Why Many Believe John Lennon Sabotaged ‘The Long and Winding Road’
If you wanted to recount the breakup of The Beatles, you could start with the band’s final single, “The Long and Winding Road.” When the Fab Four began work on this track in January 1969, they were hardly on good terms. (Anyone who’s caught the Let It Be documentary can see that.)
By the time “The Long and Winding Road” was about to be released (spring 1970), Paul McCartney was appalled at what the song had become. Once Phil Spector came in to salvage the Let It Be tapes, Paul’s original concept changed so much it was nearly unrecognizable.
Spector’s work, which included overdubs of an orchestra and choir, made a mockery of the album’s “back to basics” concept. But Spector had his reasons for using a heavy hand in his role as producer.
The bass playing of John Lennon was maybe the biggest problem Spector faced in turning “The Long and Winding Road” into the No. 1 hit it became. John’s bass work in those sessions was so poor he was actually accused of sabotaging Paul’s song.
John bass mistakes made ‘Long and Winding Road’ flawed from the start
During the sessions that ultimately became Let It Be, the cracks at “The Long and Winding Road” were far less polished than what normally went out as a finished product with the Beatles’ name on it. In fact, it would be fair to call the basic track a demo.
Ian MacDonald did just that in Revolution in the Head, in which he referred to the original track as “a demo, and a provisional one at that.” As others have noted over the years, MacDonald saw Lennon’s “atrocious bass-playing” as one of the big problems with the song.
MacDonald points to 10 examples of what he called the “comical mistakes” in Lennon’s playing. If you listen to takes without Spector’s orchestration (as above), you start to see his point.
All this raises the age-old question: If there were such obvious problems with the song, why did The Beatles release it? To answer that, you have to get into the squabbling between Paul and the other band members when the album was being finished the following year.
Paul didn’t get to make changes to ‘Long and Winding Road’ before its release
As noted above, in any other scenario, The Beatles would have started over from scratch with “The Long and Winding Road.” After all, this was a band that could spend over a week getting a track down (and one that scrapped a song after 100 takes).
But Paul wasn’t speaking with John, George Harrison, or Ringo at this point in time. And he definitely wasn’t in touch with Spector as the eccentric producer tried to clean up “The Long and Winding Road.”
In short, that’s why people believe John undermined the song. John’s producer (Spector) allowed a flawed production to go out with his own (i.e., John’s) mistakes on it. To MacDonald, Lennon’s “impatient indifference” to the Beatles’ production standards could not be defended.
“Lennon’s crude bass playing, though largely accidental, amounts to sabotage when presented as finished work,” MacDonald concluded. In a 2003 item on the release of Let It Be… Naked, The Guardian’s John Harris concurred that Lennon “indulged in something close to musical sabotage.”