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"LONG, LONG, LONG"
There are many song in the vast Beatles catalog that can claim the title of "most underrated." And within the 30 tracks that are contained on their masterful 1968 double-album "The Beatles," better known as the "White Album," George's ballad "Long, Long, Long" surely wins the title, as well as "most overlooked."
With the sprawling and attention-getting variety of songs on the album, from the poppy “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” the menacing “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” the earthy “Yer Blues,” and the countrified “Don't Pass Me By,” George's “Long, Long, Long” is almost not even noticed. Appearing directly after the ear-splitting “Helter Skelter,” listeners in 1968 nearly thought that side three of the album was done and reached to turn the record over before realizing there was indeed another song after it. As Ron Schaumburg writes in his book “Growing Up With The Beatles, “'Long, Long, Long' is a spacey, ethereal popover that I had to listen to six or eight times before I finally could hear it.”
In later years, however, this track began to get the attention and praise it truly deserves. We'll attempt to do the song justice here as well.
Between February and April of 1968, George Harrison was in India studying Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi, the other Beatles also being present for a good portion of this time. Although they swore off most of their creature comforts for this spiritually rejuvenating trip, presumably including drugs, the one thing George reportedly did bring with him was a copy of Bob Dylan's 1966 album "Blonde On Blonde." The final track on that album, the eleven minute "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands," expecially struck a chord with George.
"I can't recall much about it except the chords,” George related about the song "Long, Long Long" in his 1980 book “I Me Mine,” “which I think were coming from (Dylan's) 'Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands' – D to E minor, A and D – those three chords and the way they moved.”
Although the sentiments expressed in the lyrics appear to be concerning his rekindled love with a woman, George insists otherwise. “The 'you' in 'Long, Long, Long' is God,” he explains in the book “I Me Mine.” Nonetheless, the ambiguous nature of the lyrics endear themselves to the listener who may either interpret the track as a romantic love song or as a deep expression of gratefulness to his creator. Therefore, lyrics such as "how I want you," "how I love you" and "you know that I need you" work both ways, and phrases such as "so many tears I've been wasting" can easily be interpreted as the effects of an estrangement from his lady friend, but ultimately refer to the pain felt in his life experiences before achieving his newly found enlightenment. “I think all love is part of a universal love,” George stated to Rolling Stone magazine, adding, “When you love a woman, it's the God in her that you see. The only complete love is for God.”
Originally titled “It's Been A Long Long Long Time,” Keith Badman's book “The Beatles Off The Record” states: “George scribbled the lyrics to 'Long, Long, Long' onto the pages of an empty 'week at a glance' diary page for 11-14 August, 1968.” Although this may not mean the song was written exactly on these days, it can be estimated to have been composed sometime during this month. Therefore, it wasn't written until the “White Album” was around half complete, other George Harrison compositions being dropped from consideration for the album along the way, such as “Not Guilty,” “Circles” and “Sour Milk Sea.”
Although the above mentioned Bob Dylan song became a major influence on writing his song “Long, Long, Long,” George soon after struck up a long-lasting friendship with his idol. Just after the “White Album” was released, George traveled to Woodstock, New York and spent Thanksgiving 1968 with Bob and his recent collaborators The Band. At this time the two prolific songwriters composed their first collaborative effort entitled “I'd Have You Anytime,” this song gracing George's 1970 groundbreaking album “All Things Must Pass.” Thereafter, decades later, they continued their songwriting partnership while in the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.
Sessions for the "White Album" began on May 30th, 1968, but it wasn't until the last week of recording that George's beautiful "Long, Long, Long" was first brought into the studio. This day was October 7th, 1968, The Beatles filing into EMI Studio Two at about 2:30 pm for what became a marathon 16 1/2 hour session, the long hours undoubtedly deemed necessary because of a deadline to complete the album in time for a late November release, thereby in time for Christmas gifts around the world.
The days' session began with tape copies of previously recorded tracks being made as well as stereo and mono mixes of George's “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” being attempted. With this complete, George, Paul and Ringo (John was suspiciously absent on this day as he habitually was when a George song was being recorded) settled down in the studio to work out the song that George still called “It's Been A Long Long Long Time” at this point. No known demo version has ever surfaced, so this may have been the first time Paul and Ringo had become acquainted with the song. This would make sense since it took 67 'takes' to get a suitable rhythm track recorded on this day.
Mark Lewisohn's book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” explains the atmosphere during this session: “The session tapes reveal that George was in a happy mood throughout, laughing, joking and bursting into busked versions of other songs, including 'Dear Prudence.' At one point he enquired of Paul and Ringo, 'Where did Mal get those joss-sticks? They're like Rishikesh joss-sticks!'” Engineer Richard Lush recounts The Beatles' habit of burning joss-sticks during their sessions: “The people at Abbey Road didn't particularly like them, especially when the carpet and the whole studio was stinking of them, be it strawberry or whatever was the flavor of the month.”
The instrumentation on these 67 'takes' were George on acoustic guitar and vocals, Paul on Hammond organ and Ringo on drums. On one of these 'takes,' a happy accident happened which made it onto the finished version of the song. Producer Chris Thomas, who was attending this session as George Martin's assistant, remembers: “There's a sound near the end of the song which is a bottle of Blue Nun wine rattling away on the top of a Leslie speaker cabinet. It just happened. Paul hit a certain organ note and the bottle started vibrating. We thought it was so good that we set the mikes up and did it again. The Beatles always took advantage of accidents.”
It is commonly thought that this “accident” first happened spontaneously on the 'take' that made it onto the finished album. From the above quote by Chris Thomas, we see that this wasn't the case at all. When this did occur during an earlier 'take,' they were so enamored by the resulting rattling sound of the bottle of wine that they strove to recreate it with every take thereafter, the engineering crew setting up mikes to make sure it was caught on tape. George and Ringo added different elements also to create a desired effect, this being perfectly described by Ian MacDonald in his book “Revolution In The Head” as follows: “As McCartney reached the final low inversion of C major on the group's customized Hammond organ, the bottom note vibrated a bottle of wine standing on the instrument's Leslie cabinet, creating an eery rattle. Holding his chord as a bare fifth, McCartney turned it into a spectral C minor suspended fourth, joined by Starr with a snare-roll and Harrison with a disembodied wail. Together they sustained this for thirty seconds before, with the organ and it accompanying rattle fading, Harrison gave the harmony its final twist on his Gibson J200: a skeletal G minor eleventh, closed out by the dying fall of Starr's drums.” Therefore, just like the feedback “accident” on “I Feel Fine” four years earlier, The Beatles worked at recreating the effect for the finished recording.
It now being near 7 am the following morning, they deemed 'take 67' as best and called it for the night.
The next day, or should I say nine hours later, The Beatles re-entered EMI Studio Two at 4 pm on October 8th, 1968, to add overdubs onto the song. John was present on this day, as evidenced by two new Lennon songs being recorded once these overdubs were complete (these songs being “I'm So Tired” and “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill”), but he still declined to contribute to George's song, which still was titled “It's Been A Long Long Long Time.”
Onto the previously recorded 'take 67' was overdubbed another acoustic guitar from George, one that had a distinctive fret buzz that somewhat simulated a sitar (possibly because of him using a capo), a double-tracking of George's vocal, and a bass guitar from Paul. This was estimated to be complete by 6 pm, thereby prompting John to kick the session into high gear for recording his two songs, exclaiming, “Quick, quick, the red light's on, let's go, let's make a record!” After his two songs were fully recorded, it was 8 am the next day, this finally ending another marathon session.
They were back again in EMI Studio Two the following day (eleven hours later, that is), October 9th, 1968, to put the finishing touches on “Long, Long, Long” (which it was now finally called) as well as other necessary business for preparing the “White Album” for release. They arrived at 7 pm on this day and, after creating stereo and mono mixes for “Bungalow Bill,” they took to adding a couple more overdubs onto George's song.
Paul added some sporadic backing harmonies and Chris Thomas took to playing some piano on the song's bridge. This completed the song, attention then going to tape copying “Helter Skelter” and also starting yet another song for last minute inclusion on the album, Paul's “Why Don't We Do It In The Road?”, this being recorded in EMI Studio One. By 5:30 am the following day, another marathon recording session was complete.
The stereo mix of the song was created first, this being on October 10th, 1968 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by George Martin and engineers Ken Scott and John Smith. Four attempts at this stereo mix was done, undoubtedly the fourth try being the one used on the finished album. George's acoustic guitar on the rhythm track was mixed quite low and the harmony on his lead vocals begins the first time he sings the word “long.” Much oscillator waggling (see “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”) was done on Paul's organ part during this mix, this job manually done by Chris Thomas presumably as he had done in previous “White Album” mixes.
The first attempt at a mono mix was on October 12th, 1968, in the control room of EMI Studio Two by the same engineering team, however this solitary try was deemed not good enough. They tried again on October 14th, 1968, in the same studio with the same engineering team, these two attempts bringing it to a finished state, presumably 'remix 3' being the keeper. The acoustic guitar from the rhythm track was substantially higher in the mix while the harmony vocal didn't kick in until the third “long” this time. More manual oscillator waggling was done on the organ on this mix as well.
Song Structure and Style
The struture for "Long, Long, Long" is quite simple, namely 'verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse' (or aaba) with a simple introduction and, as discussed above, an experimental conclusion. The final verse, however, has been extended by many measures for dramatic purposes. Also of note is that this is the only song on the "White Album" this is fully in a waltz-like 3/4 time signature, "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" being in the same time signature only in part.
The introduction is six measures long and consists primarily of George's overdubbed acoustic lead guitar figure mimicking more clearly what he had performed during the rhythm track, Paul's organ kicking in on the third measure with a complimentary descending note counter melody. Measures five and six feature the strumming acoustic guitar of the rhythm track accompanied by a single note organ note, the sixth measure beginning George's double-tracked vocals that lead into the first verse that follows.
The first verse is a whopping nineteen measures long. The first ten measures feature George on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, and Paul on simple organ, plucked bass guitar notes on most downbeats, and harmony vocals on the first four measures (only measures three and four in the mono mix). Measures five and six contain the identifiable lead guitar line that George overdubbed. Measures seven through nineteen proceed with the same elements but with the addition of Ringo loudly emphasizing measures 11 through 13 and then 18 and 19 with stylish drum fills, all instruments increasing in volume during these fills. The nineteenth measure once again features the lead-in vocal line from George that segues in the second verse that follows.
This second verse is also nineteen measures long and pretty much follows the identical instrumentation as the first verse. One difference is the slight presence of Ringo tapping out a simple snare and cymbal beat throughout the entire verse whenever he isn't pounding out the appropriate drum fills as in the first verse, he adding a couple dramatic cymbal crashes in the final measure. There are no lead-in vocals in the nineteenth measure this time around since what follows is a bridge and not another verse.
The only bridge in the song appears now, which is fifteen measures long and works as the climactic thrust of the entire song. In measures one through thirteen, George passionately performs double-tracked lead vocals while strumming acoustic guitar in the background, Paul plays higher register organ chords as well as perfunctory bass guitar, and Chris Thomas appears throughout on piano as the primary feature of this section of the song. Ringo plays a hard but simplistic waltz tempo on drums, putting in drum fills in measure four and then twelve and thirteen. Paul adds harmony vocals for the “oh – ooohhh” in measures eleven and twelve, this being the ultimate high point of the song. George's acoustic guitar from the rhythm track is still discernible during Ringo's drum fill in the thirteenth measure, this followed by a trademark 'Beatles break' in the fourteenth measure. The fifteenth and final measure of this bridge is another vocal lead-in to segue into the last verse.
This final verse is extended to thirty measures this time, this section of the song being the most emotional segment of the song. The instrumentation is similar to the quiet first verse, one difference however being three-part harmony in the first four measures on the lyrics “see you, be you.” Ringo's only appearance in this verse is the drum fill in the eleventh through thirteenth measures and then the final cymbal crash on the downbeat of the last measure. George repeats his last vocal melody line four times in this verse, the third being slightly different on the line “you know that I need you” (possibly a hidden reference to his 1965 composition “I Need You”). The latter half of this verse shows all elements slightly increasing in volume to create a moving effect.
After the cymbal crash we immediately hear the rattling bottle of Blue Nun which quickly develops into the eerie sound experiment that ends the song as described above.
The spiritual meaning of these lyrics may have gone right over the heads of listeners in 1968 but are worth pointing out here. George wonders how he ever could “have lost you,” referring to his attaining oneness with the universal life force in a previous life (or in-between lives) and now his recent incarnation finds him attaining to that oneness once again. But now that he has attained the same degree of enlightenment in this lifetime, he again can “see you, be you,” indicating his being as one with God once again, his present life being an expression of his creator in human form. A future reincarnation, he accepts, will put him back into yet another separation from God, where he will yet again “misplace” his oneness with Him only to strive to recapture it then, and on and on it goes until reaching full enlightenment when he will then be “free from birth” as he states in his 1973 song “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).”
John Lennon may not have chosen to participate in the recording of the song, but The “Threetles” put in a very spirited performance with Chris Thomas adding a helping hand along the way. As many authors and fans have come to discover, this three minute moment of spiritual clarity and meditative solitude works beautifully amid the extreme variety contained on this masterful album.
November 25th, 1968 was the date of the American release for the group's double-album entitled "The Beatles," affectionately known as the "White Album." The ultra-mellow "Long, Long, Long" was relegated to the final selection of side three just after the raucous "Helter Skelter" blasted out of the listener's speakers. The album got its first compact disc release on August 24th, 1987, then as a 30th Anniversary limited edition release on November 23rd, 1998, and then as a re-mastered CD set on September 9th, 2009. It wasn't released individually as a mono album until its vinyl release on September 9th, 2014.
An interesting release of the song was on a short lived format called “Playtapes,” which became popular in the later 60's because of its portability, these tapes manufactured to be exclusively played on portable “Playtape” machines and as standard equipment in Volkswagen cars at that time. Because of the limited space on these tapes, five volumes of “White Album” tapes were released so those with these machines could enjoy most of this new album. Therefore, sometime in 1969, Capitol released these five tapes, “Vol. V” containing “Long, Long, Long.”
The entire mono catalog of The Beatles was first released on September 9th, 2009 in the set entitled “The Beatles In Mono,” this being the first time the U.S. market could enjoy the more defined “Long, Long, Long” in all its mono glory.
The Beatles never performed the song live and, unfortunately, George neglected to include it in any of his concert set lists during his solo career.
"Long, Long, Long" was the first song George Harrison wrote that actually addresses God. As mentioned above, the ambiguous nature of the lyrics made it appear as if he was singing to a woman, this approach taken possibly to make the subject matter more palatable for Beatles audiences. After all, the vast majority of Beatles songs, especially in the first half of their career, were lyrically concerning romantic relationships. Beatles fans would have no reason to think otherwise about this song.
However, George would have no qualms about singing directly to God during his solo career, even addressing him by name (or many of his perceived names). His spirituality was then more important to him than what he though the public at large might think, so he didn't bother much with ambiguous lyrics any more. And how did his fans react? Two personal addresses to God made it to #1 on the U.S. Billboard singles chart, namely, “My Sweet Lord” and “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth).” “Hear Me Lord,” “The Lord Loves The One (That Loves The Lord)” and “It Is He (Jai Sri Krishna)” are among other George Harrison song titles that show that he was determined to express his spirituality no matter what others thought about it. His popularity was of a much lesser concern for him. “I wouldn't really care if no one ever heard of me again” he said to Record Mirror in 1972. The result, of course, was a post Beatles career that is viewed worldwide with deep respect. And well deserved!
“Long, Long, Long”
Written by: George Harrison
- Song Written: August, 1968
- Song Recorded: October 7, 8 and 9, 1968
- First US Release Date: November 25, 1968
- First US Album Release: Apple #SWBO-101 “The Beatles”
- US Single Release: n/a
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7067-7068 “The Beatles”
- Length: 3:08
- Key: F major
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineers: Ken Scott, Mike Sheady, John Smith
Instrumentation (most likely):
- George Harrison - Lead Vocals, Lead and Rhythm Guitars (1968 Gibson J-200 )
- Paul McCartney - Organ (Hammond RT-3 w/ Leslie 145 cabinet), Bass (1964 Rickenbacker 4001 S), backing vocals
- Ringo Starr - Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl)
- Chris Thomas - Piano (Hamburg Steinway Baby Grand)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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