20 Years Ago: The Beatles Release Second Reunion Single, ‘Real Love’
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Less than four months after the release of “Free as a Bird,” the first new Beatles song in 25 years, the world got a follow-up. On March 4, 1996, the Beatles 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. And one of Lennon’s takes on the song, with just guitar and vocals, appeared on the soundtrack of the Imagine: John Lennon documentary. The Beatles’ version, which opens Anthology 2, which was released two weeks later, was built off a Lennon recording captured on a small cassette recorder featuring him on piano.
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,” he explained to 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. … 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 Beatlets 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 for it.
Beatles Albums, Ranked Worst to Best