How the Beatles Came Together Again to Finish John Lennon’s ‘Real Love’
Less than four months after the release of the first new Beatles song in 25 years, the world got a follow-up to “Free as a Bird.” On March 4, 1996, they released “Real Love,” in which Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr once again overdubbed themselves onto an old John Lennon demo.
The song had already been heard the previous November, when it aired at the end of the second episode of the Anthology documentary. One of Lennon’s early takes on "Real Love," recorded with just guitar and vocals, had also appeared on the soundtrack of the Imagine: John Lennon documentary. The Beatles’ version, which opened Anthology 2 when it arrived two weeks later, was built off a different Lennon recording captured at the piano with a small cassette recorder.
As with “Free as a Bird,” producer Jeff Lynne had his work cut out for him. “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 [on the tape], because it had been recorded at a low level," Lynne told Sound on Sound. "I don't know how many generations down this copy was, but it sounded like at least a couple.
"So, I had to get rid of the hiss and the mains hum, and then there were clicks all the way through it," Lynne added. "We'd spend a day on it, then listen back and still find loads more things wrong. But we would magnify them, grab them and wipe them out. It didn't have any effect 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."
Once a master copy was completed, McCartney, Harrison and Starr overdubbed their parts onto it in February 1995 at McCartney’s studio in Sussex, England. Lynne noted that, despite the decades that had passed since their last recording together, very little had changed.
“Paul and George would strike up the backing vocals, and all of a sudden it's the Beatles again," he said. "To be there in the middle of all this, and have a degree of responsibility over the result, was astonishing. It wasn't some kind of fake version; it really was the real thing. They were having fun with each other, and reminding each other of the old times. I'd be waiting to record and normally I'd say, 'Okay, let's do a take,' but I was too busy laughing and smiling at everything they were talking about."
“Real Love” hit No. 11 in the U.S. and, despite being left out of rotation by BBC Radio 1, reached No. 4 in the U.K. This would be the last song credited to the Beatles. When Anthology 3 was released in October 1996, they decided not to record anything new.