July 24, 2007

"Real Love"

"Real Love" is a song originally written and performed as a demo by John Lennon, and subsequently reworked by the three remaining members of The Beatles in 1995. The song was released as a Beatles single in 1996 in the United Kingdom, United States and many other countries; it was the opening track on The Beatles' Anthology 2 album. It is the last "new" credited Beatles song to originate and be included on an album.

A lot of great information about Paul, George, Ringo coming together to work again on the John Lennon demos and the Live At the BBC, Anthology and Let It Be...Naked projects can be found at this old site, called "The Beatles Recording Sessions Update." Much of the information seems to come directly from the Special Features disc that came with the Beatles Anthology DVD. The following is from the section about the recording of "Real Love":

The Beatles with Jeff Lynne in February 1994

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.

This is the version of "Real Love" Lennon recorded on piano using more "professional equipment" than he had for his "Free As A Bird" demo. This must be it after Jeff Lynne cleaned it up:

"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."

This is the acoustic version used at the very beginning of the film Imagine: John Lennon. Parts of it remind me of the song "Isolation" off of the Plastic Ono Band album:

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
(the one he uses on "I Am the Walrus" in the Magical Mystery Tour film) 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 subliminally, in parts where the original was "thin".

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