154 – The Long And Winding Road – Jessica Lee Morgan
Original version – January 26 1969
Ukulele version – December 1 – 23, 2011
Jessica Lee Morgan – Vocals and ukulele
Nathan MacCormack – Cello
David Barratt – Ukulele and everything else
Produced by: David Barratt, Jessica Lee Morgan and Christian Thomas at The Abattoir of Good Taste, Manhattan and Space Studios, Cardiff, UK
Vocals recorded by Christian Thomas
Written by Paul McCartney
Credited to Lennon & McCartney
ABOUT THE SONG
Paul knew the game was up with The Beatles during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions, he probably realized it when Yoko became an ever present addition to their recording sessions during The White Album. It was then that Paul came up with the germ of the idea that became The Long and Winding Road. It is a complicated love song that was at the source of as much pain as it describes in it’s heart rendering lyric.
The opening melody repeats throughout the piece but there is no real chorus. The genius of this song is its ambiguity. You can never tell if the song is at the beginning, middle or end. The lyric describes a thwarted love that the protagonist will not give up upon. The outcome of this relationship is still in the balance but it is not looking good.
It is a love song from Paul to John.
Paul knew that he would never give up on John but he also knew that their relationship, both as musicians and as friends, was disintegrating. There is a profound sense of loss and faith invoked by the way the music and lyric combine. This is masterful songwriting that it literally timeless.
If you listen to “The Long And Winding Road” while reading the lyric I am sure that someone close to you will come to mind. It could be a parent, a sibling, a lover or a friend. A slightly flawed relationship that you can not escape. Again and again we find in a Beatles song how the deeply personal becomes the universal and this song is one of the best.
Paul knew that he would never escape John. There is a powerful mix of pain, joy, frustration, hope and acceptance in this piece that still moves me in a profound way. John has now been dead for 30 years but still the long and winding road that Paul treads still leads to John’s door. In nearly every interview that Paul does today the shadow of John is not far away but I feel that there is little resentment from Paul about that.
Such is the price of love.
So.. to the recording…
Several questions arise from the recording and re-recording of this song.
1. Did John play bass badly on the song deliberately to screw up the song?
2. Did the rest of the Beatles employ Phil Spector to to piss off Paul?
3. Is the Spector version superior or inferior to the original or the “Let It Be Naked” version?
The answers are:
1. Probably not – John was so fucked up at this point he made the mistakes unconsciously.
2. Probably but Mr Spector was, and maybe still is, a genius so the jury is still out on that one.
3. More difficult to answer…
The Phil Spector version was the 20th and last number-one song in the United States on 23 May 1970, and was the last single released by the quartet. While that version of the song was very successful, the new arrangement by producer Spector angered McCartney to the point that when he made his case in court for breaking up The Beatles as a legal entity, McCartney cited the treatment of "The Long and Winding Road" as one of the reasons for doing so.
Spector may be a murderer but he did not murder this song.
His overblown approach (18 violins, four violas, four cellos, three trumpets, three trombones, two guitars, and a choir of 14 women) may seem excessive but the effect is grand and sentimental. Two things that Paul has been very comfortable in many of his works. That is not to say that the McCartney arrangement on the “Let It Be Naked” is not great. They both work and I’m glad we have them both to enjoy.
One thing I do like is like Spector’s attitude to Paul’s criticism of his production:
"Paul had no problem picking up the Academy Award for the Let It Be movie soundtrack, nor did he have any problem in using my arrangement of the string and horn and choir parts when he performed it during 25 years of touring on his own. If Paul wants to get into a pissing contest about it, he’s got me mixed up with someone who gives a shit."
I agree with Ringo’s take on the two versions, when Let It Be Naked came out in 2008 he was quoted as saying:
"There’s nothing wrong with Phil’s strings, this is just a different attitude to listening. But it’s been 30-odd years since I’ve heard it without all that and it just blew me away."
The Ukulele version recorded by Jessica Lee Morgan is a haunting affair. The strings and ukulele parts echo Phillip Glass. The sentimentality of the original Spector and McCartney versions are left behind and we are left with the bare bones of the song. This long and winding road is a lonely one.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Jessica Lee Morgan is a singer and songwriter with Welsh/Italian blood and music in her genes. She has followed a long and winding road through life and only recently released her first album “I Am Not”. She thinks in harmony, writes from the heart and lets the songs find their own sound, with often unexpected results. Never averse to reinterpreting a cover, she also loves singing songs by Queen, Bowie and of course the Fab Four.
Jessica upholds two family traditions of The Beatles and Ukulele: mother Mary Hopkin was the first signing to Apple Records, father Tony Visconti cites his sole musical influences as The Beatles and Beethoven and gave Jessica her first uke, and brother Morgan Visconti contributed his cover of “Think For Yourself” to this very project. After rebelling by working the nine to five, she now works closely with her family in various guises including label head, session singer and archivist.
When not singing and writing, she runs a recording company, Space Studios, in the UK with her partner Christian Thomas, and would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.