The Threetles Recording Sessions
Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of Paul, George and Ringo returning to be working together as the Beatles. On January 19, 1994, a meeting took place between Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, on the occasion of Lennon’s posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After McCartney presented the award, which Ono accepted, they later met to discuss the possibility of working on some unfinished Lennon solo songs for inclusion in the early-’90s ‘Anthology’ series.
Ono passed along a total of four songs, and the first one the remaining Beatles and producer Jeff Lynne tackled was ‘Free As a Bird,’ a 1977 demo recorded in Lennon’s Dakota Building but never completed. The song became the lead single from the ‘Anthology’ project some 17 years after those humble beginnings.
Here’s a look at these Threetles recording sessions, taken from reunionsessions.tripod.com
Friday 11 February 1994 (and periodically until the end of the month)
The Mill Studio, Sussex England: time unknown.
Recording: ‘Free As A Bird’ (takes unknown); ‘Real Love’ (takes unknown); ‘Grow Old With Me’ (takes unknown); ‘Now And Then’ (takes unknown).
P: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne. E: Geoff Emerick.
When Paul, George and Ringo finally began their joint recording project in February 1994, they told insiders they were working on a “surprise”. The nature of that surprise leaked out at the start of March, when Beatlefan Magazine broke the story, which was quoted and spread to the world by the New York Times that the trio were “adding new vocal and instrumental lines” to an unissued composing tape made by John Lennon in the late 1970s.
Paul: It was actually when the business problems got solved. The first thing we started talking about after the dust had settled was maybe we could do something together, maybe we don’t have to live our lives completely separately from here on in. Just for the joy of getting together and doing something, Neil Aspinall at Apple said it could be an Anthology, the whole thing, CDs tracing the whole Beatles history.
George: Different ideas had been talked about, that we could do the background music or even write a new song or something.
Paul: I went off the idea of the three of us together.
Ringo: We took the easy route, which was to do some incidental music, because what else can we do? There were four Beatles and there are only three of us left. We were going to do some incidental music and just get there and play the instruments and see what happened.
Paul: But we never did get around to that. It just never felt like a good idea.
Ringo: Then we thought, well, why don’t we do some new music? And then we always hit the wall, and OK, Paul had a song, or George had a song, or I had a song, well that’s the three of us, why don’t the three of us go in and do this. And we kept hitting that wall because this is the Beatles, it’s not Paul George, and Ringo.
Paul: As the thought of the three of us actually sitting down in a studio started to get nearer and nearer, I got cold feet about it. I thought, does the world need a three-quarter Beatle record? But what if John was on, the three of us and John, like a real new record? If only we could pull off the impossible, that would be more fun. A bigger challenge.
Ringo: So Paul asked Yoko if there was anything of John’s that never came out. Maybe we could work with it.
Paul: She was a little suprised to get a phone call from me because we’d often been a bit adversarial because of the business stuff. She said she had these three tracks, including “Free As A Bird”.
Yoko Ono has revealed that it was actually George Harrison and Neil Aspinall who initially approached her with the idea to add new instrumentation and vocals to existing John Lennon demos.
Paul: I went over to the place, the Dakota, sat up late just jawing and drinking tea and having fun and stuff. And she said, I should play you the tapes. And she played us three songs: Grow Old With Me, Free As A Bird, and Real Love. So it was good. Really emotional. I’d never heard them before but she explained that they’re quite well known to Lennon fans as bootlegs. I said to Yoko, ‘Don’t impose too many conditions on us, it’s really difficult to do this, spiritually. We don’t know, we may hate each other after two hours in the studio and just walk out. So don’t put any conditions, it’s tough enough. If it doesn’t work out, you can veto it.’ When I told George and Ringo I’d agreed to that they were going, ‘What? What if we love it?’ It didn’t come to that, luckily.
George: This became the perfect vehicle because we always had a thing between the four of us that if any one of us wasn’t in it, we weren’t going to get kind of Roger Waters and go out as the Beatles, so therefore the only other person who could be in it was John.
Paul: It seemed like we needed John and the more we thought of that the more exciting it became.
The three songs initially suggested by Yoko had already been heard before in public. “Grow Old With Me” was included on John and Yoko’s Milk And Honey LP; “Real Love” (Yoko’s favourite, perhaps because John’s voice is clearer) was included on the Imagine documentary soundtrack; while “Free As A Bird” was broadcast on the US radio series The Lost Lennon Tapes.
In January 1994, when Paul came over to New York to induct John into the Rock Hall Of Fame, Yoko apparently gave Paul tapes of at least four John Lennon compositions (the exchange definitely involved more than three songs). Neil Aspinall claims he believes the transaction consisted of “two cassettes” of John’s songs, “It might have been five or six tracks.” It’s possibly at this stage that the fourth Lennon demo, entitled “Now And Then”, which had not been heard publically before, was handed over by Yoko.
Yoko: It was all settled before then, I just used that occasion to hand over the tapes personally to Paul. I did not break up the Beatles, but I was there at the time, you know? Now I’m in a position where I could bring them back together and I would not want to hinder that. It was kind of a situation given to me by fate.
Paul: So I took the tapes back, got copies made for the guys and they liked it.
Ringo: And that’s how it came about. It was just a natural thing which gradually evolved. It actually took about three years for all this to happen.
Paul: I played these songs to the other guys, warning Ringo to have his hanky ready. I fell in love with “Free As A Bird”. I thought I would have loved to work with John on that. I liked the melody, it’s got strong chords and it really appealed to me. Ringo was very up for it, George was very up for it, I was very up for it. I actually originally heard it as a big, orchestral, forties Gershwin thing, but it didn’t turn out like that. Often your first vibe isn’t always the one. You go through a few ideas and someone goes ‘bloody hell’ and it gets knocked out fairly quickly. In the end, we decided to do it very simply.
The Free As A Bird late 1977 demo took off from a basic doo-wop chord sequence, taking in some of the stately changes of “Grow Old With Me” as it progressed. Agonisingly slow, it was written at the piano around a maudlin set of chord changes that virtually guaranteed an air of sadness. The lyrics, certainly incomplete, explored different ways of conveying the metaphor of the title, quite clearly it was the concept rather than any particular lyrical phrase which had been the initial inspiration. Lennon filled the second half of his demo with wordless vocal lines and repetitions of the title phrase, picked up by the tiny mike of a portable tape player placed on top of his piano.
John recorded at least two, possibly three, piano backed demos of “Free As A Bird” (and in 1998 there were reports than an acoustic guitar demo of the song had also been discovered). This was a tune of great promise that seems to have been written at the piano one day, preserved on tape and forgotten by John. But despite its incomplete lyrics, it had an air of majesty that deserved further attention. What stayed in the mind was the mood, an air of phoenix-like hope drifting uncertainly out of a fog of depression – and that haunting melody.
Paul: It’s crazy really, because when you think about a new Beatles record, it is impossible, because John is not around. I invented a little scenario; he’s gone away on holiday and he’s just rung us up and he says “Just finish this track for us, will you? I’m sending the cassette – I trust you.” That was the key thing, “I trust you, just do your stuff on it.” I told this to the other guys and Ringo was particularly pleased, and he said “Ahh, that’s great!” It was very nice and it was very irreverent towards John. The scenario allowed us to be not too, ahh, the great sacred fallen hero. He would never have gone for that. John would have been the first one to debunk that – “A f**king hero? A fallen hero? F**k off we’re making a record.”
Ringo: At the beginning it was very hard, knowing that we were going in there to do this track with him. It was pretty emotional. He wasn’t there. I loved John. We had to imagine he’d just gone for a cup of tea, that he’s gone on holiday but he’s still here. That’s the only way I could get through it.
Paul: Once we agreed to take that attitude it gave us a lot of freedom, because it meant that we didn’t have any sacred view of John as a martyr, it was John the Beatle, John the crazy guy we remember. So we could laugh and say, ‘Wouldn’t you just know it? It’s completely out of time! He’s always bloody out of time, that Lennon!’ He would have made those jokes if it had been my cassette.
George: Because it was only a demo he was just plodding along and in some places he’d quicken up and in some places he’d slow down.
Production duties for the sessions were shared not by George Martin, but by George Harrison’s fellow Traveling Wilbury, Jeff Lynne.
Paul: George (Martin) wasn’t involved, no. I was originally keen to have George do it. I thought it might be a bit insulting not to ask him to do this. But George doesn’t want to produce much anymore because his hearing’s not as good as it used to be. He’s a very sensible guy and he says, ‘Look Paul, I like to do a proper job,’ and if he doesn’t feel he’s up to it he won’t do it. It’s very noble of him, actually, most people would take the money and run. Plus George Harrison was keen to make sure we had someone really current with ears. He knew Jeff Lynne. I was worried there might be a bit of a wedge but in fact it wasn’t like that, it was great. Jeff worked out really well. As I said to him, a lot of people are very wary of your sound. I said, you’ve got a sound. He said, Oh have I? He’s got a way of working but it’s very similar to some of the ways we worked in the Beatles.
Ringo: We started off with a cassette that Yoko gave us, but the cassette wasn’t in the greatest condition.
Paul: We took a cassette of John’s, it was him and piano, interlocked. You couldn’t pull the fader down and get rid of the piano.
Lynne contacted Marc Mann, an LA studio musician, to assist him in cleaning up the tapes. Mann recalls that the cassettes used were very old and very noisy (others involved, however, claim that Yoko handed over copies of the original cassettes, not the originals themselves).
Lynne: It was very difficult and one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had to do because of the nature of the source material. It was very primitive sounding, to say the least. “Free As A Bird” however, wasn’t as quarter as noisy as “Real Love”, and only a bit of EQ was needed to cure most problems. I spent about a week at my own studio cleaning up both tracks on my computer. So it took a lot of work to get it all in time so that the others could play to it.
|Jeff Lynne and the trio
Using DINR (Digidesign), Logic Audio (Emagic) and Studio Vision (Opcode) running on a Macintosh computer loaded with ProTools (Digidesign), Marc Mann edited and otherwise massaged the tapes. The pre-production work done by Lynne and Mann was pretty heavy duty, and a dummy of the anticipated final recording was done to see if the concept would actually work before Paul, George or Ringo played a note.
The cassette was dumped to a hard drive and all the processing necessary to clean up the audio was done first (among other things, there was apparently massive tape hiss). The dummy temp tracks (played by Lynne, Mann and other studio musicians) were sequenced with the original in Studio Vision to see what the final product might sound like.
Paul: Before the session we were talking about it, and I was trying to help set it up, because we never even knew if we could be in a room together, never mind make music together after all these years. So I was talking to Ringo about how we’d do it, and he said it may even be ‘joyous’. We’d not met for a long time, and the press didn’t bother us because nobody guessed we’d be down there.
Another reason for the secrecy may also have been safety. One of the effects of John’s death was that the three remaining Beatles became highly concerned about security matters. Any advance announcement that the group were getting together, even ‘behind closed doors’, would have brought out not only hoards of fans and press photographers, but it would also have been an invitation to any nutter who personally considered George, Paul and Ringo targets.
Lennon’s son Sean, 20, had warned McCartney, “It’s going to be a bit spooky hearing a dead guy on lead vocal. But give it a try.”
Paul: We know we can’t do anything better than the Beatles, but for old time’s sake, we thought it would be nice to give it a whirl.
George, Paul and Ringo eventually began work at The Mill, McCartney’s Sussex studio, in February 1994, thirty years to the day since they’d played their first US concert at the Washington Coliseum (probably mere coincidence, although the date may have been specially chosen; it is known that an original set of sessions booked to begin on 11th January had to be cancelled when Ringo went on a skiing holiday!).
Set in a converted windmill on a hill, the studio overlooks, beyond some gently rolling farmland, the English Channel. Around the coastal sweep is a nuclear power station, but the location is otherwise idyllic. It’s also quite remote, which helped preserve the virtual secrecy that surrounded this reunion. In a corner outside the control room, with an aging map of Liverpool on the wall, was popped one of Paul’s treasures, the upright double bass that belonged to Bill Black of Elvis Presley’s original combo. McCartney, in passing, would sometimes pluck it for luck.
Paul: We agreed to do it at my studio because this is really the only studio that was up and running. I’d been working here regularly so it was all cleaned and ready to go and in full working order. Also, because my studio is slightly off the beaten track – off the Beatle track! – it meant that we’d have privacy. And the press were doing a lot of talk at the time – “It’ll be in Abbey Road” – and we figured they’d be watching places like that. So this became the perfect place to do it and we were very lucky both the times we did it: we didn’t have anybody notice that the guys were here, and I accommodated them all locally so the word didn’t get out too much.
George, Paul and Ringo were adamant that analogue equipment and die hard techniques should be used wherever possible. The Beatles experimented on several of the songs Yoko had given them (whether such experiments were actually recorded is unknown) before deciding to focus their attentions on “Free As A Bird”.
Paul: We just started listening to the cassette, which, as you know, was just a mono cassette with John’s voice and his piano locked in. Anyone who knows anything about recording knows that, for a mix, you try to isolate the voice and the piano on separate tracks to give yourself a bit of control. But we had a fixed tape. First of all, George and I tried to put some acoustics on, and play along with it as it stood, because we wanted to be as faithful as possible to the original. But because he was doing a demo John went out of time a bit. Unless you’re working to a click track you don’t concentrate on tempo when you’re doing demos. And because he was trying to find the song on the demo the middle-eights weren’t filled out, lyrically. His vocal quality was nice and he’d put a funny phasing effect on, which there was no getting rid of, but it was a nice effect actually, very Sixties, very evocative. I think it’s one of the things that gives the record a nostalgic feel. But eventually, because George and I had to keep looking at each other and giving signs through our eyes, like “he slows down here, he speeds up here”, it became difficult. It became quite annoying to try and keep up with the speed changes. So it was decided that we had to take another approach. We had to isolate John’s voice as best we could and then lay it back in on the tape to a click track that would not be heard on the record but would be strict tempo.
Jeff Lynne and the engineers did that.
The final pre-produced tracks were then sent back to McCartney’s England studio on DAT, Lennon’s voice and piano in the left channel, a click track in the right channel (Ringo used the click to add live drums).
Ringo: Jeff Lynne did a great job putting it into time and cleaning it up. Only then could we begin overdubbing.
Paul: Once that had been done we were able to play with it because John was now perfectly in time and there were just little gaps where he’d sped up or gone out a bit. After that we did acoustic guitars and I learned John’s piano part. I’d been studying it a little bit the week before we did the session, and Jeff Lynne had studied it very hard and showed me one or two interesting little variations that John had put in there, that I hadn’t picked up. Then I played it – John and I had very similar piano styles because we learned together – which meant that we now had a voice and a piano separate and could get control over them. Then I put the bass on, which I kept very, very simple: I didn’t want to do any of my trademark swoops or get it too melodic, I just wanted to anchor the piece. I did one or two little tricks but they’re very subtle, like I used my five-string bass, which has got a very low string on it, and saved the low string till the tune does a big key change in the solo, and it really lifts off there. So instead of doing the same bass note I went right down to my second lowest note on the instrument. Then Ringo did some great drumming on it, and Jeff Lynne – being very, very precise – made sure that every single snare was exactly correct and he and the engineer Geoff Emerick got a really great sound.
McCartney says there was some tension between him and Harrison when it came time to write a few new lines for the song but it passed quickly.
Paul: When we were working on “Free As A Bird” there were one or two little bits of tension, but it was actually cool for the record. for instance I had a couple of ideas that he didn’t like and he was right. I’m the first one to accept that, so that was OK.
Lennon had left one half-finished verse behind: “Whatever happened to/the life that we once knew?” George and Paul finished it off and took turns singing the first new verse in decades: “Can we really live without each other?/Where did we lose the touch?/It seemed to mean so much/It always made me feel so…”
Paul: John hadn’t filled in the middle eight section of the demo so we wrote a new section for that, which, in fact, was one of the reasons for choosing the song; it allowed us some input, he was obviously just blocking out lyrics that he didn’t have yet. When he gets to the middle he goes, ‘Whatever happened to / The life that we one knew / Woowah wunnnnn yeurrggh!’ and you can see that he’s trying to push lyrics out but they’re not coming. He keeps going as if to say ‘Well, I’ll get to them later’. That was really like working on a record with John, as Lennon/McCartney/Harrison, because we all chipped in a bit on this one. George and I were vying for best lyric. That was more satisfying than just taking a John song, which was what we did for the second, “Real Love”. It worked out great but it wasn’t as much fun.
George: If you hear the original version you know that John plays very different chords changes in it as well. Historically, what we’d say would be, ‘Well, hang on, I’m not too sure about that chord there, why don’t we try this chord here?’ So we took the liberty of doing that, of beefing the song up a bit with some different chord changes and different arrangements.
Paul: It was the nearest I was ever going to get to writing with John again.
Soon, Lennon’s high, wavering voice was in their headphones. ‘Free as a bird / It’s the next best thing to be / Free as a bird / Home, home and dry / Like a homing bird I’ll fly’
Paul: It was very good fun for me to have John in the headphones when I was working, it was like the old days and it was a privilege.
Ringo: We were all hanging out together in the studio, but we didn’t do it like we used to. Back then, the four of us would just kick in and get the backing track. We couldn’t do that.
By now, John’s original mono cassette had been expanded into analogue 48 track form. Ringo started the song off with two beats on snare. George broke in with a bluesy slide guitar riff and continued with a slide solo. The demo was further augmented with George’s and Paul’s acoustic guitars, Paul’s bass guitar and new vocals from George, Paul and Ringo. Paul also doubled the piano part to the point where there wasn’t much left of John’s original playing. Jeff Lynne added harmonizer chorus to that piano to blend it in.
Marc Mann: You can hear a little bit of mid-range color coming in when John sings . . . that’s the piano.
Paul: We just got on with it, and treated it like any old tune the Beatles used to do, fixed the timing and then added some bits. George played some great guitar, we did some beautiful harmonies. What I liked was I played very, very normal bass, really out of the way, because I didn’t want to ‘feature’. There are one or two moments where I break a little bit loose, but mostly I try to anchor the track. There’s one lovely moment where it modulates to C, so I was able to use the low C of the five-string. That’s it, the only time I use the low one, which I like, rather than just bassing out and being low, low low. I play normal bass, and there’s this low C and the song takes off. It actually takes off anyway because a lot of harmonies come in and stuff, but it’s a real cool moment that I’m proud of.
George: We did the total new record, then we just took his voice and we dropped it in every line where we needed it until we built up the lead vocal part.
Lynne: Although a long time has passed since they last recorded as one unit, they worked terribly well together. Being in the control room watching and listening to them interact with each other was fascinating. Paul and George would strike up the backing vocals and all of a sudden it’s the Beatles again. They were having fun with each other and reminding each other of the old times. I’d be waiting to record but I was too busy laughing and smiling at everything they were talking about. It was a lovely, magical time. But it was very scary because it had never been done before and there were no points of reference. What do you do on a Beatles record when the singer’s not there?
Paul: It came to the backing harmonies and George said to me ‘ Jeff is such a big Beatles fan, he’d love to get on this record, he’d just die! Even if he goes ‘hey!’ he can then say he was on it’. And I was a little bit reluctant. I’m a bit sort of precious, a bit private about who’s in the Beatles and we didn’t do too badly on that philosophy. Even when Billy Preston came in I was in two minds. The others were so definite that I went with their thinking, as I always did, because I knew they had right-on opinions. Well Ringo says ‘You know why ELO broke up? They ran out of Beatles riffs.’ One off Jeff’s great prides is that he met John once – obviously a huge fan of John’s – and John said ‘I really like all that ELO stuff man.’ That was the highspot of Jeff’s life! He was vindicated. John said it was alright! So we got Jeff on “Free As A Bird”.
At the time, Ringo was reported as saying that the reunion sessions, which had been planned to last a week, had gone “much better than expected” and had been extended right until the end of the month (where work may also have briefly commenced on “Now And Then” and “Grow Old With Me”).
Paul: I am quite proud of it. I think it worked great, it’s actually a Beatles record. It’s spooky to hear John singing lead, but it’s beautiful. People said beforehand we shouldn’t do it, but that kind of focused us up a bit. I thought, f**k you! We’ll f**king show you! It’s fatal if they come out in the papers and say we shouldn’t do it, because I want to do it even more. It was a joyful experience, it was magic, it was a really good laugh to be making music together again. Me and George ended up doing harmonies and Ringo’s sitting in the control room. He says, ‘Sounds just like the Beatles!’ It finally did, really, sound like a Beatle record, and we were becoming more and more convinced that we were doing the right thing.
Ringo: Oh I was shocked, it just blew me away. I don’t know why I didn’t think it is us anyway, but, I just had a moment there of being far enough away from it to look at it like a real thing. And it’s just like them, it was a mind blower. It sounds like the bloody Beatles, it sounds like a Beatles track. It could have been recorded in 1967. So much has gone down since those days, twenty odd years ago, but when I played the track, I thought, ‘Sounds just like them!’ Of course it does, because we’re on it. Doing this project has brought us together. Once we get the bullshit behind us, we all end up doing what we do best, which is making music!
Paul: It was better when there were three of us than when Ringo said “Oh I’ve done my bit” and left me and George to do it. Me and George , as artists, we had a little bit more tensions. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It was only like a normal Beatles session; you’ve got to reach a compromise.
There are banks of Harrison/McCartney harmonies which support the wordless Lennon vocals, and a majestic Harrison solo that leads the track from a Starr drumbreak to the end of the song.
Paul: We pulled it off, that’s the thing, and I don’t care what anyone says. We could work together. We did a bit of technical stuff on tape, to make it work, and Jeff Lynne was very good. We had Geoff Emerick, our old Beatle engineer; he’s solid, really great. He know how Ringo’s snare drum should sound.
The end of the track features Lennon muttering the old George Formby catchphrase “Turned out nice again” to tie in with some ukulele playing Harrison had taped for the outro.
Paul: There is real magic going on. On the end of ‘Free As A Bird’, just for a joke – in case people were thinking, “God, they really mean it, this is so serious, this isn’t like all their other records, this is serious homage” – we re-entered with the drums, then George did his George Formby stuff on the ukulele and then, to even take it one stage further, we put in something backwards. We got the guys at the film production office to find a clip of John talking – we gave them a certain phrase to look for, which I’m not giving away – and then we put it in backwards, just as little joke, a bit of fun that ties in with the ending. Anyway, the incredible thing is, the other day Eddie [Klein, Paul’s studio manager] was working on the tape and he said, “Paul, listen to this” and he played it to me and, I swear to God, the backwards stuff says, “Made by John Lennon”. None of us had heard it when we compiled it, but when I spoke to the others and said “You’ll never guess…” they said, “We know, we’ve just heard it too”. They’d heard it, independently. And I swear to God, he definitely says it! We could not in a million years have known “what that phrase would be backwards. It’s impossible. So there is real magic going on. Hare Krishna!
Geoff Emerick: We hadn’t seen each other or been together in 25 years, and suddenly we were all working like before. The old magic was there instantly.
Paul: And there was a kind of crazy moment, thinking, oh yeah, ’cause, not having done it for so long, you become an ‘ ex-Beatle ‘. But of course getting back in the band and working on this Anthology, you’re in the band again. There’s no two ways about it. And it was good, it was good being them again for a little while. We work well together, that’s the truth of it, we just work well together. And that’s a very special thing. When you find someone you can talk to, it’s a special thing. But if you find someone you can play music with, it’s really something, y’know.
George: It was interesting to actually get back together. For Ringo, Paul, and I, we’ve had the opportunity to let all the past turbulent times go down the river and under the bridge and to get together again in a new light. I think that has been a good thing, it’s like going full circle, and I feel sorry that John wasn’t able to do that, because I know he would have really enjoyed that opportunity to be with us again.
Most of the track was completed by the end of February with the addition of George’s closing guitar part.
Paul: I was worried because it was going to be George on slide. When Jeff suggested slide guitar I thought (dubiously), it’s “My Sweet Lord” again, it’s George’s trademark. John might have vetoed that. George started to work on his guitar parts, and he did a secondary guitar part, between a lead and a rhythm, sort of arpeggio rhythm you’d have to call it. He came up with some nice little phrases there which are very subtle on the record: I tend to hear them about the third time through. And then finally he came up with his slide guitar. I told Jeff Lynne that I was slightly worried about this because I thought it might get to sound a little bit like “My Sweet Lord” or one of George’s signature things. I felt that the song shouldn’t be pulled in any way, it should stay very Beatles, it shouldn’t get to sound like me solo or George solo, or Ringo for that matter. It should sound like a Beatles song. So the suggestion was made that George might play a very simple bluesy lick rather than get too melodic. And he did: what he played was almost like a Muddy Waters riff. And that really sealed the project. I thought – I still think – that George played an absolute blinder, because it’s difficult to play something very simple, you’re so exposed. But it was fantastic and Jeff Lynne and Geoff Emerick got a great sound on him. In fact he got a much more bluesy attitude, very cool, very minimal, and I think he plays a blinder. “Free As A Bird” is really emotional. I’ve played it to a few people who’ve cried, because it’s a good piece of music and because John’s dead. The combination of that can be emotional. But I love that. I don’t have a problem with something that grabs you by the balls so you’ve gotta cry. I rather respect that. We did the end bit, put little extra vocal things on that, and then the ukuleles, which was a tip of the hat to George Formby, whom George is particularly enamoured of. And I like George Formby a lot too, he’s a great British tradition – and John’s mum, Julia, used to play the ukulele so I suppose there was a point of contact there too. And then we got the phrase of John’s to turn backwards, laid it into the mix and thought, “That’s it, it really sounds like a Beatles record.” And so that was it.
George: “Free As A Bird” does sound like the Beatles, only a more modern version. But we went through a lot of changes musically in the 1960s so it’s hard to actually put your finger on what was the Beatles sound. When you say it sounds like the Beatles, people may expect it to sound like 65 or 68. It’s very similar in some respects to Abbey Road because it has the voicing, the backing voices like Because. But the whole technical thing that has taken place between 1969 and 1995 is such that, you know, it sounds a lot more like now.
Paul: No, we didn’t go “We’ll go for Beatles circa 1967.” It was Beatles now.
Julian Lennon: I heard the song for the first time when I was last in New York visiting Sean and Yoko. It’s a great song. I love it. Although I must say I find it hard to hear dad’s vocals.
Paul: When George Martin heard it he was very pleased with it, so that was nice.
George Martin: They stretched it and compressed it and put it around until it got to a regular waltz control click and then they were done. The result was that in order to conceal the bad bits they had to plaster it fairly heavily so that what you ended up with was quite a thick homogeneous sound that hardly stops.
The Beatles rounded off with a trip to the local pub and a visit to Paul’s neighbour, Spike Milligan.
Paul: When we’d done it, I thought, we’ve done the impossible. Because John’s been dead and you can’t bring dead people back. But somehow we did – he was in the studio.
George: We always said the Beatles was us four and if ever one of us wasn’t in it then it’s not the Beatles, and the idea of having John as the singer on the record, it works, it is the Beatles . There was talk about us doing stuff on our own but I have no desire really to do a threesome.
When the Anthology DVDs were released in 2003, some video footage from these inital “Free As A Bird” sessions was included on a bonus disc (it’s easily differentiated from the later “Real Love” footage as George has no beard at this point). The group can be heard rehearsing the song and discussing the chord structure.
Paul: The only recording session I’ve ever written about was “Free As A Bird”. It was an exciting week and shortly afterwards I went on holiday to America. On the plane I wrote down what had gone on at the session. Just to remember the facts really, before they were forgotten.
Thursday 22 June 1994
The Mill Studio, Sussex England: time unknown.
Recording: ‘Now And Then/I Don’t Want To Lose You’ (takes unknown). P: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne (?). E: Geoff Emerick. (?)
The August 1994 issue of Beatles Monthly Magazine revealed that the three Beatles recorded at Paul’s Mill Studio in East Sussex on 22nd June. This was apparently their first get together in the studio since February, the delay being put down to George’s business negoatiations for the sale of Handmade Films.
During this session, the group apparently continued work on the “Now And Then” demo.
Speaking in December 1995, Jeff Lynne claimed the song (which has a chorus but is lacking in verses) was technically still without formal title, but should it ever be completed, it would probably end up as either “Now And Then” or “Miss You”. The composition had not been included in The Lost Lennon Tapes radio series, despite claims that it had access to the complete Lennon archive.
Yoko Ono has confirmed it was her who chose the recording, selecting unreleased Lennon songs “very carefully”. She chose “Now And Then” (later copyrighted as “I Don’t Want To Lose You”) for almost therapeutic reasons:
Yoko Ono: Because these songs were to come from the Beatles. The Beatles will be singing to the world again. The implication of that was tremendous. I thought, this was a song which would release people from their sorrow of losing John. By listening to the song, they will eventually be able to release their sorrow and arrive at an understanding that, actually, John is not lost to them. Paul, George and Ringo lost a great friend as well. If they sung this song from their hearts it would have helped many people around the world who felt the same.
Jeff Lynne had again been assisted in cleaning up the original “Now And Then/I Don’t Want To Lose You” tape by musician Marc Mann. Mann recalls that the demo they worked with had been recorded on a four-track (John’s voice was doubled) and he’d used a tambourine. Lynne didn’t want the tambourine, so they frequency notched around it so the filter would not affect John’s vocals substantially.
Soon after this work was done, a demo of “Now And Then”, complete with an annoying electrical buzz throughout, circulated on bootleg CDs. This bootleg demo had no tambourine, suggesting it was either a different recording to the one the Beatles had worked on, or perhaps this was a copy of the altered tape with the tambourine removed (unless Mann is confusing this song with “Grow Old With Me”, which has a tinny click track that sounds quite like a tambourine?).
Unfortunately, the “Now And Then” recordings the Beatles attempted on this day did not go well and the session was aborted early.
Jeff Lynne: We had a go at it but there were a lot of words that hadn’t been completed on it. 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.
George apparently suggested the group continue the next day, this time at his Friar Park Studios in his Henley-on-Thames mansion.
Rumours that an Abbey Road studio had been block booked on 11th/12th/13th July 1994 for further recordings (possibly with an orchestra) appear to have been unfounded (especially since neither “Free As A Bird” nor “Real Love” featured an orchestra when finally released). Another rumour spread that the three men were about to record there on 17th July.
Mark Lewisohn’s liner notes on the Anthology albums make no mention of any new recordings being made at Abbey Road, stating both of the new tracks were recorded at Paul’s studio.
It is possible that any Abbey Road sessions the group attended around this time were playback or mixing sessions for the forthcoming Live At The BBC release.
23rd June 1994
Friar Park Studios, Henley On Thames England: time unknown.
Recording: ‘Thinking Of Linking’, ‘Raunchy’, ‘Ain’t She Sweet’, ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’, ‘Love Me Do’, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘I Will’, ‘Dehra Dune’, ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’ (take numbers unknown) plus other unknown numbers.
P: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr.
George, Paul and Ringo convened (accompanied by their respective wives) at George’s studio at his Friar Park mansion, apparently to perform a symbolic version of “Let It Be” to be filmed for the conclusion of the Anthology TV series.
John’s absence was apparently so overwhelming that, after a long private discussion between the three out in the garden (unconfirmed rumours suggest George was particularly unhappy with the plan and that the ‘discussion’ lasted three hours), the idea was abandoned and the Fab Three turned their hands instead to re-working rock and roll classics much favoured from their Quarry Men and pre-Beatlemania days. Ringo confirmed that the trio played an acoustic jam; “It was just two acoustic guitars and me on brushes”.
Jeff Lynne: It was just like a time-warp kind of thing. We played some old rock-and-roll stuff, a couple of Chuck Berry’s, even “I Saw Her Standing There”.
The jam was filmed for possible inclusion in the upcoming Anthology videos but, initially, only a minute long segment of the threesome performing “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” was screened publicly (on the television program ‘Good Morning America’ December 6th 1996).
The original video release of the series featured Ringo drumming along (or so it appears) to “Love Me Do”, an extremely brief run through of the White Album track “I Will” and a longer performance of the unreleased Harrison song “Dera Dhune” (both performed out in the garden rather than the studio).
Speaking in late 1996, Bob Smeaton, Anthology TV series director, was quite enthusiastic about the Friar Park recordings:
Smeaton: The more we include of the three guys together, the more we realise that John isn’t there. In years to come people might get the chance to see that footage of the three of them playing together at George’s place. Knowing the way Apple works, it’ll come out eventually, in some shape or form. There’s a whole load of that stuff, we were there for a full day and the Beatles started playing songs like “Thinking Of Linking” and “Ain’t She Sweet”. A little bit of this film was used when George sang “Dehra Dune”. They did a whole load of rock’n’roll songs. And we shot a load of stuff at Abbey Road, with the three guys and George Martin, which was fantastic. For the Beatles fan, it’s priceless, I’m sure that somewhere down the line, that stuff will come out.
The special features disc later included on the 2003 Anthology DVD set included much more footage from this day, including the performances of “Raunchy”, “Thinking Of Linking”, “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”, “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, “I Will”, “Dehra Dune” and “Ain’t She Sweet”. The songs performed out in the garden feature Paul and George on ukeleles.
Unconfirmed press reports at the time claimed that George, Paul and Ringo had now completed around ten hours of recordings, prompting rumours that the trio were working on an entire album. What exactly was recorded (apart from the above specified tracks) is still a mystery, although it’s unlikely those ten hours of tape all comprise new Beatles songs. The August 1994 Beatles Monthly reported that in recent weeks the Beatles ‘came up with some fresh musical ideas for the soundtrack of their Anthology series’ and speculated the bulk of the recordings may also be comprised of ‘warm-up demos’. It’s also possible that producer Jeff Lynne often left a tape running during the ‘reunion’ sessions to record the occasions for posterity.
May 22 1995 to 1996
Abbey Road Studio Two/Penthouse Mixing Suite. Mixing/Editing (precise mixing details unknown) : (all tracks that appear on The Beatles Anthology Vol 1-3 releases, bonus tracks on “Free As A Bird” single releases and “Real Love” single releases).
P: George Martin. E: Geoff Emerick.
According to an excellent and lengthy article in L.R.E King‘s book Fixing A Hole, the first time anyone at EMI officially went looking through the archives for unreleased Beatles material was in 1976, when the Beatles contract with them legally expired.
At irregular intervals between then and 1985, EMI executives and staff, including Geoff Emerick, worked on mixing and compiling a single album of previously unreleased material eventually called “Sessions”. Although the album made it as far as the test pressing stage (and was subsequently bootlegged), the whole project was finally abandoned (mainly due to the objections of George, Paul and Ringo, who were apparently never consulted about the album) and the EMI tapes were left to gather dust for another decade.
Eventually, in 1995, immediately after the completion of the Live At The BBC album, the remaining Beatles and George Martin began compiling and mixing unreleased Beatles material for the forthcoming Anthology series of archive CDs.
Geoff Emerick: We’ve just accidentally wiped every take of “Obla-Di-Obla-Da”! There could be a knighthood in this for us!
George Martin: I am trying to tell the story of the Beatles lives in music, from the moment they met to the moment they split up in 1970. I have listened to everything we ever recorded together. Every take of every song, every track of every take, virtually everything that was ever committed to tape and labelled ‘Beatles’. I’ve heard about 600 separate items in all. I didn’t start any serious listening until early this year, when I got Paul, George and Ringo to come in occasionally and listen with me (the Beatles began attending these sessions on 31st March 1995).
The material guarded at Abbey Road Studios was largely in excellent condition. In fact in 1988, Abbey Road engineer Allan Rouse was given the mammoth task of copying all of the Beatles’ analogue recordings onto digital as a safety precaution. As a result, Rouse holds the unique distinction of being the only person to have heard literally every surviving Beatles tape stored at Abbey Road (historian Mark Lewisohn comes close, but even he didn’t have the time to listen to everything when he spent several months compiling his stunning Complete Beatles Recording Sessions guide). Allan Rouse quickly joined the Anthology project, serving as co-ordinator and George Martin’s assistant.
George Martin: They really know how to look after their tapes. Those that they have kept, that is, because they destroyed an awful lot of the early ones. In fact, there are few tapes left from the early 1962-63 sessions. A lot of the material that has come to light from that period has been in the from of laquers and acetate discs. Occasionally, some quarter inch tapes have emerged, but no masters as such. We only managed to get hold of two tracks from the very first session the boys did in June 1962, and I happened to have one of them. My wife found it and it transpired that no one else had it. That was “Love Me Do”, the other being “Besame Mucho”, both with Pete Best on drums. There are other things which I thought had gone forever, such as an early version of “Please Please Me” which we recorded in September 1962. It doesn’t have the harmonica on it but it’s very interesting, with a totally different drum sound.
Archived Beatle tapes are never allowed outside the Abbey Road building. As a result, all the listening and subsequent mixing sessions were held at the studio’s penthouse suite. The normally beneficial modern technology that is plentiful at Abbey Road posed a dilemma for George Martin.
George Martin: If I was going to remix a recording made in the 1960s on four or even eight tracks, there would be no point in processing it in a modern manner. What I really wanted was an old valve desk, although I knew that it would be causing more trouble that it was worth, because if we found something suitable it would inevitably be unreliable. To our great fortune we discovered this early 1970s console and there is no question that it does affect the sound.
Geoff Emerick: We discovered that Jeff Jarrett, who used to be an engineer at Abbey Road an actually did some work with the Beatles, had bought one of these old consoles when it was sold off in 1987. It was one of EMI’s first transistorised TG Series desks, and although this particular one had been taken out of the studio, and adapted for use by Mobile Recording Unit, it was basically the same desk that I’d used for the Abbey Road album.
US$788,000 worth of modern equipment was replaced with this 1970s mixing board for a string of mixing sessions which began in earnest at Abbey Road on 22nd May 1995 (precise mixing details and dates are unknown, although the old mixing console was installed in the Penthouse Studio for around sixteen weeks in total that stretched into 1996).
George Martin: In the spirit of the exercise I couldn’t justify using modern effects processors like digital reverb, or even echo plates, which didn’t exist in the 60s. The only way we could achieve echo was by using either a chamber or tape delay. Unfortunately, neither of the two echo chambers that we used at Abbey Road was available. One has an enormous electrical plant in it, emitting terrible humming noises. Eventually they were able to dig out and refurbish the second chamber to make it work for us the way it used to, even to the extent of putting back a lot of the old metalwork sewage pipes, which were originally glazed and actually contributed to the chamber’s acoustic qualities.
As each item was eventually given approval by the Beatles, it was passed onto Geoff Emerick and his assistant, Paul Hicks (son of Hollies guitarist Tony Hicks) for remixing.
Geoff Emerick: I have fought very shy of being pushed into using alot of the modern devices. So many of today’s digital processors are based on the sounds that we used to achieve manually, but quite honestly I don’t think they sound as good. We can still get those sounds by old methods quite easily, and much quicker too. In fact, thinking about it we haven’t really progressed that far, if anything it’s probably the opposite. The old 4-track masters are on one inch tape, so every track is almost a quarter of an inch wide. As a result, apart from the lack of noise, the quality of the bass is outstanding, you just can’t create that now. The same applies to the snare and and bass sound, they sound so natural it’s uncanny.
Monday 6 & Tuesday 7 February 1995
The Mill Studio, Sussex England: Time unknown.
Recording: ‘Now And Then/I Don’t Want To Lose You’ (takes unknown); ‘Real Love’ (takes unknown).
P: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne. E: Geoff Emerick, Jon Jacobs.
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.
Paul: “Free As A Bird” was February last year. It took us another year to get the steam up to go and do it again.
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 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 a lot 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.
Paul: 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 a lot 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.
Tuesday 20 & Wednesday 21 March 1995
The Mill Studio, Sussex England: time unknown.
Recording: ‘Now And Then/I Don’t Want To Lose You’ (takes unknown).
P: Jeff Lynne. E: Geoff Emerick
Additional recording by George, Paul and Ringo is reported to have taken place at Paul’s home studio on 20th and 21st March this year.
Further work was started, the quickly shelved on “Now And Then/I Don’t Want To Lose You”.
Geoff Emerick: It would be nice to get it finished. Paul’s up for it. The chorus is great. It would make a great record.
Neil Aspinall later confirmed that the third, unreleased reunion track was indeed “Now And Then”. He inferred that the song had only been partly recorded “in embryonic form” before it “got put on the back burner, and that’s where it stayed.” Neil claimed the song was never intended to be released, although he didn’t go on to clarify why the Beatles had bothered to record it in the first place.
Paul also confirmed that the Beatles had abandoned work on “Now And Then/I Don’t Want To Lose You”.
Paul: So we did the two that were the two favorites. We did “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” those two songs of John’s, and that was very exciting, very moving for me and very comfortable having his voice in my headphones in the studio again. And the idea arose that there was a third track, another song we kind of had our eyes on called “Now And Then”. I don’t know, it didn’t really have a title [sings: “you know/it’s true; it’s up to you…”]. That beginning bit’s great and then it just goes a bit crummy. We all decided that it’s not one of John’s greatest songs. I like the beginning, but we’d have to do a hatchet job on it.
Ringo: Such a blabbermouth that Paul McCartney! It’s the unfinished track. Oh, the myth that will grow around that now. The Hidden Track. We did three tracks but we only finished two.
In a New York Times interview, Paul claimed that the group didn’t even begin to record the fourth song given to them by Yoko, Grow Old With Me because “John’s original demo required too much work” (although the group apparently ‘experimented’ on at least three tracks, including “Grow Old With Me”, during the February 1994 “Free As A Bird” sessions).
Unfortunately only one Grow Old With Me demo was available; the rest were stolen from Lennon’s apartment soon after his death. Interviewed in 1995, McCartney apparently dismissed the song by saying “We’re not that keen on that one…”
The next “Threetles” recording session was scheduled for May 15th and 16th, although the group did attend mixing sessions together for the Anthology albums on the 31st March 1995.
Unlike “Now And Then”, a reworked “Grow Old With Me” was eventually released. In 1998 George Martin scored and added an orchestral backing to this demo for release on The John Lennon Anthology. Martin has denied rumours that McCartney plays bass on this ‘new’ recording, admitting that he had considered asking him to contribute, but couldn’t bring himself to make the offer considering the nature of the lyrics and Paul’s grief at the then recent loss of his wife Linda.
In 2005 press reports started speculating on the possibility that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr (George Harrison died in 2001) may eventually finish off “Now And Then/I Don’t Want To Lose You”.
Highlights from the The Washington Post article:
There is one more Beatles song. Not another overlooked ’60s tune from a dusty corner of a vault. Not an outtake, rough rehearsal, or crude early tape made in Paul McCartney’s living room and found in somebody’s shoe box. But neither is it a finished work. A Beatles song in the sense that all four group members are heard on it, it is one of three “virtual reunion songs” worked on in 1995 by McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and producer Jeff Lynne. Two songs, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” were completed and released. The third started with John Lennon’s home tape of his haunting, unreleased ballad “I Don’t Want to Lose You.”
It was left incomplete, but McCartney has said that might change. “When we did ‘Free as a Bird’ and “Real Love,’ “ McCartney said in a 2002 MSN Internet chat, “there was another track under consideration for us to work on but we didn’t get around to it, so I wonder if there will be a chance in the future. I wouldn’t mind doing it.”
In fact, though, he, Harrison and Starr did “get around” to the song. It was worked on, according to one report, in 1994 and 1995 at McCartney’s Mill Studio in Sussex. Yoko Ono, who in 1994 chose the song, as well as “Bird” and “Real Love,” for the remaining group members to turn into full-fledged Beatles tunes, says she does not oppose having it finished today. “I sent those songs to them when the situation was quite different,” she said from her home in New York. “Now that George is gone, I don’t know if the same would apply. I will consider the possibility, that is, when I get the call.”
“I Don’t Want to Lose You,” originally intended for the third “Anthology” CD package, was put aside, reportedly because it was not falling together easily and required more writing. The song was ultimately abandoned after critical notices for the first two reunion songs left the trio, especially Harrison, reluctant to venture a third.
If completed, the song would acquire an extra layer of meaning, what with Harrison’s loss. Should it be finished? McCartney, Lynne and Emerick are on the record in the affirmative. And so, at least with qualifications, are several Beatles specialists, including Mark Hudson, Starr’s close friend and writing and producing partner of his last five albums. “I’d love to see it happen! Are you kidding?” said Hudson, reached in Los Angeles. “if anybody is going to be capable of making an addition to a John Lennon song, it definitely would be Paul McCartney. And I think he would write it like a Lennon-McCartney song, I really do. I don’t think he would make it too McCartney.”
Bill King, editor and publisher of Beatlefan, the oldest Beatles fan publication in the United States, said “naturally I’d like to see it completed” — though not necessarily as an official Beatles song.
“Whether I’d like it to be released under the name the Beatles depends on the degree of collaboration,” said King. “If George played or sang on it and his contributions are kept in the finished version, and if both Ringo and Paul are involved in finishing it up, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it being a ‘Beatles’ release. If it’s just Paul finishing it off (and Harrison and/or Ringo are absent), it shouldn’t be called the Beatles.”
Chris Carter, host of “Breakfast With the Beatles” on KLSX-FM in Los Angeles and a widely recognized authority on the group, had other Beatles priorities. “I would value any song, especially if it was great, performed by John, Paul, George and Ringo, no matter how or when it was recorded,” he said. “If Capitol is really looking for some ‘new/old’ Beatle product to release, they can always release the Beatles’ Christmas discs on CD. We’ve only been waiting for that since 1971!”
The Beatles recorded annual Christmas messages on flexible discs mailed exclusively to members of their fan club. They were compiled in “The Beatles Christmas Album,” on the Apple label, which was pressed only for fan club members in 1971.
For now, “I Don’t Want to Lose You” has found life as one of three “new” songs Ono presented to “Lennon — The Musical,” which opened last week at the Broadhurst Theater in New York. (The others are a demo of “Cookin’ in the Kitchen of Love,” which was recorded by Starr in 1978, and a 1980 demo of a breezy, lyrical 1968 ballad titled, “India, India.”) Said Don Scardino, writer and director of “Lennon,” in a recent interview: ” ‘I Don’t Want to Lose You’ may be the saddest, most poignant love song he ever wrote.”
March 31 1995 (and periodically into 1996)
Abbey Road Studio Two/Penthouse Mixing Suite.
Mixing/Editing (precise mixing details unknown) : (various tracks that appear on The Beatles Anthology Vol 1-3 releases, bonus tracks on Free As A Bird single releases and Real Love single releases).
P: George Martin. E: Geoff Emerick.
The Beatles had blown out of Abbey Road Studio Two a long time ago; in fact the last time all four Beatles were there together was the 20th of August 1969.
When they returned together in 1995 there was still an ancient Hammond organ sitting on the battered parquet floor in the famous Studio Two. There was an old Steinway upright in the corner. And the famed sounds effects closet, which the band members raided like school children, was still under the stairway, empty now except for a thunder machine, a cardboard box full of tambourines and a flickering florescent light.
Allan Rouse (co-ordinator and assistant to George Martin): It was March 31, a day I shall never forget. I was in Studio Two control room at the time, playing back some more archive recordings to George Martin. At any other time, this would have been par for the course, but on this occassion were joined by Paul, George and Ringo. This was the first time all four of them had been back in that studio since 1969, and quite honestly the atmosphere can only be described as sheer magic. They were all totally at ease in each others company, taking photographs and videos and obviously enjoying the unique occasion as much as everyone else.
Paul: It’s strangely unchanged. Studios One and Two are largely unchanged. But Three is modern. Two, well, they don’t wanna change the room that ‘got’ the Beatles. And it got a lot of Cliff’s early good stuff, “Move It”, “Living Doll”. And now Oasis. EMI is like the Beeb, it has rules. And we used to make a lot of noise, doing things like “Helter Skelter” or a loud track anyway, and you’d always get the classical guy next door – in our time it was Daniel Barenboim’s producer – going bang, bang, we’re doing a quiet classical piece and we can hear you though the walls. The walls obviously aren’t that good for soundproofing. And we’d be going, under our breath, fucking bastard classical, we subsidise them! However we would turn it down a little bit, pull out a bit of a sulk, put the acoustics on. We lived with it.
Harrison, McCartney and Martin went for a nostalgic meander on their first day back at Abbey Road, popping into Studio Three where a dumbfounded Michael Nyman, composer of The Piano soundtrack, was recording. Mel Gibson, observing the soundtrack recording for Braveheart in Studio One, was overcome when he learned that Paul, George and Ringo were in the same building on their first day here together for something like twenty five years (by an odd quirk of fate, it was George, Paul and Ringo who attended the very last group session here, again without John, on the 3rd of January 1970).
During the afternoon, they even decided to pop down to the canteen for a snack.
Doreen Dunkley: They just strolled in as natural as anything, there were no airs or graces, they just served themselves with salad, tea and coffee, and then apologising for any inconvenience, asked if it were possible for me to get them a large bowl of chips. Then they took their meals, sat down at one of the tables and tucked in. I stood there at the bar, totally fascinated by the casual presence of these idols from my past. Mind you, I couldn’t help thinking how sad it was that John wasn’t there with them.
Nostalgic sightseeing eventually put aside, the group finally got down to work, sitting down to listen to some of the hundreds of hours of tapes George Martin had been painstaking combing through over recent weeks.
Paul: There were those same steps up to virtually the same control room. And then just looking at each other, older and slightly different maybe, but nevertheless it was still three of The Beatles sitting there; and with who? George Martin; and what boxes were we looking at? The actual boxes from the sessions. And although it sounds silly, I swear to god, as we played the tapes I was praying that I wouldn’t make a mistake.
George: The main gist of it with the music is to find the most ancient Beatles music possible and come in chronological order through the various other records we made and bring it up to date.
Paul: It’s deja vu, actually. We’re sitting in Abbey Road Studio Two, where we always worked, listening to the work we did when we were twenty. It is quite strange but it’s exciting as well. It’s like being archaeologists. We’re actually finding tracks that we didn’t remember recording, that we didn’t want, or thought ‘No, that’s not too good’. Now of course, after thirty years, they don’t look too bad at all. There were obvious reasons why a lot of the stuff didn’t make it into the shops, but we’re not looking at it from a recording quality point of view. It’s history, and what we’ve been putting together is an historical document.
George: There are some funny songs, there are some songs that we didn’t even remember. I heard this song that Ringo’s singing, I still don’t know the title of it, but it’s got the most amazing lyrics and it’s a quite a good production. And quite a good tune. I don’t recall what it was, but the words are just like ridiculous…
Paul: It’s been trippy going through it all, sitting there in Abbey Road with George Martin and George and Ringo trying to make some sort of story. God it’s so strange after all this time.
George Martin: It so happens that there is a take one of “Yesterday” that is charming and exquisite and of course, it doesn’t have any string quartet on it and we’re putting that out. I think people will like that. There’s one version of “And Your Bird Can Sing” when they were overdubbing a final track and they started giggling and they went through the song and they completed it but it was just giggles all the way through and you can’t help laughing with them. It’s so funny.
Paul: It’s interesting to hear George Martin now saying, Why did we have to go to take thirty-six? I know what he means, I can only assume it was part of the creative process, you know, keep on till we get better. But looking back on it, take two was often better, particularly when you listen to Anthology 3, because by the time take twenty-six or thirty had arrived, we’d lost the enthusiasm for the tune. Yes, we were getting slicker and more in tune, but what I like about the early takes is the ‘soul’ on them. You can really hear us enjoying ourselves on songs like “Dig A Pony”, “Let It Be”, “The Long And Winding Road” and “Two Of Us”.
In an outtake I heard recently – recording “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” – John is saying ‘What’s wrong with that?’ and George Martin says ‘It wasn’t exciting enough, John.’ and John mumbles ‘Bloody hell…’ I think that’s just pressure of work.
The mixing sessions continued well into 1996, with George Martin, Mark Lewisohn and Allan Rouse continuing the search for material while the Beatles frequently popped in to check on progress and veto tracks.
George Martin: Of course they couldn’t sit through all the sessions, so I would tend to have them come in about once a week.
The special features disc on the Anthology DVDs features a large amount of footage of the Beatles at Abbey Road taken in May 1995. The group can be seen at the control desk with George Martin having a whale of a time listening to the multitracks of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Golden Slumbers” (‘which album is this?’ Harrison frowns, much to the amusement of Paul and Ringo). It’s also worth noting that Harrison has obviously been studying the “Tomorrow Never Knows” multitracks at some stage before this playback session with Paul and Ringo. Despite rumours of tensions, George, Paul and Ringo seem remarkably relaxed and friendly with each other, constantly laughing and making jokes at each other’s expense. The footage is, in fact, one of the highlights of the entire Anthology project.
Paul: It has given me the opportunity, for example, to take all the strings and heavenly voices off The Long And Winding Road, which I never really intended in the first place.
Among those tracks considered for inclusion, but ultimately vetoed, were “Love Of The Loved” and “To Know Her Is To Love Her” (both from the Decca audition), “Red Hot” (live from Hamburg), “She’s A Woman” (live from Shea Stadium), “Think For Yourself”, “Love You To”, “Paperback Writer” (vocal only rendition), “Nowhere Man” (live from Tokyo), “Getting Better”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, the mysterious “Hey La Le Lu / All Together Now” and the legendary 27 minute version of “Helter Skelter” (all EMI studio tracks unless otherwise specified).
George Martin: The live recordings we listened to from the Cavern and Hamburg were too poor to consider.
Alternate EMI takes of “From Me To You”, “Getting Better”, “Magical Mystery Tour”, “Yer Blues” and Paul’s demo of “Goodbye” were included on a reference DAT prepared in mid 1994 featuring material slated for the Anthology CDs. Apple is also believed to have acquired an acetate of Paul singing an acoustic version of “Love Of The Loved”.
The live Quarrymen tape with John singing “Putting On The Style” and “Baby Let’s Play House” (recently purchased at auction by EMI) also had some work done on it, but was eventually omitted (possibly due to the extremely poor quality of the recording).
Some mixing work was apparently also done on several of the White Album demos that circulate on bootleg (apparently sourced from John’s copy of the tapes), but the poorer sound on these recording clashed with the limited selection of quality tapes (reportedly only eight songs) that George Harrison handed over. A few years earlier Harrison had claimed to hold a copy of the entire tape.
Harrison apparently also insisted on the editing of the complete “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” (to the point of editing the track himself) and the deletion of thirteen seconds from “Shout”. In both cases his reported reason was that the tracks were self-indulgent.
Paul McCartney apparently wanted “Carnival Of Light” on Anthology 2 but George, Ringo and Yoko didn’t, and there was also speculation that George and Ringo originally vetoed “Come And Get It” from Anthology 3 because it was never intended for the Beatles.
The Anthology videos also include a large number of small selections from the EMI archive tapes, including many takes and alot of Beatles studio chat that didn’t make it onto the CDs. Most of this material was presumably chosen, edited and mixed during these sessions.
Neil Aspinall: The Beatles didn’t hold anything back from the three Anthology CDs. Everything they thought was worth releasing is on those three CDs.
Monday 15 & Tuesday 16 May 1995
The Mill Studio, Sussex England: time unknown.
Recording: ‘Real Love’ (takes unknown); ‘All For Love’ (takes unknown).
P: Jeff Lynne. (?) E: Geoff Emerick (?)
With the imminent release of Free As A Bird and Real Love now public knowledge after an Apple press release, Paul, George and Ringo reconvened at The Mill where they completed the final parts on “Real Love”, planned as the second “comeback” single.
Having abandoned both “Now And Then” and “Grow Old With Me”, the group tackled a new song for the third single. There is still little inkling as to the nature of this track, although rumour has it that the song wasn’t one of the John Lennon demo tapes handed over by Yoko, but was, in fact, a brand new song written by George and Paul called All For Love (only their second ever collaboration, after the 1958 composition In Spite Of All The Danger).
Confusion and mystery still surrounds this track. Neither Paul, George, Ringo, Yoko nor Jeff Lynne seem to have so much as mentioned the existence of any such song.
Without a contribution from John Lennon it’s difficult to imagine how “All For Love” could have been presented as a Beatles recording, which begs the question as to whether it was, in fact, a John Lennon song and not a new composition at all (after all, Yoko is rumoured to have supplied two demo cassettes comprised of three songs each, and only four titles – “Free As A Bird”, “Real Love”, “Grow Old With Me” and “Now And Then” – have surfaced so far).
A third possibility is that, as there was confusion over the actual title for the “Now And Then” demo, that it somehow ended up being called “All For Love”, possibly due to extra lyrics being written by McCartney and Harrison.
In March 1996 Beatles Monthly reported that recording of “All For Love” was completed during these sessions. However, in his book, The Beatles After The Breakup, author Keith Badman notes that these recordings “…turned into a disaster and the sessions are aborted early. The group then decides to shelve plans for any further Beatles recording sessions, with George the chief instigator behind this…”
Despite the disasterous sessions, Paul apparently remained optimistic that something could be done with the “All For Love” recording. George, however, later becomes even more determined to call it a day after the poor reception given to the release of “Real Love” (see the March 1996 entry for more comment on this).
Whatever the reasons, this mysterious track has, so far, been firmly locked away in the vaults along with “Now And Then”.
Sources include: Various issues of Beatles Monthly Book from 1994-1997 (Beat Publications Ltd); The Beatles After The Breakup (Keith badman – Omnibus Press); Express Newspaper May 1997. Allan Kozinn; The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions – Mark Lewisohn (Hamlyn Publishing 1988); Fixing A Hole – LRE King (Storyteller Productions 1989); Mojo Magazine Dec 95; Abbey Road – Southall/Vince/Rouse (Omnibus Press 97); Independent On Sunday 16th Jul 95; Q Magazine Jun 97; Ringo interview Beatlefan July-August 1995; Interview With Paul McCartney Beatlefan Magazine #97 Nov-Dec 1995; Express Newspaper May 1997; One More Beatles Song or Should They Just Let It Be? By Rip Rense The Washington Post 21 August 2005. Keyboard Magazine Apr 1996; Mojo Magazine Nov 95, Dec 95; Apple Corps ‘Real Love’ Press Releases; The Art And Music Of John Lennon (John Robertson – Omnibus Press); Today Night (Seven Network Australia); Ice Magazine Dec 95; Goldmine Magazine; Daily Mail 24th Jun 94, Sun News Services 20 June 96, Club Sandwhich Magazine; Keyboard Magazine Apr 1996; The Beatles (Hunter Davies – Jonathan Cape Ltd); Today Night (Seven Network Australia).