Jun 19

GARETH GATES AND WILL YOUNG – “The Long And Winding Road”

Popular32 comments • 3,594 views

#937, 5th October 2002

Let’s imagine a world – apparently this is a good idea – where the Beatles never existed, and where “The Long And Winding Road” exists only in this form, as a slow ballad duet between the winner and runner-up of a singing competition. I think it would make very little sense – this is a song about the long game of romantic destiny, about the workings of fate leading you to the place where, you realise, exhausted, that you were always heading. It has no business being a duet, unless – a-ha! – the dyad in question isn’t the singer and some welcoming other, but the two singers themselves. Maybe that’s the point: the closure the song is offering is an end to the Pop Idol story, two rivals-turned-partners riding into the sunset.

Inconveniently, the Beatles do exist. “The Long And Winding Road” feels pregnant with endings because of its place in their story, as one of a chain of songs and suites Paul McCartney wrote during that phase where his band was ending and, it seems to me, he wanted or needed to make that ending something tidier or more suitable. On a roof, or with a drum solo and a snatch of comic song, or in an prayer of filial piety or as a rueful buddy song, he arranged ending after ending for The Beatles, hunting for something that might fit the magnitude of what was happening.

“The Long And Winding Road”, weary and calm, was another one in the sequence – relief at finding a place of rest and a homely hearth after the mad years, reframed to be the point of them all along. The title reminds me of Tolkien’s “The Road Goes Ever On”; and the song’s sense of exhalation, of a long job done, reminds me of Sam Gamgee’s “Well, I’m back”, the final words of The Lord Of The Rings, as the door of an epic closes on a scene of domestic bliss.

Real life wasn’t quite so forgiving. The song turned into yet another wedge – Phil Spector’s mawkish arrangements for it were so bad the song was cited in court as a reason for the band’s demise. Of course it’s that version Gareth and Will’s attempt draws on. It’s treacly, crass and unnecessary, a cynical bit of deck-clearing before a new season begins. And there was always, as would become remorselessly clear, a new season beginning.



  1. 1
    Mark G on 25 Jun 2019 #

    Sometimes you are too generous, but never mind. Strangely, I find it difficult to recall this version, even if the description suggests a purchased karaoke cd (but an expensive one) with two singers in the same isolation booth.

    I’d have rather heard their version of “You know my name (Look up the number)”

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 25 Jun 2019 #

    The original only works for me as one of a series of bulletins – along with The Ballad of John and Yoko – on the breakdown of The Beatles (and what they embodied as avatars of ‘The Sixties’). The syrupy signifiers of emotion in these singers’ gulping stage school performances drain the song of any interest.

  3. 3
    Mark G on 25 Jun 2019 #

    That’s odd, I found a new comment you cannot otherwise see under the picture of the cd if you click on it.

  4. 4
    Andrew Farrell on 26 Jun 2019 #

    I think that adding an attachment can appear as it’s own (normally invisible) post.

    To address one of hardtogethits’ questions on his comment there, I think that Suspicious Minds was just Gareth Gates – it’s from the Soundtrack* to Lilo & Stitch, which is as surprising and good as this record isn’t.

    *Or is it? Wikipedia claims that there’s five songs performed by Elvis and three of his reworked by modern acts – Wynonna Judd, A-Teens, and Gareth – but there’s only 7 Elvis songs on the tracklisting, and Suspicious Minds appears to be the King.

  5. 5
    Matthew K on 26 Jun 2019 #

    Love that idea of Macca writing ending after ending for the Beatles. He really wanted to control the conversation by that point, whereas John was done and looking elsewhere.

  6. 6
    hardtogethits on 26 Jun 2019 #

    Stuart Maconie once used the phrase “soulless karaoke” to describe, IIRC, Westlife. It’s not a complicated phrase, but it’s atomic in its disdain for this kind of drivel.

    I’m perversely proud of the fact that I thought Suspicious Minds was the ‘A’-side, or the more played track, or was on TOTP, or whatever. I’m utterly disappointed to see (from the cover art) these two tried “I Get The Sweetest Feeling”. Why? Just why?

    Anyway, welcome back Tom, and thanks for everything so far!

    Footnote: Thanks Mark G – my comment, wasn’t it. Hence reposting here.

  7. 7
    Tom on 26 Jun 2019 #

    My apologies btw for my dereliction of duty in not being arsed to hear Gareth’s Suspicious Minds. No jury would convict.

  8. 8
    Cumbrian on 26 Jun 2019 #

    “Bob – who should go on first at Live Aid”
    “It’s gotta be Ver Quo right? Rockin’ All Over The World”

    And he was, probably, right.

    “Bob – what song should cap the Live 8 gigs”
    “Well, it’s gotta be The Long and Winding Road right? We’re walking up to Edinburgh, debt cancellation is a long and winding road…”
    “Not sure Bob. Macca – how about you finish with Hey Jude instead?”

    Even Paul McCartney isn’t turfing this song out on the regular and, though he probably wouldn’t say so himself, it’s likely because it’s not good. Certainly not the one of his songs you’d reach for out of his catalogue and that’s probably for good reason. Even with all of Spector’s glurge wiped off it on Let It Be Naked, it’s an almost perfect marriage of title and song – The Long and Winding Circle probably the most apt – and really quite dull, if mildly and prettily reminiscent of other, better, Beatles tracks.

    So it’s not just the production crew and Gareth and Will to blame here I reckon. That doesn’t make it worth listening to though. Dull and awful.

  9. 9
    Nixon on 26 Jun 2019 #

    Why is Will Young called plain old “Will Young” on the cover, while Gareth Gates has become a stylised bold/roman no-spaces “GarethGates”?

    (this is a boring question but it is more interesting than the actual record)

    (welcome back Tom)

  10. 10
    Todd i.t. S on 26 Jun 2019 #

    The Long and Boring Song. Ugh.

    Here’s a question though, is it worse than the original?

  11. 11
    weej on 26 Jun 2019 #

    An answer: Yes

  12. 12
    speedwell54 on 26 Jun 2019 #

    Todd- it’s much worse. Before I listened to it, I thought it would merely be pointless, but it’s actually pretty awful. There’s a bit where they sing over each other which sounds really out of place. The instrumentation is thin, and as much as Phil Spector hammed it up for The Beatles, they hammed it down.

    Nixon- I too noticed that typographical anomaly. I can’t believe it was intentional.
    From 1987 when cd singles started becoming more mainstream, until c2015 when it was a challenge to find any, only two number singles didn’t have the title written on the spine. This was the first. ( I am obviously excluding those few thin cardboard efforts which were almost spineless- Professional Widow, Love Won’t Wait, Beetlebum etc)

  13. 13
    Chelovek na lune on 26 Jun 2019 #

    What a load of rubbish. Soulless and overproduced, draining the life out of whatever the original song had.

    To be positive: At least the backing track is less bland than on Robson and Jerome’s atrocious cover versions.

    “Suspicious Minds” (which I also thought of as the A-side) has a sub-Billy Idol beat, the same CD-single-straight-to-the-charity-shop production of which Gary Barlow’s producers (“Open Road” era) were previously the masters of, and is marginally more listenable than the A-side, but how to put it: never mind Elvis, Gareth Gates is no Candi Staton.

  14. 14
    ThePensmith on 27 Jun 2019 #

    Quite timely opening words from you there Tom given there’s a film that comes out in cinemas this weekend as I write this that explores the whole concept of ‘a world without the Beatles’ in a huge extreme. Time will tell if the soundtrack produces any future Popular entries!

    To address the confusion re: the other two covers on this single. Gareth’s was indeed ‘Suspicious Minds’, from the soundtrack of the then newly released Disney film ‘Lilo & Stitch’. Will’s was his version of Jackie Wilson’s ‘I Get The Sweetest Feeling’, although it was only ‘Suspicious Minds’ that got TV promo and a music video (although Will did perform his version of ‘Sweetest Feeling’ on the final of the first series of American Idol that same month).

    As for the main track which we’re discussing – not as bad as I remember it being to be honest. It’s dull, yes, but not hatefully so. Their voices actually work quite well together. The release of this single coincided with Will and Gareth heading out on a joint UK arena tour together called, imaginatively, the ‘Will & Gareth Tour’, with fellow Pop Idol finalist Zoe Birkett as a support act. As I recall they did a satellite link from one of the shows on the tour for TOTP when it hit number one.

    I think the overall effect of this single and the tour was to nicely close the chapter on them being part of ‘and’, just as ‘Especially for You’ did for Kylie ‘and’ Jason twelve years previously and start giving them a chance to branch out in their own right. Both Fame Academy and the second series of Popstars had started airing when this hit the top, so they timed it pretty well to be honest to get in one last chart topper before attention were diverted onto more new hopefuls.

    We do of course meet them once more apiece on the 2003 bunnies, by which point they’d taken radically different routes success wise and career wise. For ‘The Long and Winding Road’, I’m gonna settle on a 4 for this I think.

    #2 watch: Oasis with ‘Little by Little’ in its first week, a debuting Avril Lavigne following at #3 with ‘Complicated’. A shame we don’t get to discuss her on Popular, not least because of the paradigm shift she ushered in where teen pop was concerned for a more rocky (at least relatively so) contigency. That said I cannot stand ‘Sk8r Boi’, back then or now.

    Holly Valance with her almost forgotten ‘Down Boy’ (produced by Nellee Hooper, no less) was #2 on its second week. Interestingly the video for that, ‘Kiss Kiss’ and ‘The Long and Winding Road’ all share a director in Tim Royes, who also did ‘Sweet Dreams My L.A Ex’ for Rachel Stevens and ‘Red Dress’ and ‘Easy’ for the third lineup of Sugababes. He was sadly killed in an RTA in 2007, but he did a lot of memorable pop videos of this time.

  15. 15
    Shiny Dave on 27 Jun 2019 #

    The most entertaining thing about this (besides the GarethGates typography on the sleeve that makes his name look like a pretentious fashion designer – nope, wrong British pop star) is that tracks 2/3 were solos from each act but the Gareth one literally made the AA-side spot on the sleeve and got actual promo, suggesting they still wanted to push him as their real favourite.

    (Was it already clear that Will was the one who’d actually have a lasting career? I’m guessing, at this point, that it wasn’t; they’d both had solo #1s plural by now…)

    I’d much, much rather be discussing Avril. Especially “Complicated,” which (as I mentioned in a Westlife entry!) is the song that I sung along with in a twangy Avril-mimicking voice on the school bus only to find that demand rose to the point of me being the de facto headline act for the school’s Children in Need variety show in November. (Where I met my first singing teacher, performing a Westlife cover, hence mentioning this story in that entry!)

    The one downside of Avril was what it did to Amy Studt, who could and should have been seen as the British Avril (with the twist that she was there first!), except Polydor panicked, convinced there wasn’t room for a British Avril, and thus pushed a career-tanking Sheryl Crow cover. She actually made a low-key career comeback as a more traditional singer-songwriter a few years back, but there was a long fallow period before that, during which the closest she came to my radar was when I noticed she was a singing teacher in Stoke Newington in 2010 while I was working in London. (Wrong end of London for where I was commuting from, alas!)

  16. 16
    Pocky&Rocky on 27 Jun 2019 #

    In the absence of anything to add re the single in question* here’s some choice words from The Quietus on another one of Sir Paul’s which will no doubt endure better than The Long and Winding Road: https://thequietus.com/articles/26699-the-beatles-yesterday-lovecraft-john-higgs

    * No really, after listening to the originals then listening to these covers my only noteworthy thought was wishing I had used that time to listen to Macca, Elvis and Jackie Wilson a second time.

  17. 17
    Lee Saunders on 27 Jun 2019 #

    The first Beatles number one since 1987 and the first Elvis number one since four months earlier (and that was BMG too) – You can’t get more early a 2000s artist logo than the GarethGates one, seemingly though it would have been to similar to Will’s if it was typed correctly.

    The original Long and Winding Road is easily my least favourite Beatles single, and growing up with 1 I always found it a bit of a depressing slog to close with. I’ve grown to like it a bit more over the years but I have nothing to say about this forgettable cover. It’s interesting to me that it was decided from the outset that slowies were the way to go for Will; fortunately in later times he’d strut his upbeat side and well.

    Down Boy would have been a great number one – since we met Holly here I found a lot to enjoy on her first album (generally accepted as her Funky Dory to State of Mind’s Come and Get It); Tuck Your Shirt In is great post-Get Ur Freak On pop that would have made a great single. Complicated would have made a fine number one too, and Little by Little was a favourite of mine as a kid (and like SCYHO it survived in the public memory better than the Hindu Times). That was a Noel-led double A-side with the rather sweet She Is Love which I doubt got much radio play but is still probably better known than one or two later Oasis singles I can think of.

    Oh the Will/Gareth single. 3.

  18. 18
    AMZ1981 on 27 Jun 2019 #

    Having not heard this for ages I decided to refresh my memory and found myself switching off the video with one minute to go. Which is strange because I don’t dislike the song as such and have nothing against either of the singers involved.

    In all honesty this is the sound of a) water being trodden (even Gareth was capable of better) and b) hay being made while the sun was still shining. There was no guarantee that either Will or Gareth would remain bankable. And the relatively strong sales and two weeks at the top suggest that the fans were happy and few of them even liked this on its own merits. I’ll never condemn any artist for giving their public what they want and if enough people were willing to buy this to send it to number one, so be it.

  19. 19
    James BC on 28 Jun 2019 #

    Browsing Discogs, it looks like GarethGates NEVER had a space between his two names until the release of “Pictures of the Other Side” in 2007.

  20. 20
    Paulito on 28 Jun 2019 #

    @5: I’d suggest that, rather than seeking to “control” the conversation, Paul was just trying to keep a conversation going – or, more specifically, to transcribe into song his feelings as his beloved band neared its unhappy end. Personally, I’m grateful that his sadness at their disintegration found expression in so beautiful an elegy as “You Never Give Me Your Money” (and in the other songs to which Tom alludes, even where the end result was flawed). My sense is that Paul, more so than any of his bandmates, was keenly attuned to what the Beatles meant not only to him but also to millions of ordinary people, and that this merited a few songs that would try to make sense of – and to find some perspective on – their extraordinary career and their painful demise.

  21. 21
    Cumbrian on 28 Jun 2019 #

    Isn’t there a pretty solid argument that the end of The Beatles, at least from a narrative viewpoint, would have benefited from more control from Paul?

    Let It Be probably should have come out before Abbey Road – and Paul might have been able to prevent the Spectorisation of elements of it. If Let It Be comes out before Abbey Road, The Beatles actually do sign off with its Side 2. The End becomes the end. Paul might even have been able to put the kibosh on Her Majesty slipping its way out.

    All of this stuff would have made much more narrative sense. Instead, it was a bit of a mess. Which is probably truer to life. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it ended the right way after all.

  22. 22
    Paulito on 28 Jun 2019 #

    @21 Agreed! With one small caveat: I think “Her Majesty” was very much Paul’s idea – his way of humorously puncturing what might otherwise have been perceived as an overly grandiose conclusion to the Beatles’ recording career. Bear in mind that Abbey Road was very much intended as the band’s last will and testament – I’m not even sure whether they (or Paul at least) expected that the “Let It Be” album would ever see the light of day.

  23. 23
    Andrew Farrell on 28 Jun 2019 #

    The second side of Abbey Road is pretty much the dictionary definition of “a bit of a mess”, though.

  24. 24
    Andrew Farrell on 28 Jun 2019 #

    (and Wikipedia sez: Her Majesty was originally in the medley, between Mean Mr Mustard and Polythene Pam – Paul McCartney didn’t like it there and wanted it just removed, but the engineers stuck it on the end because they’d been trained not to throw anything away (?))

  25. 25
    Cumbrian on 29 Jun 2019 #

    The “Her Majesty” story was definitely what I was thinking of – however apocryphal it might be – when thinking of something that Paul might have stopped had he had more control.

    I think we could get into a long and potentially heated debate about whether Side 2 of Abbey Road is a bit of a mess or not. I am not a big fan or defender of The Beatles (always preferred the “harder” rock and blues bands of this era – shameless rockist that I am) but I’d argue that not only is it not a mess musically (yes, it runs fragments of disparate songs together, sometimes at great and jarring speed – but nevertheless it works) but narratively, it’s a very satisfying conclusion to their career. Paulito has already identified You Never Give Me Your Money, which is – imo – a good marker of why this is ending, but the long medley does loads of stuff that I think of when I think of The Beatles (engagement with the “new” thing in synthesisers, their vocal harmonies on Because, their outward looking nature towards their contemporaries in their Albatross rip, surrealism and sardonic wit, beauty, a communal sing-a-long and hippy-dippy sloganeering). From a narrative viewpoint, it feels very far from a mess. I think it’s pretty damn near perfect in fact. My favourite single Beatles track is I Saw Her Standing There, which as Track 1, Side 1 of Album 1, is absolutely thrilling (the count off and dry, snappy riff in particular before we even get to the not yet cliched woos in the chorus). Having that at one end and the medley at the other of their career works for me.

    I guess the real heads know it is the actual end. Let It Be and its tracks are blotch on that though. And to return to this song, Long and Winding Road is so far below that medley, it can’t help but be a let down.

  26. 26
    AMZ1981 on 29 Jun 2019 #

    In answer to ShinyDave #15 I think it was still very much `advantage Gareth` at this point as his second single had performed better and, as you say, the double A for this was a Gareth solo recording and he was the one chosen for the Comic Relief single next Spring (hopefully I can get away with that as I’m bunnying the circumstances, not the song).

    The decisive moment comes with the comeback singles where Will effectively plays his ace but we’ll get to that in due course.

  27. 27
    ThePensmith on 29 Jun 2019 #

    #15 and #26 – I’d say Will probably had more of the advantage, though it didn’t seem like it at the time. Of their debut albums, his first ‘From Now On’ went to number one (with a rare co-write from Burt Bacharach on the Cathy Dennis penned track ‘What’s In Goodbye’). He also got the – unbunnied – Children in Need single that year which was a double-a-side of ‘You and I’ from his album and a brand new song by the same team that did ‘Anything Is Possible’, called ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. He also won Best British Breakthrough at the Brits the following February before disappearing for the rest of 2003.

    On the other hand, Gareth’s album, ‘What My Heart Wants To Say’ (released on 7th November, declared as ‘International Gareth Day’ by Smash Hits) debuted at #2 behind David Gray’s ‘A New Day At Midnight’ (the follow up to ‘White Ladder’), and the single of the same name peaked at #5 before Christmas chart week. It was also around this time the Jordan ‘Never trust a pop idol’ debacle I touched on at the ‘Anyone of Us’ entry kicked off in a big way – the full impact of which wasn’t felt until the following year, admittedly, but it was sowing the seeds of his demise. He won ‘Record of the Year’ on ITV that December for ‘Unchained Melody’, and was nominated in both the Best Single and Best Pop categories at the Brits 2003 along with Will but lost to Liberty X and Blue respectively.

    Even if on paper it seemed like Gareth had the advantage, Will was carefully building the blocks to remain the long runner.

    #17 – controversial opinion, but I’ve always felt that ‘Footprints’ was a better album than ‘State of Mind’. The latter had it’s shining moments of brilliance, but for me it lacked a little of the cohesion of her debut which kept that breathless, lusty Turkish vibe throughout. ‘Tuck Your Shirt In’ was actually supposed to be the fourth single in March the following year but was cancelled for unknown reasons, but I’ve since discovered was rerecorded with different lyrics by Eurovision victor Sertab Erener as ‘Breathe In Deeper’.

  28. 28
    Shiny Dave on 30 Jun 2019 #

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they figured that Gareth was the kind of fast-burn act you had to push hard while you could (and the Jordan affair might have further entrenched that idea?), while Will was the likelier to become a lower-profile success for longer, perhaps more likely to have #1 albums than #1 singles.

    Which kinda squares the circle of the two arguments above – Will was someone you built safely into a cash cow, Gareth was the instant bubblegum star you got cheap big hits with before moving on and replacing. And it was already clear that the replacement process was intact, though actually not yet that it would be an annual cycle; as mentioned, there was another ITV singing competition airing in October 2002, but it was Popstars: The Rivals, and – well, nine bunnies from now we’ll be discussing how much that differed from the other ITV singing competitions.

  29. 29
    Steve Williams on 4 Jul 2019 #

    I think it was pretty much accepted at the time that Gareth was Simon Cowell’s favourite and Cowell was still convinced that Gates would be the most successful in the long run, hence why despite coming second he got all the same promotion as Will, which rather negated the point of him winning it.

    Around this time they showed a telly version of the Pop Idol tour, and Gareth totally dominated it from start to finish, they certainly showed far more of his performances than Will’s. Hilariously transparent.

  30. 30
    Mark G on 5 Jul 2019 #

    It was the last time Simon ever expressed an unequivocal vote past the semifinal stage. You may detect him liking one more than the other, but it’s always with a side order of “I love you as well” – won’t burn his boats a second time!

  31. 31
    Todd I.T.S. on 7 Jul 2019 #

    25: According to the sources I can find, the story about “Her Majesty” being appended to the end of the album by accident is true, but McCartney heard a rough cut of the album and was like ha ha that’s great actually, leave it in

  32. 32
    Gareth Parker on 5 Jun 2021 #

    The song has never been a favourite of mine and I think Gareth and Will’s version is fairly pointless. 3/10 imho.

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