This tale of a government agent and a femme fatale contains one of the classic indecipherable lyrics in rock history. The part after "she was a long cool woman in a black dress" is "just a 5' 9" beautiful tall."
The Distant Light album was out for a year before this song was released as a single. Before the single was released, lead singer Allan Clarke left the group, replaced by Swedish singer Michael Rickfors (another founding member, Graham Nash, left in 1968). After "Long Cool Woman" became a hit in the US, Clarke rethought his solo career and came back. The group released one album with Rickfors, Romany in 1972, before Clarke took back his position.
On the charts, this was a rare miss in the UK, where the Hollies were from and where they had their greatest success. It was surprising, however, how well it did in the US.
This is the only Hollies single without any backing vocals. The reason why Clarke is the only singer on this record is that he didn't intended the song to be released on a Hollies album, but as a record of his own. When the band learned that he intended to do a solo recording, Clarke was issued an ultimatum - he could either remain with The Hollies or pursue a solo career, but not both. Clarke told Rolling Stone in 1973: "I think with me the band feared that if I got a hit I'd leave. How can you stop destiny? Now, if they originally agreed, I might not even have left. 'Long Cool Woman' would have been released a year earlier, and we'd have done a few tours of the States and maybe would have been really big."
Clarke, Cook and Greenaway wrote the song in England about the bootlegging days during the American prohibition era. Cook recalled to The Tennessean
that the trio returned to their office after having "had a skinful" and decided it would be fun to write a song about "Prohibition and all the bad people surrounding it." So they came up with a story about "the FBI raiding and this (woman) singing at the bar. (The narrator) doesn't want her to get in trouble. So he kind of saves her."
Note to readers outside the UK: A "skinful" is a British term, essentially meaning an amount of alcohol that is enough to make a person drunk.
The song has featured in a number of movies, including the 2000 Walt Disney film Remember The Titans, the 2005 sports prison comedy The Longest Yard and the 2009 supernatural drama The Lovely Bones.
This was used in a 2021 Super Bowl commercial for the sandwich chain Jimmy John's. In the spot, Brad Garrett plays a mob-like kingpin trying to protect his empire of low-quality meats against the insurgent Jimmy John's.