Sunday, February 22, 2009

Long, Long, Long

Last night I was out in a bar, sampling a rye I'd never tried that was simply called "(ri)1," except that the i had an IPA-ish line over the top and I can't figure out a way to duplicate it here. Despite my suspicion of a rye with such an idiotic, gimicky name, it was quite good-- smoother and longer-finished than Old Overholt, which seems to be the default rye stocked in bars near me-- which was a pleasant surprise. Just then, I had a second pleasant surprise when I realized that "Long, Long, Long" was playing. The song was nearing the loud part in the middle by the time I noticed-- the quiet recording of this song had made it impossible to hear the opening over the bar noise. It was such a weird musical decision. Let's just say that the bar did not seem like a "Long, Long, Long" sort of bar. (IS there a "Long, Long, Long" sort of bar? I mean, a hookah bar, maybe. Or a bar located inside a cathedral?...)

Everything about this moment seemed like some kind of spiritual cue to listen to "Long, Long, Long" again today, HarriSunday. And to listen to it the way it's meant to be listened to, which is not in a bar, but alone in my living room in the stillness of early morning as the sunlight scatters dust across the pale curtains. That kind of thing.

I have always loved this song-- it was one of my first favorites, and I remember putting my cassette tape of the White Album on this song to fall asleep to when I was quite young. That's what made it so frustrating when I first starting reading Beatles books and seeing that no one else seems to appreciate it as much as they should. I feel like I've accidentally devoted the past few HarriSundays to some of the most unappreciated songs from George's catalog, like "The Inner Light" and "Old Brown Shoe," but gees, "Long, Long, Long"-- how can anyone not hear how amazing this song is? Is anyone even paying attention? I still get frustrated reading Tim Riley's infuriatingly dismissive entry on it, much as I otherwise love his book, Tell Me Why.

The interplay between George's acoustic guitar and Paul's Hammond organ creates a beautiful, wistful dreamscape, a mood that's really unique in the Beatles canon. George's vocal is appropriately prayerful, and sweeter than we usually hear him, especially on his higher notes-- he's actually singing all over his range on this, the melody falling from his high notes all the way to the bottom of his range. Sing along yourself and you'll feel how wide the melody spans. In this atmosphere, Ringo's bombastic drumming at the end of each line seems to emerge from out of nowhere, but on each drum break, he's actually propelling the whole track into the impassioned bridge, "so many tears I was searching." It's much louder here, Ringo playing the whole lines rather than just accents, and a piano has been added to thicken the texture with a weirdly appropriate boogie-woogie line. Up we climb still to the wailed climax, and then the piano drops out and we're back to the more intimate sound of the beginning.

At the close is when things get particularly awesome. When Paul hits one tone on his organ, a wine bottle sitting on the speaker starts rattling. This sort of thing would normally have been edited off, but the rattle sounds brilliant here, as Ringo instantly recognizes-- he starts matching the rattle on the snare to heighten the effect. Meanwhile, Paul is hitting some seriously strange chords, and George is wailing up as high as he possibly can. It all makes for an odd ending-- the effect is that some kind of spiritual pain is being exorcised.

"Long, Long, Long" is a love song written to God, though I don't think I've ever read where or how George came to write it. But he would go on to write more stuff like this in his solo career, and indeed there are elements of this song that sound like he's practicing for All Things Must Pass, his first solo album. Compared to that album, though the minimal feel and other-worldly quality of "Long, Long, Long" are, to me, superior. It's just so gorgeous. It's a song that just quashes the cynic in me.

"Long, Long, Long," released in the U.K. side C track 7 of The Beatles, a.k.a. the White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. November 25, 1968.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

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