Thursday, October 4, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "Long, Long, Long"

Some Beatles fans may think that George Harrison's Beatles song "Long, Long, Long," which closes side three of the White Album, is a song of love for a woman.  Others are adamant that it's a song of love for God, and George himself insisted it was.  Actually, it's both.
George pretty much summed it up in an interview with Rolling Stone in the 1970s.  "I think all love is part of a universal love," he said.  "When you love a woman, it's the God in her that you see.  The only complete love there is is for God."
And as proof that the White Album was a sneak preview of the Beatles' solo careers, George would write many more songs as a solo artist that author Nicholas Schaffner said are "ambiguous in that he could be singing either to his lady or to his Lord."
In fact, "Long, Long, Long" was the latest in a series of songs from George acknowledging his spiritual awareness.  "The Inner Light," the B-side of "Lady Madonna" and the first Harrison composition on a Beatles single, was about expanding one's knowledge through faith in the divine and not through travel and material experience.  Knowing the ways of the divine and having arrived without traveling, as George advised in "The Inner Light" (a song so obscure it didn't appear on an U.S. or U.K. album until 1980 and wasn't even widely available in stereo until 1988), and finding love for the divine through that faith is what "Long, Long, Long" celebrates.
The song itself is a self-conscious, deeply spiritual awakening with a moody guitar/piano arrangement (the piano played by the ubiquitous Chris Thomas) driven by Ringo Starr's emphatic drum pattern, while Paul McCartney's organ playing sets the tone.  George found inspiration in the devastatingly lovely melody of Bob Dylan's "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" (Dylan, remember, was George's best buddy after Eric Clapton) and in the more low-key tunes from the Band, whose debut LP Music From Big Pink was already encouraging rock musicians to return to the basics despite its relatively modest sales.  The verses find George at peace with his embrace of the ultimate universal love, and the more strident bridge and the intense coda find him celebrating his discovery of that peace.  Writer Ian Inglis specifically points to the bridge lyric "So many tears I was searching / So many tears I was wasting", noting that it describes George "rejoicing in his discovery of a deity to guide him through the vicissitudes of life."
The serene yet ecstatically joyous organ coda would have been more serene if not for the accidental discovery Paul made when he played the note that "Long, Long, Long" would make the transition to the final chord on.  When he struck the note, a wine bottle on a speaker cabinet started rattling, so the Beatles set up microphones and Paul hit the note again to record the rattling, which was compounded by a drum roll from Ringo.  The final guitar chord - a G minor 7 chord answered by a final beat from Ringo - is a chord writer Ian MacDonald considers "one of the most resonant [chords] in The Beatles' discography."
Some fans wonder if the original Beatles recording of "Not Guilty" would have been a better Harrison song to close side three of the White Album with, as it is just as menacing as any of the tougher Lennon-McCartney songs on side three but is also understated and measured, fading out rather than coming to a definitive end.  (Note that no side of the White Album closes with a fade-out.)  But "Long, Long, Long" does, after the bruising rock that comes before it, bring the LP's third side in for a soft landing, getting the listener in the necessary frame of mind for the final act of the White Album that is side four.  The ultimate sequencing of "Long, Long, Long" on the White Album is one of the many examples in which the guidance of producer George Martin on the LP's running order is valued, especially after the listener has been through thunderously loud songs that would later give bands as diverse as Foghat, Rush, and Molly Hatchet reasons for careers (and Uriah Heep a lame excuse for one).  It leaves the listener exhaling freely rather than sighing heavily.

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