It was 51 years ago Sunday (June 13th, 1970) that the Beatles‘ “The Long And Winding Road” became the group’s 20th and final Number One hit. It was also on this date that the single’s parent album, Let It Be, also hit Number One and began the first of its four-week run on top of the Billboard 200 chart. The song was written by Paul McCartney in late-1968, and was recorded in January 1969 during the sessions for the group’s album and film Let It Be.
“The Long And Winding Road” was inspired by the long drive to his Scottish farm. McCartney talked about the song in his 1997 authorized biography Many Years From Now, saying, “It’s a rather sad song. I like writing sad songs because you can actually acknowledge some deeper feelings of your own and put them in.” “The Long And Winding Road” was recorded by engineer/producer Glyn Johns on January 31st, 1969, the day after the group’s legendary final performance on the roof of their Apple headquarters, and featured McCartney on piano and vocals, John Lennon on bass, George Harrison on guitar, Ringo Starr on drums, and guest musician Billy Preston on organ.
“The Long And Winding Road” became the Beatles’ last official U.S. single, topping the charts for two weeks just two months after McCartney announced the group’s split on April 10th, 1970.
“The Long And Winding Road” closes the Beatles’ 2000 hits compilation The Beatles 1. McCartney recalled that he was pleased when 1 was released, because it made him realize the group’s place in history: “I think, all in all, it’s a cool record. Y’know, it proves, y’know, we, we had a lot of Number Ones, if nothing else. You spend your life making all those records — I don’t count until a project like this comes along — and you look at it and you say, ‘Whoa! We did that many? That’s fantastic!'”
McCartney was reportedly horrified when legendary “Wall Of Sound” producer Phil Spector was brought in by Lennon and Harrison to polish up the Let It Be tapes, and added a 30-piece orchestra and female choir to the original sparse-sounding track. The group’s original stripped-down recording can be found on the Beatles’ later archival releases Anthology 3 and Let It Be. . . Naked.
The Beatles’ late-producer George Martin often said that he felt betrayed by Lennon and Harrison when they enlisted Spector to rework the Let It Be tapes prior to their eventual release: “When the record came to be issued, EMI rang me up and said, ‘They don’t want your name on the record. It’ll be ‘Produced by Phil Spector.’ I said, ‘But I produced all the original stuff that they worked on.’ I said, ‘I’m not having that. Why don’t you put on it, ‘Produced by George Martin, over-produced by Phil Spector?’ But they didn’t seem to go for that.”
While promoting his recent memoir, called Sound Man — which talks about his work with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, the Faces, the Eagles, and many more — Glyn Johns pulled no punches when discussing Phil Spector’s work on Let It Be, telling The New York Times, “I was disappointed that Lennon got away with giving it to Spector, and even more disappointed with what Spector did to it. It has nothing to do with the Beatles at all. Let It Be is a bunch of garbage. As I say in the book, he puked all over it. I’ve never listened to the whole thing, I’ve only listened to the first few bars of some things and said, ‘Oh, forget it.’ It was ridiculously, disgustingly syrupy.”
To add insult to injury, all three of the singles from the Let It Be project went on to top the charts, yet George Martin only received production credit for “Get Back” and “Let It Be,” with Phil Spector getting the nod for the band’s final Number One hit, “The Long And Winding Road.” We asked Glyn Johns if he ever came to terms with that fact: “Life’s full of disappointments and I got over that really quickly and left it behind in the dust; although it was really disappointing ’cause I got on great with everybody, we had, y’know, a really good working relationship, I thought. Things don’t always work out and you just move on and that’s what I did. And it was a little bit frustrating at the time, but it’s the way things went. And I did actually point out when the brought out a compilation album some years later where George Martin had been given credit for what I did, and I did call and sort of point out the fact that I didn’t mind not being given credit at all, but I did object to someone else getting credit for what I did (laughs). And I was more or less told to bugger off, really (laughs).”
“The Long And Winding Road” has been a mainstay of McCartney’s live shows since 1975.