Paul McCartney, who for a long time was known as the ‘cute one’ of The Beatles, was in ways the melody master of the group. Where John Lennon provided the edge and described by Keith Richards as “The Beatles’ hard man”, Macca brought sophistication and a gentler touch. Examples of this can be repeatedly seen with songs such as ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’; McCartney had a way of creating characters that were fully enthralled in stories, whereas Lennon had a tendency to turn his musical microscope inwards and bring out the ugly but poetic.
When Sir Paul McCartney bought his farmhouse property in Scotland in 1966, surrounded by beautiful long and winding roads with picturesque hillsides, it said a lot about the tender side of his personality. This would be the key inspiration behind McCartney’s 1969 song, ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and he song would ultimately be included on The Beatles’ final album, Let It Be.
The song was also fuelled by the tumultuous and harsh ending of the band; McCartney attempted to find redemption in the brighter side in his gorgeous ballad. It is not uncommon for songwriters to envision writing a song in the style of a particular musician. In this case, he thought of Ray Charles. Along these lines, McCartney notes, “I just sat down at my piano in Scotland, started playing and came up with that song, imagining it was going to be done by someone like Ray Charles. I have always found inspiration in the calm beauty of Scotland and again it proved the place where I found inspiration.”
Before the song ended up on fab four’s final album, McCartney did intend to write the number for someone else to sing. It was not, in fact, Ray Charles, but the Welsh balladeer and soul singer, Tom Jones. The condition of this, however, would be that Jones would have to use the number as his next single. Tom Jones’ record label had other things in mind for the singer. The Welsh musician was gearing up to release ‘Without Love’ as his next single, and therefore, McCartney’s plan did not pan out.
In an interview in 1994, Macca described ‘The Long and Winding Road’ as such: “It’s rather a sad song. I like writing sad songs, it’s a good bag to get into because you can actually acknowledge some deeper feelings of your own and put them in it. It’s a good vehicle, it saves having to go to a psychiatrist.”
While McCartney would maintain a good relationship with Tom Jones throughout the years, the same cannot be said for John Lennon. In fact, had it not been for Macca, the two would have ended up in a brawl.
On the set of a TV show that both The Beatles and Tom Jones would perform on the same bill, Tom Jones decided to stop by the set earlier in the day to catch the Fab Four’s rehearsal for the night ahead. The first of The Beatles to get on stage was Lennon. After seeing Jones sitting in the empty seats where droves of fans would later occupy, Lennon mockingly parodied a Jones song directly to the Welsh singer: “It’s not a unicorn, it’s an elephant.” Allegedly, this was quickly followed by another quick jab which was very typical of Lennon, “How are you doing, you Welsh p**f?”.
Tom Jones, very red in the face, became instantly furious, and allegedly replied with, “Come up here, you scouse p***k, and I’ll show you!” Jones’ manager, Gordon Mills, and McCartney were on deck to quickly diffuse the situation. Mills would then tell Jones that that was Lennon’s sense of humour and to pay him no mind. By the same token, Macca reassured Tom Jones that if Lennon had not liked Jones’ song, ‘It’s Not Unusual’- the song he was mocking – then Lennon would not have referenced it whatsoever.
Tom Jones would eventually cover ‘The Long and Winding Road’ in homage to Sir Paul McCartney. Listen below to Jones’ gorgeous version.