In an issue of Esquire Magazine, back in the 1980s, I read a piece by Ron Rosenbaum called “Melancholy Baby,” which opened by talking about the saddest songs ever: great heartbreak songs. (At left is, I believe, the photo which opened the article.)
Eventually, as it turned out, the article was a wonderful, more general report of an interview over dinner with Linda Ronstadt. (Be still, my then 30-something-years-old heart… another reason why I never forgot that article.) But it began with a discussion of this song in specific, as maybe the saddest-of-the-sad.
Ronstadt herself remembered the recording session:
I can remember the day I recorded “Long, Long Time”… It was 10:30 in the morning, but I was really into this kind of achy feeling, because the music — it’s in these chords. I think my phrasing was horrible, I think I kind of butchered it, but it is definitely in those chords. And it happened to the musicians, who are jaded session players. As soon as the fiddle player and Weldon Myrick, who’s the steel guitar, began to play those chords, they got real into that and became personally involved.
(It wasn’t in that article, as I thought I remembered, but I think I once read another detail of the session: that Ronstadt had a cold, or a respiratory infection — something like that, maybe with a fever — and just felt 100% incapable physically of recording anything.)
Here’s what Rosenbaum himself said of the song:
Do you remember “Long, Long Time”? If you haven’t heard it, you’re lucky. Because from the opening weeping steel-guitar hook, the song is paralyzingly sad. By the time she reaches the final refrain… it has managed to reopen every aching wound of romantic loss you’ve ever experienced, and some you haven’t yet. A legendary classic killer sad song.
There’s almost a kind of superstitious cult around the lethal tear-jerking power of this song. Like the one that grew up in previous generations around “Gloomy Sunday.” People would talk about that song in hushed and superstitious tones and refer to rumors that because it was the cause of so many suicides, it had been banned from the airwaves; it was just too lethally sad. I knew several women who swore they’d worn the grooves thin in “Long, Long Time” jags, playing it over and over again addictively to exorcise their hearts of sorrow.
I don’t have much to add to his comments. I will say, though, that if I ever wrote a book of Great Moments in Ronstadt History, “Long, Long Time” would have a chapter all its own.