Side Three of “The White Album” includes some of the heaviest songs in The Beatles’ catalogue. But the disc closes with one of their more tranquil moments, as George Harrison’s spiritual ‘Long, Long, Long’ brings a welcome calm to proceedings following the mayhem of ‘Helter Skelter’.
Unlike the majority of the songs recorded for the album, ‘Long, Long, Long’ wasn’t written during the group’s time in India, in the spring of 1968. In fact, it appears that George wrote the song very close to the conclusion of the “White Album” sessions, and no demo of ‘Long, Long, Long’ is known to exist before George, Ringo and Paul began recording it on 7 October – just 10 days before the album was finally mixed and completed.
“All love is part of a universal love”
The inspiration for the song was made explicit in George’s 1980 book, I, Me, Mine: “The ‘you’ in ‘Long, Long, Long’ is God.” For Harrison, love was always a spiritual thing. As he told Rolling Stone magazine in 1976, “I think all love is part of a universal love. When you love a woman, it’s the God in her that you see. The only complete love is for God.”
George would often write love songs to God, despite sometimes finding his audience resistant: “If you say the word ‘God’ or ‘Lord’, it makes some people’s hair curl! They feel threatened when you talk about something that isn’t just ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’ and if you say something that is not just trivia then their only way out of that is to say, ‘You’re lecturing us or you’re preaching,’ which it isn’t.”
On ‘Long, Long, Long’, George sings, “So many tears I was searching/So many tears I was wasting,” as he laments how he had lost the Lord, but rejoices in how he has now found Him again. Harrison returned to this theme a number of times, especially on ‘Hear Me Lord’ from his 1971 masterpiece, All Things Must Pass.
Musically, ‘Long, Long, Long’ owed something to a song that encompassed the whole of Side Four of Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde LP. As George explained, “I can’t recall much about it [‘Long, Long, Long’] except the chords, which I think were coming from ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ – D to E minor, A, and D – those three chords and the way they moved.”
“The Beatles always took advantage of accidents”
Though John Lennon was absent on at least the first day of work on the song, the other Beatles worked happily and well together, supporting one another through 67 takes before arriving at the keeper. The session tapes reveal their camaraderie, with jokes flying back and forth, as well as words of encouragement to keep pushing for that perfect take: “I don’t mind how long it takes at the moment,” Paul McCartney said after Take 29.
The basic backing of George on acoustic guitar, Paul playing organ and Ringo on the drums was eventually completed on 7 October, before overdubbing began the following day – Paul playing bass and George double-tracking his vocal. Paul and George’s wonderful vocal harmonies bring the song to a crescendo, before falling back to gentle spirituality. Ringo’s drums are also a notable feature of the track, his fills reminiscent of his rightly lauded work on ‘A Day In The Life’. On 9 October, Chris Thomas added a piano part inspired by The Moody Blues’ ‘Go Now’.
The unexpected cacophony that brings the song to a conclusion owes much to the random, an element The Beatles had long enjoyed bringing to their recordings. As George Martin’s assistant, Chris Thomas, recalled, “There’s a sound near the end of the song which is a bottle of Blue Nun wine rattling away on top of a Leslie speaker cabinet. It just happened. Paul hit a certain 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.”
The spinning bottle of Blue Nun was augmented by Paul’s expanded organ chord – a C minor with a suspended 4th – a snare roll from Ringo and a wail from George, which combine to create an unsettling effect, before George wraps things up with a final chord on his acoustic guitar, as this subtle moment of reflection crashes, exhausted, to an end.
The super deluxe edition of The Beatles’ “White Album” is out now and can be bought here.