‘Long Long Long’: George Harrison’s love letter to God

The Beatles have written a handbook on how to create love songs for the pop market. From the minute that ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ started invading the airwaves, John Lennon and Paul McCartney began delivering a clinic on how to dissect love, from the innocent teenage romances of their early years to the more nuanced takes on it in their later period. Whereas Lennon and McCartney could write love songs at surface level, George Harrison was always more nuanced.

Starting with ‘Don’t Bother Me’, Harrison’s greatest Beatles songs were about breaking down the standard love song format, either through breakups on ‘I Need You’ or letting someone down easily on ‘If I Needed Someone’. As Harrison began to enter his classic period, ‘Long Long Long’ emerged as a different take on the traditional love formula.

Between working on new material, Harrison was also immersing himself in spiritualism around the same time, embracing the same beliefs he picked up from his various Indian influences. Although this tender ballad from the back half of The White Album could be interpreted as a traditional love song, Harrison made it clear in his autobiography I Me Mine that he was talking to his higher power.

Considering the liturgical quality behind the lyrics, Harrison sounds far more tender when delivering the tune, saying that he can see his higher power and is happy to finally feel inner peace. Then again, even Harrison knew not to force-feed his religious beliefs down the audience’s throat when writing the song.

When talking about the tune, Harrison recalled having to clean up some of the specific references to God in the lyrics, explaining, “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 ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula.’ If you say something that is not just trivia then their only way out is to say, ‘You’re lecturing us or you’re preaching’”.

Given the intense subject matter, the rest of the band treats the song with a certain degree of reverence, with Ringo Starr keeping his drumming fairly quiet to let Harrison’s vocal performance shine through much more. The only major sonic moment in the song comes towards the end, when a wine bottle sitting on top of the organ starts to rattle the speakers. Not wanting to rerun the whole song, the ending gives an almost spooky demeanour to the track, ending the song almost on a metaphorical question mark.

As the years went on, this type of love song would become a recurring motif for Harrison, incorporating his spirituality into many songs from his solo career, like ‘My Sweet Lord’ and ‘Give Me Love Give Me Peace On Earth’. Even in some of the straight love songs of his solo career, Harrison would incorporate subtle references to religion, including the chant of “Dharma” in his ‘80s smash, ‘This Is Love’.

The Beatles’ entire career has been built on the belief that love was all one needed, but Harrison knew that the answer was to love God before anyone else.

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