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November - December 1995

Interview for Beatlefan

Recording with the Fab Three! Producer Jeff Lynne Talks About Sessions for 'Free As a Bird'

Press interview • Interview of Jeff Lynne

Last updated on August 15, 2023


  • Published: November - December 1995
  • Published by: Beatlefan
  • Interview by: Rip Rense


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AlbumThis interview was made to promote the "Anthology 1" Official album.

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Jeff Lynne, who produced “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love” for “The Beatles Anthology”, talked with Rip Rense during an October visit to Los Angeles…

Can you tell me how you came to be involved with these tracks?

Well, it really started way back when I worked with George Harrison on his album “Cloud Nine” in 1987. And we’ve been good friends ever since. We’ve done lots of work together, like the Wilburys. And one day George said to me, “You fancy doing it, then? The Beatles one.” And I said, [laughs], “Ahhh, yes, please.” Obviously, there were a lot of things to think about, mainly the fact that the songs were just on a cassette, not really high-tech, and they needed a lot of noise reduction and things. So it was difficult doing that. Also, the other thing I thought about was, like, “Should you be doing this kind of thing?” And they were going to do it anyway, so I thought I should do it, because the idea of it was such a thrill.

And better you than…

Only because I’m sort of the biggest fan ever, I think. I think so, but probably someone else will contest that. 

George Martin opted out of it partially due to hearing problems, correct?

Pardon? Sorry, just kidding. I don’t think George was going to do it anyway because he was busy doing the “Anthology” for the past three years or whatever, which is also a fabulous thing because it has these brilliant outtakes and other versions of songs you haven’t heard before. Well, you may have, but most people haven’t.

Can you comment on what went through your mind when you were in the studio? Tell me about the moments when you stopped and said “My God, look what I’m doing.”

Well, that happened sort of every day for weeks. As soon as I found out I was going to be working with them, I was like whoopee! I was really thrilled. I couldn’t actually believe it. It was something beyond a dream, because they’d already packed it in 25 years ago, you know? So to have this chance to work with them, it was fantastic. And every day when we were recording, I’d get up every morning with a mixture of elation and dread at the same time. I was totally thrilled to be doing it but I was also very scared of doing it.


Because they are Beatles, and I’ve always held them in such esteem. There was like The Beatles at the very top, and all other music somewhere underneath.

What did they have to work with from the beginning? How many tracks were there?

There were three tracks altogether. The one we didn’t do – we tried it; it’s either called “Now and Then” or “Miss You” – we had a go at it but there were a lot of words that hadn’t been completed on it. “Real Love” was actually a complete, finished song, so we decided then we’d go for that one because of the time frame, you know. “Free As a Bird” was the first one we did.

What was the process of selection like? Did they first sit and listen to all three and then discuss? Did they kind of noodle around while the tapes were playing?

Really, what sort of happened was we lived with the tapes for a bit, listening to them, not doing anything with them, while we were preparing to do it. Basically, the tapes were very noisy and required a lot of work to clean them up, to make them suitable to go into a track, to add a track around them. That’s what we did. We got them all fixed up and cleaned up a lot better than they were. They’re pretty good, considering the state of them. It’s absolutely amazing. And then added the backing, you know, starting wih acoustic guitars and drums. Paul played his bass and George on lead guitar. It was like… like The Beatles [laughs]. It was great!

Was there a day when, oh, Paul said “We should do ‘Free As a Bird’ – what do you guys think? Or did they just fall into that?

That was the first one we did and that was the only one we were thinking of at the time. That’s about 18 months ago. 

What I’m trying to figure out was if there was a discussion about which song to start with…

Well, actually, that was the only one we’d got to start with. We went in and worked on that one – it took a couple of weeks to do. It was very hard, because it’s like working backwards. Usually you start with your backing track and put your voice on it. This way you start with your voice and then put a backing track on. It’s a very much different process than normal record-making.

Paul wrote additional words…

And George. They wrote them together. I sat there between them. It was quite a fascinating experience [laughs].

Can you describe it?

Yeah, there were two bridges that needed words for and Paul and George one day decided they needed to do it. They just went back and forth and it was like witnessing something amazing. I think they’d only written one song together before and that was a long time ago.

When they were kids.

Yeah. That took a couple of hours but it was a really good piece of work. And then they went in and sang them.

They worked well together.

Tremendously well. And when they struck upon the harmony, it sounded just like The Beatles. It was amazing, even on just the run-through with the guitar, and they rehearsed the backing vocals. It sounded just like The Beatles doing it, which it was. 

Make your hair stand up? 


Does George sing any lines all by himself?

Yes, he does. He sings the second bridge on his own.

Is there a guitar solo in it?

There’s a brilliant guitar solo, yeah. Absolutely brilliant.


Yeah. And lots of nice electric guitars. Arpeggio things.

Like a Harrison construct of multi-level guitars with a slide over the top?

Not really multi-level, just nicely worked out. Just the right piece for the song. A well-thought-out piece of playing.

He’s best at it, he said, when he has time to think out a solo beforehand, correct?

I suppose. It didn’t take him very long to get the solo on this. And I’ve worked with him for a long time, very closely. He did like a bit of time to work it out, but normally, his first ideas are good anyway and he modifies those.

What was Ringo doing throughout all this? Was it like old days where he was essentially sitting back waiting for the guys to get rolling?

Certain amount of that, while parts are worked out. But then he’s at the drums, and it’s The Beatles again. 

Newsweek said the song begins with a couple of hits on the snare. Is that right?

[Laughing] Yeah, that’s what they said. 

Can you describe the song in any more detail?

It’s very difficult. I think I’d be leading you up the garden path. I think as much as you can describe something, you can’t really know what it is until you hear it. 

Who is the song credited to?

Umm…good question, I don’t really know. 

Sounds like it would be at least Lennon McCartney-Harrison, if not all four of them? 

I believe that would be the case, but I don’t really know so I don’t want to give an opinion. [See this issue’s “Anthology” report.]

Sessions took place at The Mill, Paul’s studio?


Who was the engineer?

Geoff Emerick, assisted by John Jacobs.

You were brought in by George. Was Paul entirely comfortable with that?

At first, it was like a little bit strange because I didn’t know Paul that well. I’d met him a few times over the years, but I’d never really hung out with him. Yeah, it probably took a day to break the ice.

Since then, we’ve become great friends. It’s been really nice because, like I said, I didn’t know him very well and now we’re sort of quite close, really.

I’ve long hoped you might produce some of his music. Is that possible?

I suppose anything is a possibility. 

He hasn’t indicated any such thing?

Ummm…we’ve sort of discussed it a bit but nothing serious. Nothing definite.

Can you tell me about the “Real Love” sessions? Where did they take place?

Same place.

Which song came more easily?

“Free As a Bird”, really, I suppose it was like the first one and everybody was real excited about doing it. It came together quicker. “Real Love” is a much simpler song. And also, it came out great. So I wouldn’t say that one was better than the other, although “Free As a Bird” is probably a deeper and more meaningful song. although they’ve both got their points. Sorry, what was the question?

Well, “Real Love” – can you describe that for me? Does it have a Harrison guitar solo? Were additional lyrics written for it?

No. All the lyrics were completed on that. one. It has solos. It has really nice fills from George. And Paul is actually playing the stand-up bass, the one that Bill Black used to have, a nice old ’50s double-bass. There’s a guitar solo in the middle of it.


No, it’s not slide. It kind of soars up into the air. It’s like a build-up. It’s a really good one, sort of in harmony and it . . . ascends.

Did they work from a different version of “Real Love” than the released version?


They didn’t work on any other songs than the three you mentioned? Didn’t work on “Grow Old with Me”, as a lot of press reports said?

No. It was only the three.

How many sessions were there for the third song?

It was one day one – afternoon, really – messing with it, because a lot of the words weren’t on there. We did the backing track, a sort of backing track, a rough go of one that we didn’t really finish. We got an arrangement kind of going but we didn’t finish it and went straight on to “Real Love” because of the time factor.

Is there a possibility you will all get together to finish that song?

There was never anything said about that.

Can you tell me anything more about the third track? Was Lennon playing guitar? Plano? Do you know the origin of the song?

Not really. I’m afraid I don’t know the origin of any of them. That one was piano. It was like sort of a minor key song; it was in A minor. It was a very sweet song. I liked it a lot and I wish we could have finished it but we didn’t get the chance to. It was a sort of bluesy kind of ballad, I suppose.

And again, they put it aside because it wasn’t falling into place so easily?

No, the playing on it was fine. It was just that the words weren’t finished, and quite a lot of them weren’t finished. It was a decision to do something that was already complete, so we could actually get it down on tape.

Would you like them to get back together and finish it?

Oh, of course, I would.

What was the initial goal in these sessions? Just do one or two, let’s see where it goes and maybe we’ll do a whole album?

I mean, at first, it was tempting to think we could do a whole record but there were never any plans to. When we did the third one – actually, the second one, which became the third one (unfinished) – there was a little bit of talk about maybe doing some more tracks, even. But time just didn’t permit it, really.

Everyone just got sidetracked with other obligations and projects?

Yeah. And it just never came to be. But you know, the two we got finished are really good, so I’m pleased with that.

What is your judgment of the prospects of everybody getting together again to do more, similar projects?

I don’t have any, really.

What were your greatest challenges as a producer, technically and artistically?

Well, technically there were amazing problems to deal with. I don’t want to go too far into it, technically, because it will spoil it. I’d rather talk about it afterwards. But it was very difficult. Really, just a lot of patience and hard work making it work, you know.

Was there a trick that you improvised to cope with a particular problem?

There’s always lots of tricks, just sort of things that you learn as you go along. Technically, I’ve had some experience of doing tracks to a voice. After Roy Orbison [died], Barbara wanted me to make a record of a performance he’d already done and do all the backing on it and finish it. And it was a big hit in England. I don’t know if it did anything here. It was called “It Drove All Night”. So I had a lot of experience in making that kind of thing work, when the singer is not there to sing it again. I suppose that was a big learning experience and it really helped me along for doing this one.

Lennon’s piano track was kept or removed?

Oh, no. It had to stay because it was in mono voice and piano. I sort of had to try and match John’s piano sound with Paul’s piano sound, which is what happened. It had to be done. basically thorugh EQ. Just bits and pieces like that, lots and lots sort – of like a jigsaw puzzle, really, the way we got it to work. It was unlike anything else I’ve been involved with because not many people get to work with The Beatles, anyway.

You’re one of three producers.

That’s right. I’m totally thrilled with that. It’s brilliant.

How long did the sessions last?

Each song probably took a couple of weeks to make, maybe two and a half.

Did George talk to you about how he came to buy the Idea of joining the project?

I think, you know, they all wanted to do it, really. I don’t know that George is any different. They were doing this enormous “Anthology” and I think they wanted to kind of finish on an up-note as opposed to the other ending, which was “Let It Be.” And to do some nice music together, and have fun again. Put all the past behind them. And that’s how it worked out. We had some great laughs doing the music. 

Did they break into reminiscing during the sessions? 

Yes, they did. That’s why it was so brilliant for me. They were going over all the old Beatles years and stuff and I’m just sitting there. I always wanted to hear it. And it was just brilliant because I wouldn’t even want to record it, all that chatting amongst themselves. And you know they’re all really funny guys from Liverpool, and they’ve got such a great sense of humor.

What was it like the first time everyone heard all the voices together?

As far as I remember, they were actually quite amazed at it when they realized it was working. There was a certain point – we’d just been working, working, working and then suddenly it was in a position to be listened to. Roughly. And I think they were really struck that it did work as well as it did. Maybe amazed is too strong a word. Like more pleased, I would think. Like wow, it works. Amazement is too strong a word. They were really happy that it worked, as I was. Because I was there in the moment when it was actually going to be decided if it worked or not.

Is George working on an album? Are you working on it with him?

Ummm. I think George is going to start a solo album and I’d like to be doing it with him, if I can. He’s asked me to help him with it.

Would you comment on the “Anthology”? Have you heard “Volume One”?

I’ve heard various tracks of the “Anthology”. I was fortunate enough to go with Paul to Abbey Road one day and George Martin had the multitracks up and running, because he was doing remixes with Geoff Emerick of some of the four tracks and the eight tracks. So I have heard some in-depth things like individual tracks and been amazed at what’s on there things like hi-hat, bass drums, backing vocal, solo, all on one track, you know [laughs]. All interspersed all the way along, which is brilliant management of tape and very thrilling to hear the actual thing you’ve heard all those years and there it really is, on its own.

What tracks did you hear that really took your breath away?

The most interesting from my point of view was the fact that – you know, they used to use one-inch, four-track tape, which meant that each head was a quarter-inch wide, which is fantastic quality. They used to bounce down the four tracks onto one track of another four-track machine. You know all that, right? Well, for some reason, they kept every take of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”. So they’ve still got 12 separated tracks of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, which they can strap together digitally and have a whole new version of 12 original tracks, where some of them probably got lost in the bounce-downs. So that was fascinating. that you could actually recreate a mix of 12 different tracks that wasn’t able to be done before.

So you can remix the original tracks with digital technology…

No, it’s nothing to do with digital, really. The only thing about digital is that you can get a timecode on it, and run them in sync, because they’re wild sort of tapes, you know? This way, the tracks are all separated again. You can hear everything separately.

Anything particularly surprising to you?

Well, there are some where they’re having a great time, you know, like a version where it will kind of break into madness, you know, at a certain point. So there are lots of fun things as well as lots of serious ones.

And I think all of it is an insight into what was going on, really, as opposed to the big, fabulously finished off Beatle records. There’s some that’s a bit more ragged. And you go, wow, I didn’t know they ever sounded like that.

Paul McCartney writing

Talk more talk, chat more chat

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