Although Linda Ronstadt won’t receive any kind of windfall for landing her breakthrough 1970 hit “Long Long Time” in the latest episode of HBO’s The Last of Us, the singer tells Billboard: “I still love the song and I’m very glad that Gary will get a windfall.” She’s referring to Gary White, the songwriter who first played it for Ronstadt in 1969.
After the episode aired Jan. 29, Spotify tweeted that streams jumped 4,900% between 11 p.m. and midnight; across all services, the track’s on-demand streaming increased from 8,000 the day before the episode to 149,000 the day after, according to Luminate. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer hasn’t seen the episode, but first heard about the synch deal when her manager, John Boylan, told her after a friend informed him about it. “I don’t follow social media or streaming services very closely,” Ronstadt says by email.
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In March 2021, Ronstadt sold her recorded-music assets, including royalty streams from her master recordings and ownership of some masters, to uber-manager Irving Azoff‘s Iconic Artist Group. “She’s not unhappy about it, believe me,” says Boylan, her manager of 20 years and a longtime producer who performed with Ronstadt throughout her career. “We sold her catalog. The last four or five years have been a complete tsunami of buyouts like this.”
The HBO-placement notoriety will help Ronstadt’s upcoming projects, Boylan says, including a planned biopic with James Keach, who produced the 2019 documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. Ronstadt has never owned the master for “Long Long Time,” Boylan adds, due to her Capitol Records contract. But it was her first Billboard hit, peaking at No. 25 and remaining on the charts for 12 weeks. (Neither White nor his publisher, Universal Music Publishing Group, responded to interview requests.)
Ronstadt, 76, who suffers from a brain disorder called progressive supranuclear palsy, which resembles Parkinson’s Disease, recalled the song’s history via answers to email questions. “I met Gary through guitarist David Bromberg, who took me to the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village to see Gary performing with [the late singer-songwriter] Paul Siebel. After the show, Gary played me ‘Long Long Time’ and I immediately wanted to record it,” she says. “It wasn’t a country song, wasn’t a folk song, or a rock song, but I thought it was a really good song.”
“Long Long Time,” which appeared three separate times in the The Last of Us episode, is the soundtrack for actors Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett’s first meeting, playing the song on a piano, kissing and starting a long-term relationship. It’s the latest in a string of streaming-TV catalog tracks to unexpectedly dominate pop culture, from Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” in last spring’s Stranger Things to the Cramps’ version of “Goo Goo Muck” in last fall’s Wednesday.
Boylan recalls playing “Long Long Time” on acoustic guitar with Ronstadt during a 1970 Washington, D.C., rally before thousands of people. “I was nervous,” he says. “She held that crowd with just that voice and her acoustic guitar.”
The Last of Us is not the first “Long Long Time” revival. Harry Belafonte, Mindy McCready and Jerry Jeff Walker have covered it, and it was in movies and a 1975 episode of The Rockford Files. “I liked Gary singing it live,” Ronstadt says, “but I don’t know any other versions.”
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