A difficult Jan. 6, 1969, did not result in a collapse of the sessions at Twickenham — which were entering just its fourth day — nor a break in the band. Not yet, at least.
So with the promise of optimism any new day delivers — daylight is good at arriving at the right time, after all — Paul was again the first back at the studio Tuesday, Jan. 7. And as was the norm that developed, he kicked off the day’s tapes solo at the piano.
“The Long and Winding Road” had the most brief of debuts at the first full session, Jan. 3, lasting about 10 seconds prior to Paul launching into “Oh! Darling” during his first morning piano jam.
It’s a poignant beginning to this session, on the heels of the rough day prior. Paul has very much alluded that “The Long and Winding Road” is about the splintering of the group — although the song itself wasn’t really new. Instead it was a few months old, a product to the White Album sessions, and one he said he wrote channeling Ray Charles.
He says as much on the brand-new official Let it Be … Naked site (Note from 2018 — it’s since vanished from the web) — in an interview that was probably from the record’s original release in 2003, not from 2013, I’d guess, repeating the point about “writing as” Ray Charles, but stopping short of saying “The Long and Winding Road” is about his relationship with the group.
On the heels of saying that people read a lot into “Two of Us” being about him and John when it was actually written for Linda, Paul does leave the door open about what exactly “The Long and Winding Road” was about:
It’s to do with your personal situation at the time. You don’t always realize it.
While the song had been demoed months earlier, the song this day is in nascent form.
He plays for about five minutes, with the skeleton of the piano part in place, but just few lyrics.
The Long and Winding road that leads to your door, will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before. It always leads me here, lead me to your door.
Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried. …
And that’s all we hear, beyond a few scatted lyrics to what was the eventually vocal melody.
We hear the song one more time later in the day — it’s a 30-second instrumental, straight out of a short rehearsal of “Oh! Darling” right after Paul moves to the piano in advance of a lengthier session on “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” It’s just a time-filler as everyone else tunes up.
Even without the later, tacit acknowledgement, it’s very easy to read his struggles with the rest of the group in what few lyrics he did have written for “The Long and Winding Road.” And it’s illuminating to know he felt this same sense of desperation already during the White Album sessions. It’s just another reinforcement to the thought that the Get Back/Let it Be sessions were part of the road to the breakup, not necessarily the vehicle for it.
George is confrontational and about 72 hours away from quitting the group. John is drugged, distant and tethered to Yoko. Ringo keeps a great beat but is otherwise not much of an active participant. But still, what they mean to Paul brings him back to Twickenham’s door.
The song ultimately would become a lightning rod, the most flagrant example of Phil Spector’s fingerprints on the final release and in a bit of a legal sense, the song that technically broke up The Beatles.
Listen to “The Long and Winding Road” on its own, and it’s a somber, beautiful song about not much in particular. Apply your own dysfunctional relationship here to what could be another typically McCartneyesque vague lyric.
Listen to it on this the morning after the fractious Jan. 6 sessions, and at this moment, the fact it’s about the band — and Paul’s feeling of helplessness, which runs counter to the bossy image he’s developed — is inescapable.