Bob's more traditional folk-based structure in C, which circles in on itself (C, G/B, F, G). Note that both opening lyrics descend to land on the word "time." He then welds that to the first line of the chorus, matching "How could I ever have lost you" with the melody of Dylan's title lyric. (Note that both songs end each verse with the word "you.")
  • Like so many "White Album" songs, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" being the most notorious, "Long, Long, Long," which was written in May 1968, wasn't fully formed when brought into the studio, and so Paul and Ringo helped him work out the arrangement in over 60 takes (though they only took up the better part of a day's session). With Paul on organ, they hashed out the basic track on October 7, 1968; the next day George re-cut his lead vocal and Paul added his bass line. On that day, George also added the song's distinctive lead guitar lick, on acoustic but distorted to sound like a sitar. Finally, on the 9th, engineer Chris Thomas added some gospel piano to beef up the bridge (which used many of the same chords as the verse) and also to further cement the song's spiritual feel. Finally, early in the morning of the next day, after Paul had finished laying down the basic track for "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?," he came up with the backing harmony vocal, which also descends with George's as if to underline the effect.

Trivia:
  • Though not an example of outright plagiarism, "Long, Long, Long" does show how George's penchant for simple and direct melodies -- albeit tied down to some strange and difficult chords at times -- could lead him into trouble. John and Paul often mocked Harrison's earliest attempts at writing, pointing out the established songs he'd been borrowing from, and George would infamously be sued for his solo smash "My Sweet Lord," which lawyers for the Chiffons proved was an example of "unconscious plagiarism" of their hit "He's So Fine." Indeed, "Long, Long, Long" is an important step towards that later hit: it's George's first attempt to create a hymnlike ode to the spiritual world, using powerfully simple, endlessly repeated phrases that address a "you" he longs to know.
  • The odd rattling sound at the end of the track is a bottle of Blue Nun wine Ringo had brought to the session and placed on top of the Hammond organ; it began to move as Paul played an extremely low C note, and Ringo, realizing it was a great ending, added some percussive flourish. George later accentuated that with a ghostly vocal and a sudden Gm11 chord, as if his soul had succeeded in ascending to some other level, and then had disappeared from this one entirely.

Covered by: Phish, Jim James, Low, Tanya Donelly, Kelly DeMartino, Jerry Matthews, Apell, Tom Hooper, Rhett Miller, Terry Scott Taylor

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