After decades of supposedly “true” accounts of the Beatles outstanding rise to fame, heavy touring years, experimental studio time, and eventual break up, the remainder of the Fab Five realigned in the 1990’s, ready to expose the Beatles for what they truly were. The Beatles Anthology would quickly become the bible regarding the world’s most successful rock n’ roll band. This Grammy Award winning 3-part mini-series divulged factual accounts by the Beatles themselves, while also encompassing a detailed book, and collection of CD’s or LP’s. The records brought listeners on an extraordinarily one-of-a-kind journey. From the earliest of raw Liverpool-era recordings, to the boys’ final collaborative work, the Anthology left no song undocumented. Possibly the most shocking and unexpected addition to the vast catalogue of celebrated tunes, were two entirely fresh songs featuring all four Beatles, even the late John Lennon.
Both songs, “Real Love” and “Free as a Bird” were two of three cassette demo tapes Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, bestowed upon the boys during the time they were construing the Anthology. It has been said that each tune was composed and recorded by Lennon between 1977 and 1980, proving to be some of his final work. Though obviously an exciting opportunity, Paul, George, and Ringo recognized the incredible weight of the task at hand. Not only would this become the first and only of highly demanded Beatle reunions, but with the physical absence of John, the pressure for a respectable, loving, and honoring tribute was at an immense high.
To begin, the boys had to collectively agree upon a producer for this incredibly challenging feat. With the choice of literally any producer across the globe, the obvious option would have been their right hand man for seven of the Beatles most musically prosperous years, Sir George Martin. Though frequently deemed the fifth Beatle for his influence and guidance throughout a majority of the Beatles’ most celebrated albums, it has been said that Martin was not asked to contribute towards “Real Love” and “Free as a Bird.” Instead, George Harrison suggested longtime friend and fellow Traveling Wilbury, Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra.
Acutely aware of the flattering opportunity, as well as the weight of the world on his shoulders, Lynne described his initial reaction to the grand proposal as, “elation and dread at the same time.” Beyond the immense responsibility Lynne had in terms of expectation, John’s recordings of “Real Love” and “Free as a Bird” were recorded through an at home cassette tape recorder. John also recorded his voice alongside him playing the piano, effectively gluing the instrument to his vocals, making Lynne’s job of perfecting John’s low quality recording sound nearly impossible. Additionally, the tapes were edging 15-years-of-age, marking them as far from pristine condition and inundated with a heavily scratchy tone.
When the first day of recording eventually arrived, Lynne experienced what fans and musicians alike could now only ever dream of, listening to the remainder of the fab five exchange memories reflective of their cherished Beatle days. Lynne said, “They spent a long time talking about the old days, just reminiscing. I was thrilled to bits. It was what I always dreamed of.” As the time came to record, Paul, George, and Ringo maned their respective instruments, head phones on, with dear friend John Lennon singing along in their ears. Paul McCartney himself said that, “even though John was no longer on this planet, here he was, in the studio with us. It was very special. All of us just thought ‘wow’. It was a big moment.”
In a time period sans pro tools, or much computer manipulation possible at all, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne did the seemingly impossible. Successfully reunite the Beatles through the means of a dated, damaged, and incomplete cassette tape. Lynne says that “once the song was finished, Paul came in and gave me a big hug. He said ‘well done! You’ve don’t it!’ I was chuffed about that.” Regardless of opinions of on lookers or critics, the remaining Beatles released two songs they felt aligned with their previous work and went home proud of theirs and John’s creation.
You may wonder what happened to the third of John’s cassette tapes that was gifted to the trio by Yoko Ono. Paul says, with a mischievous grin, that “there was the other one that we did start working on but George went off it… Ha-ha! That one’s still lingering around somewhere. I’m going to nick in with Jeff and finish it one of these days.” Time will tell for that one, until then, let’s just enjoy the Anthology.