Notes on "The Long And Winding Road" (TLAWR)
KEY Eb Major
FORM Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse -> Bridge (Instrumental) ->
Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- Macca does it again: in spite of his unabashed and sometimes even
shameless sentimentality, he comes up with an affecting, durable torch
song with "The Long And Winding Road." The secrets of his success are to be
found in the manner in which novel approaches to form and harmonic
structure underscore the emotional core of the song, and belie whatever
curbside surface cliches it has which may initially turn you off.
- The song appears to describe a repeatedly thwarted passion in whose
ultimate fulfillment the hero maintains unshakable faith. The underlying
music goes so far as to confirm such fulfillment, even though the words,
if you read them carefully, indicate the outcome has not yet become an
eventuality, nor may it be taken for granted. It's kind of like Dylan's
"Tangled Up In Blue" done up McCartney style; accent on vulnerability
in place of bitter irony, no fancy tricks with timelines, and a more or
less happy ending.
- A thwarting of desire is suggested in the harmony by the relentlessness
with which the relative minor key of c attempts to upstage and derail the
true home key of Eb. Both Paul and John had played with Major/minor
tonal schemes in many songs over a long period of time (for oldies sake
look back to "And I Love Her"
and "I'll Be Back"), but TLAWR is one of
the most sophisticated examples of it in the songbook.
- The restless discomfort that becomes a secondary infection borne of
being constantly thwarted is suggested by a certain intentional blurring
of the formal outlines whose clarity you otherwise come to rightfully
rely upon. Note how the opening (title) phrase of the song reappers in
contexts that make its formal purpose ambiguous. Is it an Intro, or the
start of the Verse, or maybe even the end of the Bridge section? I'm
going to "analyze" it below as the start of the Verse section, but its
overiding formal ambiguity, per se, that is germane.
Melody and Harmony
- The tune covers the overall range of a 9th, but spends most of its
time in a narrow range near the top of the Eb octave. As we'll see
below, the Verse tune strives like hell for the high Eb, landing
on it securely only at the very end of the section.
- The home key is Eb Major but the Verse section has a strong undertow
pulling in the direction of the relative minor key of c. By the same
token, c minor is not allowed to ever become fully established in spite
of its large amount of air time, because it's always served up in this
song with a minor, instead, of Major V chord. Put another way, the
relative minor key in this song is presented only in its "natural"
(as opposed to "harmonic") flavor.
- The chords that diatonically appear on the first six degrees of the
Major scale are used in the song. Many examples of extended chords
(i.e. 9ths, 11ths, etc) are to be found here in consideration of the
somewhat jazzy idiom in force. Perhaps the most distinctive example
below is the V7/9/11 chord in measure 3 that sounds for all the world
as those an Ab triad were superimposed on top of the Bb chord.
- Keep your eye on the Ab chord which bears the burden of pivoting between
the keys of Eb and c; in some cases sounding like IV in the Major key,
and in other cases sounding like VI in the minor key.
- The Beatles-supplied backing track, as heard on the unadorned _Get
Back_ and _Anthology_ versions of the song, is spare and simple, with
piano, organ, bass, acoustic guitar (that's strange!), and drums.
- Spector's overdub of a mini-orchestra and chorus may be overdone, but
the unvarnished original recording sounds a bit under dressed in comparison.
This is possibly the one and only case in which the application of Spector's
heavy handed production values was not entirely inappropriate. The song
is a schmaltzy one at heart, indeed, so let's call a spade a spade.
Paul would be the first to admit to his own very long term hankering to be
(like) Frank Sinatra.
- The Verse is an unusually generous and leisurely 24 measures long.
The phrases are even in length but their poetic pattern is unusual;
|c |- |Bb7/9/11 |- |
Eb: vi V
|Eb7 |- |Ab |- |
I (V-of-IV) IV
|Ab |g |c |- |
IV (VI-of-vi) iii (v-of-vi) vi
|f7 |Bb |Eb7 |- |
ii V I (V-of-IV)
|Ab |g |c |- |
IV (VI-of-vi) iii (v-of-vi) vi
|f |Bb |Eb |- |
ii V I
- The song appears to open in midstream without any introduction. Yes,
the first four measures sound like a lead in to a Verse that starts in
our measure 5 above, but the scanning of the lyrics argues against such
- The identity of the Major home key is not clearly settled until the
final phrase. The music never quite fully modulates to the relative
minor key of c, but the latter is uncannily persistent in forestalling
the E flat from asserting its legitimate role. Trace it if you will:
- The song starts off on a c minor chord.
- The Eb chord at the start of the second phrase sounds as much like
V-of-IV as it does like I.
- The third phrase heads straight away for c minor.
- The fourth phrase appears to finally arrive on Eb, but again, the
latter chord is made to sound equivocally like V-of-IV.
- The final pair of phrases is parallel to the phrase 3/4 combo, but
this time the arrival on I is left unquestioned, for once.
- Trace the similar story of what happens to poor Eb in the tune of
- Eb appears on the downbeat of the first measure but it sits
atop a c minor chord.
- The tune for phrases 2/3 struggles upward from Bb only to finish
the pair of phrases on C. Yes, Eb appears earlier in the phrase
but in a melodically incidental, not structural, position.
- The extent to which phrase 4 harmonically ends on Eb is weakened
by the melody settling down to Bb at that point. Again, the low
Eb that trails the end of the phrase is not structurally significant.
- Phrase 5 is similar to phrase 3. The tune over reaches itself to
tackle Eb from above, but yet again, the structural anchor point of
the phrase turns out to be C.
- Eb is finally allowed to assert itself at the end of phrase 6 in
an extremely straightforward 6->7->8 melodic pattern.
- Both harmony and melody fairly cry out here with a pathos of "try, try
again" courage in the face of heartbreaking near misses that is almost
physically palpable; like that single kiss you intend to land fervently,
but which starts off with a bump of heads, then by mouths meeting way
off center, until on your 3rd try or later, you finally land a bullseye.
- The rhythmic scanning of the lyrics in this Verse add an effect of
their own. The words of each four measure phrase are in short bursts
that land on the downbeat of the third measure. This leaves time for
a long deep breath in the remainder of the phrase, as if the singer
had too much pain or confusion to go on.
- The Bridge contrasts with the Verse on a number of levels: a shorter
8 measure length, an AA phrasing pattern, straightforwardly "open"
harmonic shape, and lyrics that fill the whole space without rhetorically
------------------------------- 2X ------------------------------
|Eb |Ab |Eb |f Bb |
I IV I6/3 ii V
- The bridge formally elides right back into the Verse that follows it.
On first encounter, you're apt to hear the "intro" phrase as still a part
of the bridge.
- The chord change that bridges that elision (V -> vi) is a textbook
"deceptive" cadence, and this late in the song, presents yet another
way in which c minor can thwart Eb.
- The unvarnished recording of the song has Paul speaking-then-singing
through the entirety of the second bridge. For whatever reason, Spector
decided to eliminate the vocal track at this point and substitute an
expansive arching line for the violin section, an effect which over
the course of time has ironically come to be perceived in the public
mind as one of *the* details that characterizes the track; as though
it had been part of the songwriter's original intention.
- The outro grows directly out of the end of the final verse, recapitulating
the opening phrase of the song, for the first time, starting on the Eb
chord (last two measures of the verse), and closing (below) with a clear,
full cadence. Picking it up at the last phrase of the verse:
|f |Bb |Eb |- |
ii V I
|Bb7/11/13 |- |Eb |- |- |-
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- Spector also does it again, shades of
"Dig A Pony": unilaterally cutting
some trailing seconds off end of the original recording, thereby robbing
the official release of one genuinely poetic final gesture.
- The source tape from 1/31/69 has a tiny piano coda played in a stage
whisper just after the last of the big Eb chord has faded away. This coda
is derived from the piano part for the first two measures of the song, but
played an octave higher than usual:
|c |f7 |
c: i iv ...
- Coming on the heels of what would otherwise seem to be a conclusively
positive ending, the effect and implication of this open ended fragment,
with its parting nod to the relative minor key, is understatedly ominous.
"Now I'm going back again. I've got to get to her somehow." 082999#175
Copyright (c) 1999 by Alan W. Pollack
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