- Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the Anthology 2 Official album.
- Timeline More from year 1995
- Hog Hill Studio, Rye, UK
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“Free As A Bird” was February last year. It took us another year to get the steam up to go and do it again.Paul McCartney
In February 1995 the Beatles reunited again to record more tracks. Having had troubles working on Now And Then during the 22nd June 1994 session, the group started instead with Real Love, considering it more lyrically complete.
George, Paul and Ringo worked on Real Love in much the same way as they approached Free As A Bird – by using John’s original demo as a backing track and recording around it. For Jeff Lynne, there were unwelcome technical problems:
Paul: There was a buzz all the way through the cassette. We just shoved that all onto Jeff. Once he’d got the buzz off, it showed up all the clicks that were on it, so he had to get them off as well.
Lynne: The problem I had with Real Love was that not only was there a 60 cycles mains hum going on, there was also a terrible amount of hiss, because it had been recorded at a low level. I don’t know how many generations down this copy was, but it sounded like at least a couple. Then there were clicks all the way through it. There must have been about a hundred of them. We’d spend a day on it, then listen back and still find loads more things wrong. We would magnify them, grab them and wipe them out. It didn’t have any affect on John’s voice because we were just dealing with the air surrounding him in between phrases. That took about a week to clean up before it was even usable and transferable to a master. Putting fresh music to it was the easy part!
The Real Love demo needed to be almost totally re-arranged to make a coherent song. The piano introduction was not solidly played, but when the introductory figure was repeated after the first chorus, it was done much better, so the intro that finally appeared on the final product was actually the second appearance of the figure, copied and pasted onto the beginning of the song. Also, John never sang a proper ending for Real Love, so Marc Mann took every other phrase of John singing “real love” from the interior choruses and created a fadeout coda.
Timing was as problem. Lennon recorded without a click track, requiring a bit of time compression and expansion to lock down the tempos. Lynne thought it was important to have a “good, steady pulse to record to,” so time edits were done, but, recalls Mann, “subtly enough to not lose the original feel of John’s phrasing. We’re talking about within, maybe, plus or minus three or four percent.”
For certain sections, Lynne and Mann decided to use the phrases on which John sang, but not the instrumental passages between each vocal phrase. Phrases were edited in Studio Vision, transferred to Logic Audio for time compression and expansion and then the audio was pulled back to Studio Vision for sequencing. Other processing jobs included the removal of unwanted instruments.
Paul: I don’t quite like it as much as Free As A Bird because I think Free As A Bird is more powerful. But it’s catchier. There was one real nice moment when were doing Real Love and I was trying to learn the piano bit, and Ringo sat down on the drums, jamming along. It was like none of us had ever been away.
Real Love is a gentle acoustic ballad, slightly melancholy, for which John cut at least seven demos towards the end of 1979 on more professional equipment than he’d been using in 1977. An acoustic guitar take had already been issued on the 1988 Imagine soundtrack and a piano demo was subsequently issued on the John Lennon Anthology in 1998 (neither of these two archive releases contain the exact demo that Yoko delivered to the Beatles). On all the available demos, John’s voice is strong and clear, without a hint of the clipped, distant sound that was an obvious problem on Free As A Bird.
Ringo : Real Love is more of a poppy song. It was more difficult, actually, to turn it into a real Beatles track.
The Beatles sped up John’s demo recording, so that their new version is a semi-tone higher than the original, and decided to use as little state of the art equipment as possible to give a timeless Beatles feel to the track. The introduction to the song is played by Paul on a celeste (the very same instrument which John played on the Abbey Road track Because and which is now in Paul’s collection). Paul also plays harmonium and again uses the very instrument which John played on We Can Work It Out (also from in Paul’s collection).
Lynne: Paul used his double bass (originally owned by Elvis Presley bassist Bill Black) and we tracked it with a Fender Jazz. Paul went direct to the desk but also used his Mega Boogie amp and we took a mixture of the two signals. George used a couple of Strats, a modern Clapton style one and his psychedelic Strat that’s jacked up for the bottleneck stuff on Free As A Bird. They also played six string acoustics and Ringo played his Ludwig kit.
Almost all the piano heard on the completed Real Love is John’s original. Paul also doubled John’s solo vocals, almost subliminaly, in parts where the original was “thin”.
Paul: So we had these two tracks that had been a really great pleasure to work on, really cool working with the other guys, no crazy thing about the three of us have got to make a great new sound or something, because it was the four of us. It really was just The Beatles. The great thing was we were locked with the demo. You couldn’t really change it much so the style was set by John. It was a laugh, we had a great laugh.
Ringo: Recording the new songs didn’t feel contrived at all, it felt very natural and it was a lot of fun, but emotional too at times. But it’s the end of the line, really. There’s nothing more we can do as the Beatles.
Co-director for the Real Love video, Kevin Godley, notes that Anthology Film director Geoff Wonfor was invited to film the Real Love recording sessions for inclusion in the forthcoming Real Love promo video.
Kevin Godley: It was to be a discreet fly on the wall thing and they didn’t want to be lit or aware of the cameras. They just told Geoff to take along a tape machine and a Betacam and gather some footage. I suppose everybody realised what a momentous occasion it was and that it should be covered on video.
Because of the tight secrecy around the project, Godley was not given a complete version of the finished track during editing. So, as a former member of the group 10cc, he privately overdubbed his own voice in place of some absent vocal lines for reference purposes (this slow, rough mix of Real Love, complete with Godley’s vocals, may be the mix that later appeared on various bootlegs).
Godley: When we finally did get the finished track, it was slightly faster than what we’d been working to. They had obviously varispeeded it up and that gave us a few last minute problems.
The Real Love promo video did indeed feature alot of footage from this session (judging by the clothing changes, more than one session was filmed); apart from showing Paul, Ringo and George arriving together at the studio, it also showed McCartney not only filming Harrison as he layed down some of his harmony vocals, but also giving him an awkward hug towards the end. The special features disc in the Anthology DVD box set includes a few more snippets of footage.
The brief shot of Paul and George miming along to the Decca audition track Besame Mucho in the Anthology videos, also seems to have been filmed during these sessions (their clothing in this segment matches the Real Love video), suggesting that the group used the occasion to sift through some of the material being considered for the forthcoming Anthology CDs.
Jeff Lynne: Real Love is a great song again. A much simpler song than Free As A Bird, sort of a love song. And it’s a bouncier song, a beautiful tune as well, and they all do harmonies with John. And they all join in and have a great time.
Pau: It was good fun doing it. Unlike Free As A Bird, it had all the words and music and we were more like ‘sidemen’ to John, which was joyful, and I think we did a good job. I think George actually liked Real Love a little better. It’s just a matter of opinion, they are both good songs. I think it is slightly deceptive, Real Love, because it’s one of those the more you hear it, the more you go, ‘Ohh, ohh!’
Ringo: I think John will love it when he hears it.
George: I hope somebody does this to all my crap demos when I’m dead, make them into hit songs.
During this session, work on the second day continued briefly on the troublesome piano based Lennon demo of Now And Then/I Don’t Want To Lose You. Despite having attempted some earlier work during the abandoned 22nd June 1994 session, work on this day fared no better.
Jeff Lynne: It was one day, one afternoon really, messing with it. We did the backing track, a rough go that we didn’t really finish. It was bluesy sort of ballad, I suppose, in A minor. It was a very sweet song. I like it alot and I wish we could have finished it.
When the Beatles left the studio late on Tuesday, both Real Love and Now And Then/I Don’t Want To Lose You were still unfinished. Real Love would be completed in May, while the group would have one final bash at Now And Then again during the March 20th and 21st Sessions.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions • Mark Lewisohn
The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.
We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!