The Beatles - Free As A Bird [Single/Album Version]Details

There an interesting backwards message on this song. At the very end the song fades out then fades back in to play a small ukelele bit with some keyboards running over the track. During this ukelele part can be heard John Lennon speaking a backwards line at the [4:16] mark. The backwards line (when run forwards) is "It's turned out nice again", which is innocent enough. However, what's really of interest is that when the line runs backwards (by playing the song normally) it actually says the line "Made by John Lennon". It's a little distorted because of the backwards-speak sound, but once you hear it, it's pretty clear. Pretty clever considering how hard it must be to have it say something intelligible both forwards and backwards.

"On 18th June MTV reported that a 'new' Beatles song called Free As A Bird was recorded in February over three or four days at Paul McCartney's studio with Jeff Lynne producing. Apparently, a John Lennon demo of the song has him singing a couple of verses and playing the piano, but more verses have been added, sung by George Harrison and Paul McCartney. The tune has been recorded especially for a forthcoming Beatles documentary. Our sources tell us that some ten hours worth of material has been recorded(!). However, since then there have been reports that the recordings are unlikely ever to see the light of day. FTM's verdict? Wait and see."
Andrew Whiteside (1994 - Face The Music fanzine #17)

"Free As A Bird was recorded by John Lennon in demo form but never finished, and in 1994 the tape was entrusted to Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. The outcome is an elevation of the simple beauty of John's original demo to a much higher level. Jeff Lynne, co-producer of the recording, modestly remarks, 'It was tricky, but I think we've pulled it off.'"
Author Unknown (1995 liner notes for Free As A Bird CD single)

"We continue our conversation between Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick and Matt Hurwitz...

EMERICK: Yeah. [Free As A Bird is] great. It's what the world wants. I mean, when you hear, you'll know. With regards to that, there's no two ways about it-- it sounds like pure Beatles. Paul's already said, we've been all together in the same room, all of us, for 25 years. And, after like half an hour, it was like it was only last week that we last met. And it was like, as Paul said, we just treated to the fact that John's done this demo, and he's gone on holiday, and he's left it with us to finish off. That's basically it. We didn't give it another thought. We just treated it as we would any other record.

GDS: So you found that when you were working together, it felt just like the old days?

EMERICK: Yeah.

GDS: It didn't take any 'breaking in' period?

EMERICK: No, not really.

GDS: What did you think when you first heard Free As A Bird, the demo?

EMERICK: Oh, I loved it.

GDS: Now, this was a great engineering challenge, this project.

EMERICK: Yeah.

GDS: I was curious about some of the steps it took to make this recording.

EMERICK: The biggest concern as the timing. 'Cause it was a demo, it's not going to be strictly in time. And why should it be? It was just a question of fitting everything together; it was like a jigsaw puzzle.

GDS: After it was transferred to multi-track, did you put a click track on the tape, and then try adjust things to fit?

EMERICK: We did it both ways. As I said, it was like a jigsaw puzzle. We played partly to the vocal rhythm and partly, some of it, was more regimented. And all the pieces were assembled in the end, and what's come out.

GDS: Did you have to fly pieces at certain times? I was trying to think of how I would do it to correct the timing. Would you load it onto a computer and spread the material out that way so that it would be even with a metronome?

EMERICK: No, we didn't want to do it like that. We didn't want to get into that. We wanted to still do it like the old way.

GDS: Jeff is such a huge Beatles fan, I was wondering how quickly he jumped into the 'Beatle message,' in other words, producing a sound that was the same thing that you guys had been doing for all those years. Sounds like something that, for him, would be a pretty quick thing.

EMERICK: Yeah, right. 'Cause most of the sounds that he likes were the sounds that we used to do. So it wasn't hard at all. 'Cause he picked up a lot of his sounds from our sounds, you see what I mean.

GDS: He must have enjoyed working with you.

EMERICK: Yeah, it was great. I enjoyed working with him. It was great fun.

GDS: He's listed on the press released as 'Co-Producer.' Who's the other producer?

EMERICK: The other three Beatles, as far as I know. I'm not sure, but I think that's how it's credited.

GDS: What kind of drums did Ringo use on the new songs? A Ludwig kit?

EMERICK: I think he did, I can't remember. I forgot to look, to be honest with you! I think he did.

GDS: Was the song finished? I'd heard that Paul had to write another verse for Free As A Bird.

EMERICK: Well, I can't really say anything on that one.

GDS: What was it like, personally, for you, having worked with John for so many years, to 'work with John' again? I assume the metaphor of assuming he had just disappeared for a while and said, 'You guys finish this' worked well for you.

EMERICK: Yeah, right. Obviously bearing in mind what he, vocal-wise and sound-wise would have wanted. I kept that in the back of my mind as well.

[...]

GDS: Did you use any vintage equipment when you were recording the new songs?

EMERICK: The Fairchild limiters, again, 'cause it's all part of the sound, really. The Fairchilds and the Urei compressors. There's a certain setting on them which makes them sound much like a Fairchild."
Geoff Emerick and Matt Hurwitz (October 19, 1995 - Good Day Sunshine #80)

"The Beatles' first single for 25 years was released to radio stations yesterday. Free As A Bird was written and recorded as a rough demo by John Lennon in 1977, then 'finished' by the surviving three last year. Unquestionably, a momentous event. But their label, Parlophone Records, was determined that no one would underestimate just how momentous. It issued to the press a 'timetable of events' covering every minute from midnight Sunday, when lorries carrying copies of The Beatles Anthology album, which contains the single, left the factory at Uden, Holland. Portentous or what? But wait. At 4am yesterday, 'Parlophone promotion staff (left) Abbey Road studios with special radio copies of the single.' Television cameras recorded the event. They followed the single being rushed to Radio 1, where DJ Annie Nightingale, in sunglasses and pillow-mussed hair, wearily pronounced it all right. The timetable continues: '0700, first shipment of CDs and cassettes arrives at EMI's Hayes factory site, specially converted for the day to pick, pack and distribute the album.' A phone number was provided for those wishing to speak to pickers and packers. By this time, BBC1's Breakfast News was in on the act. Newsreaders discussed Free As A Bird with Radio 1 DJ Simon Mayo. He didn't think much of it. There was a gap in the timetable till 11am, when a press conference was held at the Savoy. Some 350 hacks turned out to hear Free As A Bird, see the video and question Beatle associates, including George Martin and the producer of Free As A Bird, Jeff Lynne. No flash photography was allowed, as Martin, etc 'don't like it when they're working'. Before the video was shown, the TV cameras were turned to face away from the screen, such is Parlophone's fear of bootleggers. However, it's unlikely that three minutes of such grainy, mock-sixties film would command top dollar on the black market. So where were the Beatles today, then? At home, said their press officer, Derek Taylor. 'But they send their love.' Why is the Beatles Anthology, the first of three albums of out-takes, rarities and live tracks, being released when Parlophone staff had always maintained that there was nothing left worth releasing? Martin said uneasily: 'People are ready for it now, and they probably weren't in 1970 and 1980.' Lynne was asked why Free As A Bird sounded like something by the Travelling Wilburys, his part-time band with George Harrison. 'I put a lot more work into this! The Wilburys take 10 minutes, and this took 15.' Someone finally asked the question in many minds. This is only pop music - aren't they taking it all a bit too seriously? No, said Martin, 'not when you add up the amount of joy the Beatles have given people since 1963'. Not to mention the joy they'll be giving to record retailers this Christmas."
Paul Kelso and Paul Raynor (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"It was good fun to work on a song of John's again and to hear his voice in my headphones as we were making it. It was like the old days. Because John's voice is there then it's the four of us - we can really say it is the Beatles , we're all together. We've done the impossible. We've pulled it off and I'm very impressed."
Paul McCartney (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"It's a very happy occasion for me to hear that it actually works and to hear John's voice in the song again - that was very nice. Maybe I'm peculiar but I don't think of him as dead."
George Harrison (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"It's great and I'm not just saying that because I'm on it. It's an amazing Beatles track. I'd taken myself away from it for so long that it was like listening as an outsider and it sounds just like them. It's brilliant."
Ringo Starr (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"It's a grand tradition that's creepy whenever it occurs. Hank Williams Jnr recorded a track with his dead father and Natalie Cole recently did the same. It's a grotesque idea with only one conceivable motive - money. I think this exercise would bring out all of John's cynicism were he around today."
Griel Marcus (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"Free As A Bird will be an enormous hit because it's the Beatles but had it been by anybody else I don't think it would get the air time. It is not a good record but people will certainly buy it."
Tony Blackburn (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"I haven't got an opinion, I was always a Stones fan myself."
Ken Livingstone (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"I'm not particularly bothered about Free As A Bird but what would be interesting would be to see what the three of them could collaborate on together. It is healthy to hear about George Harrison's criticisms of Paul McCartney's lyrics on this project - this proves that there is positive collaboration there and that they each need the others."
Alan Kozinn (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"I've done everything but hear it. As for issuing a 'new' single, it's a good idea, and I hope it works. The contribution they made to the world's young music was too good not to have a second bite"
Jimmy Savile (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"They're flogging a dead horse. I think the record is leaden and awful. If it is number one this Christmas it's going to be a grim Christmas."
Germaine Greer (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"Firstly it's a triumph of marketing. It's almost certain to be a number one record. The amount of interest created by the PR people - TV show, albums, etc - is incredible. More importantly it's a treat for Beatles fans who thought they'd heard it all. The Beatles changed pop music forever, as well as influencing fashion. I remember watching the Ed Sullivan show in disbelief. Here were these long-haired guys playing their own instruments, singing songs they'd written themselves . . . Because of them pop music became the single most important component of youth culture for 20 years. Free As A Bird does their legacy justice. It's a good record which may well introduce kids to the Beatles who wouldn't have heard them otherwise. I think music fans are just glad to hear John's voice again, a voice that was once so prominent."
David Jensen (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"It's just awful. You can hear in John's voice that he thinks it's a disaster and hopes no one ever hears it. McCartney has provided the most plodding bass-line I've ever heard and George sounds like he's got arthritis. It's a purely commercial exercise devoid of musical enthusiasm, youthfulness or any of the other qualities the Beatles used to possess. If it was by a new band it would be rejected immediately it would have been rejected as even an album track by the Beatles themselves 20 years ago. It sounds like a bad Travelling Wilburys record. It's not only bad, it's embarrassingly awful. It's not the last Beatles record, it's the first by a new band, Sir Colin Southgate's The Demerger Plans (referring to attempts to raise the share price and split the EMI group)."
Jonathan King (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"People might expect me to say this but I honestly do think it's absolutely wonderful. I was away when I first heard they were doing this and heard that they might do damage to the legacy, but I overlooked the fact that they were very aware of what they were doing. As a consequence they've clearly invested enormous love and care in it. I think it's wonderful."
Mark Lewisohn (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"It doesn't worry me what it's like. Beatles fans will lap it up even if it's rubbish. Wordsworth fans read his crap poems just because they're Wordsworth. Even if they keep on digging out scrag-end, unfinished stuff - and there must be more - we'll still buy it. "
Hunter Davies (November 21, 1995 - The Guardian)

"Security was tight. So tight that one frustrated European journalist at the launch of the first new Beatles music in 25 years yesterday shouted at the president of EMI: 'This is not the Rosetta Stone. This is just a pop record that you are marketing.' His plea failed. Camera crews from all over the world were made to turn their backs as an exclusive video of the three surviving Beatles answering questions was shown. The first double CD of Beatles' outtakes, demos and rejected songs was delivered to shops yesterday, after having spent the last few weeks literally under armed guard at the warehouse. Its highlight, Free As A Bird, the first genuinely new Beatles song in a quarter of a century, was played for the first time. Paul, George and Ringo failed to attend a press conference at the Savoy Hotel in central London to launch the new album. But they were there in spirit, or at least on video, to give their views on the Beatles' enduring popularity. 'We were cute,' said George. 'We certainly made some good records, and in our early days we were a tight little band. And we looked quite good at the time, which always helps.' He put into perspective the frenetic pace of those years when he said: 'When I was 17, I was in Hamburg. By the time I was 23 we had done Sergeant Pepper [sic] and I was in the Himalayas. We put 20 years into every year.' Ringo Starr said that impresarios were still offering the three pounds 1bn to play a reunion concert. 'They don't quite get the picture. There were four of us. One of the Beatle boys isn't there any more,' he said. The surviving members of the group used Jeff Lynne, a fellow musician, to produce their new single, Free As A Bird, in which they added their harmonies and music to a cassette John Lennon made in 1977 of him singing his composition to piano accompaniment. George Martin, who was the group's producer, said yesterday he had been too busy producing the Anthology album, the first of three double CDs to accompany a television history of the group starting next weekend. The song has a clear Beatles sound to it, with harmonies reminiscent of some of the songs on Abbey Road, the last album they recorded back in 1969. It will be released as a single on 4 December. Though a number of early songs and demos on the album are very poor quality, and though Lennon once said that everything of worth was used on Beatles' albums, Mr Martin defended the project yesterday. 'I used to say that. But in the last year I have listened to every take of every track we have ever done. And I realise that maybe I wasn't right. Now I realise that some of the early takes may have had mistakes but they have charm and they are gorgeous. It's in the raw. It's warts and all. People are ready for it now. They wouldn't have been ready in 1970 or 1980,' he said. Derek Taylor, the Beatles' press officer, said the album was similar to a literary exercise. He said it was the 'musical equivalent' of the Churchill Papers. Mr Martin said Free as a Bird was 'a super song. I like the way the harmonies move. I like the lyrics. I don't think it's as good as Strawberry Fields, which actually didn't get to number one, but I think it's much better than other number ones we've had. Having heard it now I wish I had produced it... This will certainly be number one all over the world.'"
David Lister (November 21, 1995 - The Independent)

"The first song of the three [John Lennon demos] available which was selected for recording was, of course, Free As A Bird. 'It was the only one which was in a nearly complete state, from beginning to end,' notes [Marc] Mann. 'The other two had longer instrumental sections between verses and choruses, with a little more improvisational element to them in places.' Of the three, 'FAAB' also had a more prominent appearance of Lennon's voice on tape, again, making it a more likely candidate for completion. The three Fabs worked with Lynne, and engineers Geoff Emerick and Jon Jacobs at McCartney's The Mill Studio in Sussex, England in February and March of [1994]. The first task was to prepare the original tape for use as the basis of the new recording. This entailed doing whatever manipulations Emerick and Lynne could achieve to help bring out Lennon's voice above the piano which was playing along with him, as well as adding whatever effect onto his voice to give it that 'Strawberry Fields/Lennon' sound. But all the work was done in the 'analog world'-- without computers, simply using standard studio equipment and processors to take out certain bandwidths of frequencies (low frequencies from Lennon's piano, for instance, which would interfere with the listener's ability to hear his voice), and boost those in the vocal range so that they would stand out better. Any editing or placement which needed to be done was also performed manually. In case a particular phrase of Lennon's need to be moved with respect to time, it had to be placed onto the master tape correctly in tempo with the rest of the song. So how did Lynne achieve this, without the aid of a computer to assure accuracy? To 'fly in' various phrases from the original tape onto the new master required some quick skill, hitting the 'RECORD' button at precisely the right moment. 'I've got the fastest finger in town!' Lynne later told Mann. The Fabs did backing tracks in those early months of 1994, trying out different sounds and instrumentation, and eventually, it was felt that the group had achieved the basis of a good recording. [...] The piano heard more clearly on the finished Free As A Bird recording (and unprocessed with the flanging effect applied to Lennon's voice) was added by Paul in Sussex..."
Matt Hurwitz (August 1996 - Studio Magic: Turning Lost Lennon Tapes Into Beatle Treasure article in Good Day Sunshine #80)

"When I first heard Free As A Bird, it was with trepidation and great anticipation. My mind was open and ready to judge the results of the remaining Beatles' collaboration on the record with the voice of John. A united Beatles for the first time in so many years. My first impression as I heard it on the radio was one of great disappointment. I found the balance of the voices was, to my ear, so far apart that I kept straining to hear John's words and John's voice. He sounded as though he was in a broom cupboard, but I must admit the difficulties must have been extreme for the boys, working with such a basic demo. However, the more I hear it, the more I love it. The lyrics are vintage John. They convey an optimistic John, and I hope and pray that he himself is Free As A Bird."
Cynthia Lennon (August 1996 - Good Day Sunshine #80)

"The first time I heard the song, I was in my kitchen, and I heard it on the radio. I probably heard it later than everyone else, because I don't listen much to the radio! I hadn't heard it ahead of time or anything like that. But the first time I heard it, it was very emotional for me. I can't be very critical of it, because I was just happy to hear the song. I love the guitar solo. Though, of course, what struck me first was John's performance. It made me think of the days when I heard the demos of his songs he was going to do for an album or something we were going to work on. And, of course, thinking about the fact that he's not here anymore, that was the main thing I was thinking of."
Klaus Voormann (August 1996 - Good Day Sunshine #80)

"I loved the song a lot. It blew me away. I was busy in a studio [the first time I heard it], working with Jimmy Dole Gilmore. We watched it in the studio there. I cried. Everybody stopped for the night."
Jim Keltner (August 1996 - Good Day Sunshine #80)

"I first heard the song during a playback of a test pressing of the first Anthology 1 disc at Abbey Road in mid-October. Quite a few people were there who worked on the album, including myself, George Martin and Geoff Emerick, as well as several executives from EMI. It was quite something, really, for me to hear it that way, particularly while sitting next to Geoff, the man who had recorded it. But it was for that reason, hearing the song in the studio control room with a roomful of people, that the full impact of the song didn't reach me right away. It wasn't until a week later when I had a chance to hear it again, several times, in fact, that the song really struck me. I was extremely taken with it. It is excellently crafted, made with love and care. I found it extremely moving-- not because it was John-- I've long since gotten over that. But because it's Beatles music for now. It's The Beatles as they would be today, were they all here to make more of their wonderful music. I've been dismayed by the criticism the song has been given by the press, particularly here in the UK. It's certainly undeserving of that kind of treatment. It's a beautiful song."
Mark Lewisohn (August 1996 - Good Day Sunshine #80)

"When I first heard the song, I guess it just brought back memories from the time when I was with [John Lennon]. 'Cause a lot of the later songs, a lot of the melodies from that time he wrote when we were together. There's a lot of those songs that just felt like from back then, too. It was just nice to hear it on the radio. Just knowing that his spirit is around. I think in hearing it, to me, it really sounded not so much like a Beatles tune, but more of a John Lennon tune, and guest starring George, Paul and Ringo. Making like what they had done with the Ringo album, where they would have had the other guys come and play. Because it was definately more of a John song, even though Paul and George were on it singing with him. ...The video was nice to see. It was interesting. It's great to try and figure out what songs they're referring to. After a while, though, I felt like I was going to get sick, because I was flying through the air so much! Free As A Bird is a new John song that people are finally getting a chance to hear. It's nice to know that it can be shared."
May Pang (August 1996 - Good Day Sunshine #80)

"I first heard the song in Stamford, Connecticut at Charles Rosenay!!!'s Beatles convention in November, a few days after it had premiered on television. Brian Matthew and I were traveling for a few days, and we hadn't yet a chance to hear it. We were doing a live radio interview there, and the guy played it for us. The strange thing was, I hadn't heard any early versions of it, like I would have in the old days. I don't get those things anymore! When I first heard the song, it wasn't one of those things that shouted out at you, like when you first heard a new single back in the 60's. But it had instant 'John Lennon magic,' as far as I was concerned. It had that sort of feel, the genuine sincerity of Lennon. I think the rest of them, by adding the other things to it, did everything they possibly could, given what they had to start with. The mere fact that all this time after Lennon's death that they'd come up with something that was technically pretty good is amazing, bearing in mind that all they started off with was just a very informally recorded vocal and piano track, which was never intended to be used as a record. And it's just him, more or less, not much more than humming something through, first getting the idea of the song, I think, when he first wrote it and when he first had the idea of it. And he recorded it. The fact that they'd made it into something all those years later I thought in itself was great. I think a lot of people wanted to say, yeah, they love it or they hate it. It's what I would have expected, really, which was pretty good. And I was so pleased to hear something new from them. And knowing all the thought and production that would have gone into it, I knew that they would have done the very best that they could have done to have made a really good sounding record. ...Free As A Bird is John, to me, more than The Beatles. It was more like a John Lennon single than a Beatles single, which, to me, was good. Not necessarily better than The Beatles, but it was different. I know they would have had him very much in mind in how they would have done it when they put the other instrumentation and voice tracks on. And I'm sure it was done in the way that he would have liked it done."
Bernie Andrews (August 1996 - Good Day Sunshine #80)

"When I first heard it, I was in Seattle recording. I saw a tape of it, because I was working at the time it was broadcast. It was really nice to hear; I really loved it. I just thought, 'Wasn't that the greatest track? Wasn't George's solo just the best? Give us more of that-- now that's the Beatles I want to hear!' And to hear John's voice with McCartney again. That was marvelous."
Joey Molland (August 1996 - Good Day Sunshine #80)

"The release of the first new Beatles song since the group broke up in 1970 took as long as November 21st 1995 when Anthology I including Free As A Bird was released. The track had been recorded by John Lennon back in 1977 on a cheap recorder as a demo for the unrealized musical The Ballad of John and Yoko. This track had been available to The Beatles collectors on various bootlegs. As the tape was so noisy and also had John's voice and his piano on the same track, Jeff had quite a hard job to do on it. Jeff: 'It was very difficult, and one of the hardest jobs I've ever had to do, because of the nature of the source of material; it was very primitive-sounding, to say the least. I spent about a week at my own studio cleaning up both tracks on my computer, with a friend of mine, Marc Mann, who is a great engineer, musician & computer expert. We tried out a new noise reduction system, and it really worked.' For our humble point of view, the track would have probably sounded better without John as the difference between the old, noisy recording of John's voice and the new and clear voice of the others made John sound like he was sitting in a bath tub! Sorry John!"
Patrik Guttenbacher, Marc Haines, & Alexander von Petersdorff (1996 Unexpected Messages)

"Paul McCartney: 'So when we got in the studio, uh, we had this cassette, Free As A Bird. It was very bad quality. It was just a mono cassette, um, with John and piano locked in on one track. Uh, which nobody would normally deal with, you'd just think, Oh, I can't deal with this. But the song was so strong that we overcame those technical diffulties, or rather Jeff Lynne did. He was producer.' Jeff Lynne: 'It wasn't an easy thing because they were like mono tapes and John singing on 'em with the piano as well. And so you couldn't really separate anything. So, John is actually playing piano on the records, too, y'know. Um... Which is a great thing. So it kept the integrity of that, and it wasn't like, uh, like his voice just appearing out of nowhere, he was actually doing a performance at the same time. Technically, it was virtually impossible to do it, but we did it because, y'know, we worked at it, very hard.' Ringo Starr: 'So, after that we did, like, a basic track with all these gaps in it. And then, we had to fill in the song, uh, which... which is what happened.' George Harrison: 'What we actually did was remake this song. I mean, even with chords and stuff, we changed chords... We changed the arrangements, we added parts, and we wrote lyrics and then we'd made the multi-track tape of this song, and took John's voice and made him into the track.' Jeff Lynne: 'When it started taking shape, John was sort of in there, coming up singing and... I think everybody at that moment said, Wow, this really works, y'know, and... And I was really thrilled because I'd spent a long, long time, after we'd got the backing done, making the vocals, y'know, fit exactly. And once that happened, I think we were all Oh, yeah, this is really... this is really good. And it's not doing John a disservice or whatever. It's actually making it into a really good record.' Ringo Starr: 'I listened to it [after we'd recorded it] and I thought it sounds just like them. Y'know, I've taken myself away from it for so long, that it... that it was just like listening it from a... like an outsider. And it sounds just like them, it's brilliant.' Paul McCartney: 'When George and I were doing the harmonies and that was what Ringo said, when we got back in the [studio, we thought], it just... it sounds just like the Beatles!' Jeff Lynne: 'It wasn't surprising to me, really, because that's what I went there for, to work with the Beatles. So I always, like, assumed, in my naivety or whatever, that it was going to sounds like a Beatles record, because I'm working with the Beatles.' George Harrison: 'It's gonna sound like them, if it is them. It sounds like them now. That's what I think.' Paul McCartney: 'The first choice, uh, was Free As A Bird and we did that in February 94...'"
Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Ringo Starr & George Harrison (circa 1996 - Recording Free As A Bird and Real Love special feature from The Beatles Anthology Special Features DVD)

"The voice on Free As A Bird wasn't very loud on the original, with just the piano, and obviously the EQ was a bit peculiar because it was recorded on a Walkman or something. I'd be thrilled to bits when we'd get something good down and it would suddenly start to come together."
Jeff Lynne (March 22, 1997 - Billboard)

"Yoko Ono revealed in an interview with Philip Norman in the British newspaper Daily Main in November 1995 that George Harrison and longtime Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall first approached her about the idea of the three surviving Beatles adding to John's unreleased recordings for use in The Beatles' Anthology project. Not surprisingly, Paul McCartney thinks he first approached Yoko about the idea, but he is not sure. In all likelihood, the three surviving Beatles discussed the idea with each other before anyone approached Yoko. On January 19, 1994, Ono and McCartney took part in ceremonies in New York to induct John Lennon into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Following the ceremonies, Yoko turned over some of John's unreleased demos to McCartney. George Martin, who had produced nearly all the Beatles' recordings, was busy reproducing recordings to be included in The Beatles' Anthology project. George Harrison wanted his friend Jeff Lynne to produce the new Beatles' single. McCartney was reluctant, but finally agreed to Harrison's recommendation. Several weeks after McCartney received the tapes, the three surviving Beatles were at Paul McCartney's private studio contributing to the recordings to create a new single. With production assistance from Paul, George and Ringo, Jeff Lynne was able to turn the demo of John Lennon's song Free As A Bird into a highly polished new Beatles' single."
Kristofer Engelhardt (1998 - Beatles Undercover)

"Free As A Bird took about three weeks. A solid three weeks."
Jeff Lynne (May 2001 - 20th Century Guitar)

"[Free As A Bird] sounds like a Beatle track. It really sounds like a Beatle track. I think you could say that they could have made this in 1967. I mean, it just sounds... It was weird for me, and I'm on it. And you know, I was listening to a great... There's so much distance has gone down from those days, now. And 20 odd years gone down. And it was just amazing because I was playing the track and I thought, 'sounds just like them.' Of course it does, because we're on it."
Ringo Starr (July 2001 - Electric Light Orchestra - Up Close US Jones Radio Network Radio Show)

"It was real scary to do [Free As A Bird], y'know, because it was, y'know, a very strange thing to do in the first place. And it was also the most joyful experience, y'know, to see the three of them. It's just me and the three of them sitting in a room and they're doing all their lovely anecdotes, y'know. And I'm just lapping it up, Beatle stories from the last 30 years, y'know. Fantastic."
Jeff Lynne (July 2001 - Electric Light Orchestra - Up Close US Jones Radio Network Radio Show)

"As Lynne speaks today, the gold and platinum awards for the recordings he produced with the three surviving Beatles for their popular Anthology series-- Free As A Bird and Real Love-- have pride of place on the walls of his home studio."
David Wild (2000 liner notes for Flashback)

"As always, the friction [between the Beatles during the 1990s reunion] was most evident between Paul and George, which, Paul would later recall, surfaced in the studio and had been typical of their love-hate relationship over the years. 'When we were working on Free As A Bird, there were one or two 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 okay.' [...] The premiere of Free As A Bird was met with mixed reviews but George was rewarded with much praise for his guitar playing behind John's ghostly vocals."
Marc Shapiro (May, 2002 - Behind Sad Eyes: The Life Of George Harrison)

"Yoko Ono gave the surviving Beatles [the unfinished track Free As A Bird] to complete as they saw fit. Though Harrison would later disdain the new [track], the final results sounded as if everybody involved worked sincerely and meticulously, and with Free As A Bird in particular, they even created something rather moving. 'Whatever happened to/ The life we once knew,' McCartney sang in the song's middle part. 'Can we really live/ Without each other?' The song wasn't a statement about nostalgia but rather a commentary on all the chances and hopes, all the immeasurable possibilities that are lost when people who onced loved each other cut themselves off from that communion. Not a bad or imprecise coda for what the Beatles did to themselves, and to their own history (and to their audience), with their dissolution. And moments later, Harrison plays a guitar solo that sums up a quarter of a century of yearning and pain."
Mikal Gilmore (2002 - Harrison)

"Yeah, I think [my father was happy with how Free As A Bird and Real Love turned out.] He definitely was. Considering what they were working with, in terms of the material they had left to work with after John left, which was really scratchy, the way it turned out was great. Jeff Lynne did a great job on that."
Dhani Harrison (November 19, 2002 - MSN Webchat)

"Completed by the so-called Threetles, Free as a Bird and Real Love were greeted with mixed reviews and controversy. "
Rip Rense (August 21, 2005 - One More Beatles Song, or Should They Just Let It Be? in The Washington Post)

"Also, fittingly, Lynne was asked to produce a song by a band to whom his entire musical career has been a kind of homage: Free as a Bird, in 1994, by the Beatles."
David Cheal (December 8, 2005 - The Daily Telegraph)

"[Free As A Bird] was the hardest thing I've ever attempted. Paul was naturally sceptical and he started having a few digs at first until he realised I was there to help all of them get it done, not just to go, 'Oh, let's do it like George (Harrison) says!' But I loved every second of that studio banter - 25 years of pent-up Beatles banter... how wonderful to be one of the few people who's ever heard that. I wasn't wondering how [George Martin] would have done it, I was more bothered trying to figure out how I was gonna do it! George never had to pull a voise off a cassette (Lennon's home recording of Free As A Bird) and use it as a lead vocal. And there's no gadget yet invented that will make that happen. It was so scary because what if I fucked it up? At the end, after he heard it, Paul gave me this great big hug and said, 'Oh, John, give me a kiss.'"
Jeff Lynne (2006 February - Q magazine)

"To make records out of those two cassette tapes of John's, Free As A Bird and Real Love-- was the hardest job I've ever done, and one of the most fun. It had probably been more than twenty years since Paul, George, and Ringo were in the studio together. I sat there listening to their brilliant banter for hours. It was really funny. And then we had to get to work, and that was a little harder. I was given a mono cassette with John singing Free As A Bird with a piano. There was tons of hiss, and the piano was loud. This was 1995, an we weren't using a computer yet. it was impossible to play along to the cassette because it was a wild performance, so we would up recording the track based on the average temp, and then I flew John's voice and piano into it. After that, we added George and Paul singing harmonies."
Jeff Lynne (Summer 2007 - Yamaha All Access)

"But with 200 invited journalists from around the world and security more befitting a Middle East peace initiative, there was something just a little disconcerting about this album launch. This is about music, but equally it’s about marketing, so when the barrage of camera crews are told to turn off their equipment for the first screening of the video for the new Beatles song Free as a Bird - a John Lennon song to which the other Beatles added their parts - it’s not because someone might get a free copy of it, it’s because ITV has negotiated the exclusive first-screening rights. [...] Most attention therefore settled on Free as a Bird, which Yoko Ono had passed on to McCartney in a gesture of reconciliatioin and which Jeff Lynne polished up from a rough casette. And a song which, as one inquisitor put it, bore some production similarity to the Travelling Wilburys, the band in which Lynne plays with Harrison. [...] For Lynne, a man who always wanted to be a Beatle and has at least been honest about it, this was his day. He sat beside his idol George Martin, posed happily beside a replica of Ringo’s drum kit for photos and could allow himself a little swell of pride as the sound of Free as a Bird resounded through the speakers. It it, if nothing else, a remarkable production job. And the song is accompanied by an equally extraordinary, state-of-the-art video. When the brief question time was over, Lynne shook hands, and amid the scrum of television cameras and journalists, answered a few quick questions. [...] But inevitably, business aside and essays about the Beatles Generation having been written, the interest comes back to Free as a Bird, a song that aches with sentimentality and about which Ringo - who once gave the world the benefit of his wry humour ut now appears tired of the whole thing - says 'it sounds like the bloody Beatles.' And it does. The superb video is like a journey back through time to a more innocent age when the world was full of promise. It hints at things to come while the song is reflective. The juxtaposition of both is moving. Martin is right when he notes the years of pleasure given, the lines on Harrison’s face today tell of a personal cost that others can only guess at. Regardless of its intrinsic musical quality - and George Martin echoes everyone’s belief when he says it will be a number one all the world at Christmas, but will be drawn to e+ valuate it only as 'a good song' - Free as a Bird may well act as a coda for the Beatles as much as their generation. As the song says: 'whatever happened to the life that we once knew, can we really live without each other, where did we lose the touch that seemed to mean so much - it always made me feel so free... as a bird.'"
Graham Reid (February 20, 2008 - Elsewhere)

Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Olivia Harrison and Dhani Harrison:

"Ringo: We really got to know Jeff on Free As A Bird. He was a life saver on that. He put the cassette together [and] had us all play on it. It's interesting because the three of us felt comfortable with him.

Paul: He worked with George. And George said, 'Hey, Jeff would be great.' And so it was like, we decided, yeah. You know, we loved his work anyway. It was a good idea for who to produce the Free As A Bird thing because it was a difficult record to make for a producer.

Jeff: It was really quite scary because I didn't know Paul very well at all. I'd only met him a couple of times before that. And he was a bit worried about me because I was George's pal and he wondered if it was going to be a little bit one-sided, you know, and not in the spirit of things. But he needn't have worried because I was totally into the spirit of things.

Tom: I don't think those records, the Free As A Bird record and Real Love-- I think you really needed him... They really need him to pull that off because it was such a major job, you know, to take that really shaky cassette recording of John...

Paul: And it's a crackly old thing, you know, it was a cassette. You don't use that. You normally make your demos on cassette and then make a proper record [and] get rid of all the crackling and the hiss and everything. But Jeff was very good in that respect too because he took the cassette tape and he put it in time. He didn't interfere with anything. The vocal phrases, 'cause it's a demo, who cares about time. And if we were gonna work... And Jeff is very precise. That's one of the things I love about him. You know, his stuff just rolls out. There's not a thing wrong, you know, [when] you listen to it. So... And then you stop listening to it so precisely and it just rolls over you. It's like, 'Ooh, I love this!' [...] So when we came in to do it, we had John in the ears, you know. We just played along with it. I'm not sure how we started it. Jeff will remember better. And I know I played bass.

Jeff: It was so hard to do. I mean, because laying that voice in there, which was got a piano glued to it, it was really difficult, you know. It was almost virtually impossible. But we got it done somehow. Paul really helped on that because he sort of goes to John's voice a little bit underneath. And it was... It came out really good in the end. For what it started out as, it was really amazing. So I'm really chuffed with it.

Olivia: Well, I think, you know, Jeff was in a perfect position, really, to produce those, Free As A Bird and Real Love. You know, he again had the right sensibilities. He wasn't going to take it somewhere completely different. And he had the respect for what they wanted to do, obviously.

Tom: And he's told me about how hard it was. He's done a lot of work there, I'm sure. Over to Paul McCartney to explain that.

Paul: That was it. We had the cassette of John and we just gradually built it up. Did this. Did that. Put a bit of bass on. Guitar. George ended up on slide, which was [the] final icing on the cake. We sang. But I think for all of us, the most exciting thing was even though John was no longer on this planet, here he was in the studio with us. And it was very special. All of us, 'Wow!' Very, very big. Big moment.

Dhani: I think my dad brought Jeff in. I think that was a bit 'ooh!' Everyone's going, 'Whoa, what's going on here?' And, you know, he was the only one that could have done that at the time. His meticulous nature, they didn't have Pro Tools, you know. They were aggregate time clocks for the John Lennon piano track and they had to phase out the vocals and float back in... I mean, it was just right down Jeff's street, you know, and what they were left with as Real Love and Free As A Bird which, you know, they stand the test of time. They sound like The Beatles, but it's, you know, Jeff was perfect for that role.

Jeff: Neil Aspinall was looking for me, which was great in itself. But he said, 'Oh, can you come in the studio a second? Paul and George want you to check these harmonies they're just working out.' And I thought, 'What? Me check them? Okay, I'll fucking do it. Ooh!' That was quite astonishing, really. It's something you never expect to happen. And there it was and I was checking them and they were brilliant. The harmonies sounded great. We recorded them straight away. And then the session went along really well after that.

Olivia: George wouldn't have let anything-- they wouldn't have let anything out, anything, if they weren't satisfied with what they did. So, you know, I think that says a lot for Jeff.

Paul: If we didn't like it, it didn't matter if John Lennon wrote it or Paul McCartney or George Harrison wrote it. If we didn't like it-- no. We go, 'Forget it, I'll think of something else.' It kept you on your meddle, you'll get it chucked out. You know, that's good. But there were three that we liked, Free As A Bird and Real Love, so those are the two that we did. And there was another one that we started working on, but George went off it. [George said,] 'What's that? It's fucking rubbish, this is.' [I responded,] 'No, George, this is John.' [He groused,] 'This is fucking rubbish.' [So I said,] 'Oh, okay then.' [Laughs] So that one's still lingering around, so I'm going do it. Jeff will do it, finish it one of these days.

Ringo: We've always had a constant fight, Jeff and I. 'Cause, you know, he always wants the click track. He want a click and I keep saying, 'I am the fucking click!'

Jeff: Course, when we got the song finished, I'll never forget, Paul came and he gave me a big hug and he said, 'Well done! We've done it!' So I was chuffed about that. And that's how it went."


Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Olivia Harrison and Dhani Harrison (2012 Summer - Mr Blue Sky: The Story of Jeff Lynne and ELO documentary)

"One career highlight was producing the Beatles track Free As A Bird, released in 1995 but recorded as a demo by John Lennon in 1977. There's a shot of the cassette John recorded the composition on. The sound is pretty poor, showing the big production job Jeff had to do on the track with the remaining Beatles. 'Jeff was a lifesaver on Free As A Bird' says Ringo on the show, with McCartney adding: 'His production feld very precise. There wasn't a thing wrong.'"
David Stephenson (September 30, 2012 - Mr. Blue Sky: The Story Of Jeff Lynne And ELO review in Sunday Express)

"[Recording with The Beatles] was really scary because the track I was asked to work on was Free As A Bird which was a great song, I loved it. But it was on a cassette. It was an old cassette that John had done on top of a piano on a Walkman, you know, so it was one of those. All glued together, the piano was stuck to the vocal. So to get that vocal out above of the whole Beatles group was really difficult. Y'know, it was almost impossible. I don't know [how I did it]. [laughs] Well, actually, to be honest, Paul helped a lot with that 'cause he goes underneath John's voice which really helped the voice have body to it, y'know. As opposed to the little Walkman sound, y'know, and gave it a little bit more depth. And made it more audible in the track. And, of course, I got all the rest of The Beatles to play normally, like drums, bass and guitar and then George put the slide lead guitar on. And they played rhythm guitar. It was just a wonderful experience except we still hadn't got John on there yet, y'know, at first. We just got the track, it sounded great, and then so putting John in, I had to fly John in from a sampler, really. That's the only way it could be done because it wasn't in time, the cassette, it was just written, y'know, he just wrote it on the piano. You don't bother about the time, really when you're writing it. And so it was really hard. Well, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But it was fantastic when I'd finished. And it was lovely because Paul, when we all... when we heard the set back and this is the final thing and Paul, he came and give me a big hug and he says, 'Well done, Jeff.' So that was pretty good. Marvelous."
Jeff Lynne (October 14, 2012 - Absolute Radio)

"He'd already worked with George Harrison but was drafted in when the surviving members [of The Beatles] decided to reunited and dust off an old Lennon demo for their 1995 Anthology retrospective. Lynne recalls: 'It was just voice and piano and not particularly good quality-- you couldn't separate the two elements. There was no depth to the track either so Paul sang a guiding vocal just underneath John's to give it body.' The result was a hit and a nose-thumbing to all those critics who thought the surviving Beatles should let it be. There were plaudits, too, for Lynne's work but he was just thrilled to have worked with his heroes."
Simon Copeland (October 19, 2012 - The Sun)

"Okay. Free As A Bird. What a thing, eh. I was sent a cassette of John singing Free As A Bird with a piano-- a mono cassette, even. And he was playing along on the piano, singing it, not particularly in time or anything 'cause he's just writing it, you know. And so what it was like is, when George asked me if I'd like to work on it with all the lads-- the three-- the three other lads, plus John on tape, y'know, so it was four of 'em, really. It was a very scary proposition, but I couldn't no, I just went, 'Yes, please! Get me there!' And it was just the most amazing experience because I had to sort of a load of technical problems before we could even start, you know. And we got those sorted out. And then it was a matter of being sympathetic to what John was doing on his demo and making it sound like a Beatles record. And that's a pretty tough one. It's almost impossible. But somehow when you got them Beatles, anything can happen. No, it was just a wonderful experience. I stayed in a little cottage with George on Paul's land. And we'd just go there every day into the studio and I'd be half frightened out me wits and half thrilled to bits. Ooh, it rhymes. I think I'll use that."
Jeff Lynne (October 21, 2012 - My Turn radio show on The Sound 100.3)

"[The John Lennon Free As A Bird demo] was on a mono cassette. John's voice was stuck to the piano, so there was no way of separating it. It was really difficult. You had to have [the piano in there]. That was the hardest thing, trying to get John above the piano and luckily, Paul goes to John's voice a little bit underneath to give it a little bit of body, you know. 'Cause it was a cassette voice; it was always a little thin sound. Anyway, that's how it came out."
Jeff Lynne (October 29, 2012 - Deep Tracks SiriusXM radio show)

"He also produced The Beatles when Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney reunited to record Free As A Bird, around an old tape of John Lennon's vocal."
Martin Hutchinson (November 2, 2012 - Birmingham Post)

"Well, the most challenging thing of all-- I didn't actually write the song, but I actually produced it-- it was The Beatles doing Free As A Bird. And that was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It was virtually impossible because it was on a cassette. And the voice was stuck to the piano. It was in mono. And I had to make a Beatles record out of it. So that was a very difficult period. But absolutely marvelous enjoyment. And also quite a bit of fear as well. [Laughs] I didn't actually know Paul very well then. I do now; he's a great friend of mine. But then, I only really knew George and Ringo. And so it was a little bit of just getting used to working together, you know, just hanging out with the three of them. It was just the most marvelous experience I could imagine."
Jeff Lynne (November 7, 2012 - Rockline)

"In 1995 he co-produced The Beatles' 'comeback' single Free As A Bird."
Mark Blake (December 2012 - Classic Rock magazine)

"But if I had to pick [a favorite production] it would be the two Beatle tracks that we made into records from John's original cassette-- Free As A Bird and Real Love. Technically that was the most daunting and physically impossible thing to do, but we got it done somehow, so that was great. It was just really hard to make those songs be something that they shouldn't have been. They were done as little demos, and the piano was stuck to John's voice, so you can't even raise his voice without the piano coming up. Then there was the problem of timing. The meter was not right for anybody to play to. What I did was measure the speed at the beginning, the middle and the end and just do an average, and that's the speed we used for them. I'm most proud of those tracks, because it was the hardest thing I had to do. Plus, I was working with The Beatles, who hadn't been in the same room for over 20 years. But it was actually marvelous."
Jeff Lynne (January 2013 - Goldmine magazine)

"I'd had the song [which would be released as 'Free as a Bird'] for a month or so trying to figure out what the hell to do with it! How would I ever get that to work? Because it was a mono cassette and the voice was on the same track as the piano. So there's no ducking or diving with it, it's just, there it is, it's like the elephant in the room and you've got to dub the Beatles on around that! It wasn't the easiest one to do!"
Jeff Lynne (April 21, 2013 - Ultimate Classic Rock online magazine)

"It was like so unbelievable. We went down to Paul's studio... I went with George and walked in and there's Paul and Ringo and John on a cassette. And so it was just like being in the Beatles club, you know, it was unbelievable. I've said before but just the first few hours was just sitting 'round in the studio just reminiscing, you know, talking about great old stories and stuff. And it was just amazing. And then we started to get into it [recording the song] and I realized what a big job it was going to be... and which it turned out to be. Probably the hardest thing I ever had to do because John's vocal was only on a cassette with the piano in mono. So I couldn't separate the voice from the piano. That was really difficult. In fact, it was virtually impossible but somehow we managed to do it. And that's why it was exciting and really scary at the time, in case I couldn't finish it. But luckily I did. And so I'm still very thrilled when I look at that gold disc for Free As A Bird."
Jeff Lynne (July 25, 2013 - The World Café)

"I had a few tricks to get John's voice on the track, and Paul helped by ghosting John's voice underneath to give it more body. I remember him giving me a big hug and saying, 'Well done, you've done it!'"
Jeff Lynne (May 2013 - Uncut magazine)

"In 1995, 15 years after [John Lennon's] death, the three surviving Beatles used a John Lennon vocal from a cassette tape to create Free As A Bird-- which was released for their successful Anthology project."
Unknown (March 20, 2014 - Daily Mail)

"Even at the time, being an ELO fan wasn't easy. My dad, and other serious music heads of his generation, dismissed ELO and mere Beatles copyists. Of course, The Beatles themselves took a more positive view: John Lennon called them 'Son of The Beatles', and the other three members would later collaborate with Lynne several times, even bring him in to be George Martin's stunt double by completing production of the unreleased demos Free As A Bird and Real Love."
Simon Price (2014 September 16 - The Quietus article entitled The Jesus Of Uncool Has Risen: ELO Live)

"An unashamed allegiance to the Beatles has always been apparent in his plush pop rock, and Lynne was asked to oversee the production of their 1995 single Free As A Bird."
Neil McCormick (September 20, 2014 - The Telegraph)

"Not only has he produced solo work for Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, Lynne was behind the boards for the Beatles’ final 'new' hit records: Free as a Bird and Real Love, painstakingly recorded around existing Lennon demo tracks in honor of the Beatles’ massive Anthology releases in the 1990s. (The singles reached No. 6 and No. 11 on the Billboard singles chart, respectively.)"
Andrew Barker (April 23, 2015 - Variety)

"Free As A Bird, however, wasn’t a quarter as noisy as Real Love and only a bit of EQ was needed to cure most problems. Timing was one of those problems, as Lennon had never been particularly good at keeping in time with himself: 'Well, nobody is when they’re just writing a song. You don’t think, I’d better use a click while I’m putting down this idea. You just play and enjoy yourself. So it took a lot of work to get it all in time so that the others could play to it. It’s quite a complex process, but for some reason, I kind of know how to do it, through messing around on other stuff for years.' [...] Paul did not play his Hofner violin bass on the recording, preferring instead a five-string on Free As A Bird, and his double bass, originally owned by Elvis Presley’s bassist Bill Black, on Real Love. George used two of his Stratocasters, a modern one, ‘and his psychedelic Strat that’s jacked up for the bottleneck stuff on Free As A Bird.’ They also both played six-string acoustic guitars, Paul a Gibson jumbo and George a Martin, and Ringo his Ludwig drum kit, ‘so there are genuine Beatles drums on there.’ [...] As well as directing from the control room, Jeff contributed a vocal harmony and a guitar overdub on Free As A Bird. But I wanted to keep my hands off as much as possible. The only things I really did were the funny little bits at the end of the track. I made sure that whatever was done as a big part of the record was them. [...] Free As A Bird appeared on Anthology 1 in November 1995, and ‘Real Love’ on its successor four months later. Both songs were also released as singles around the same time. The first took its bow to tremendous media interest and press headlines, and flew into the British charts at No. 2, at a time when it was not uncommon for well-hyped new releases to debut at No. 1 and then plunge heavily in a short chart life. But Michael Jackson’s Earth Song denied them the prize of what would have been an eighteenth chart-topping single in Britain, and some reviews were less than enthusiastic. While a new Beatles single after such a long interval was bound to be newsworthy, several critics were wary of being seen as too enthusiastic, and panned it as a tuneless dirge perhaps worthy of a Traveling Wilburys B-side, but no more. A few even speculated on whether John would have welcomed the attention and painstaking craftsmanship given to one of his out-takes, or whether he would have dismissed it all as rubbish."
John Van der Kiste (August 2015 - Jeff Lynne: Electric Light Orchestra - Before and After)

"Particularly revealing [in the Mr. Blue Sky: The Story of Jeff Lynne & ELO documentary] is how Harrison, McCartney, and Starr sometimes struggled with Lynne during the 1994 Anthology sessions, and the challenges Lynne faced in transforming Lennon's rough demos of Free as a Bird and Real Love into full-fledged songs."
Kit O'Toole (2015 September 26 - Something Else! website review of Live In Hyde Park)

"There's no doubting that the surviving Beatles themselves were responding to Lynne's obvious devotion when they hired him in the mid-'90s to produce Real Love and Free as a Bird, two ostensibly new Beatles songs using archived vocals by John Lennon."
Mikael Wood (October 31 2015 - L.A. Times)

"The Beatles Anthology project was a huge undertaking and to complement the historical and archival material that was made available on both CD and on video, the band recorded two new tracks. Released in December 1995, Free As A Bird was the first of the 'new' songs. Instead of recording a completely new composition together, Paul, George and Ringo created a track based upon John's 1977 demo, recorded at his and Yoko's home in the Dakota in New York City. John had made a number of home demos during the second half of the 1970s. When Paul was in New York in January 1994 for John's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Yoko-- who had recieved John's award-- gave him a cassette that including Free As A Bird. From there, the idea of reuniting the Beatles 'electronically' began to take shape. Jeff Lynne, a good friend of George Harrison's and a fellow member of the Traveling Wilburys, was draft in to help with production. The Free As A Bird video had its first public outing on America's ABC TV on Sunday 19 November 1995, and the track was subsequently aired on BBC Radio 1 the day after-- the day before Anthology 1 came out. The single release followed two weeks later and made No. 2 in the UK charts, while in the US Free As A Bird enjoyed an 11-week run on the best-seller list, peaking at No. 5. Joe Pytka, a talented American filmmaker who had made several music videos with Michael Jackson, directed the beautiful video. The visual concept was a 'bird's-eye-view' of countless Beatles songs. According to Pytka the video was months in the creative and storyboarding process before shooting began, 'We tried to shoot in the authentic locations. We shot in Penny Lane, the Liverbirds' [The Royal Liver building] helicopter shot was in Liverpool, and we shot near the docks, which is a reference to John's father. Then we shot a bit in London and then took one trip to Scotland.' Free As A Bird went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video at the 1997 ceremony."
Unknown (2015 November 6 - 1+ liner notes)

"Lynne was aksed to produce Free As A Bird, a Lennon song completed after his death by the surviving Beatles. 'That was the hardest, most daunting thing I've had to do,' he admits. 'The voice was stuck to the piano and there was no way of separating it. Paul ghosted a vocal underneath John just to give it a bit of body. Afterwards, Paul came up to me and gave me this great big hug and said, Well done, you've done it! I love Paul."
Simon Cosyns (November 13, 2015 - The Sun)

"On Nov. 20, 1995, shortly before Americans indulged in their traditional annual meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, Beatles fans had their own form of Thanksgiving. That day, the band released Anthology 1, a double-CD set that was part of a massive historical project that gave the world the first new Beatles recording since 1970. The first two hours [of the Anthology documentary] premiered on ABC two days before the CD’s release, with the other four coming later in the week. But part one concluded with the premiere of the video of the new song, Free as a Bird. The original piano-and-vocal recording had been made onto a cassette by John Lennon in 1977. Yoko Ono gave the tape to the three surviving Beatles, who holed up in McCartney’s home studio in Sussex, England in early 1994. Jeff Lynne, who had worked extensively with Harrison, was hired to produce the record, The process involved cleaning up the original crude recording and overdubbing the other instruments. A b-section featuring lead vocals by McCartney and Harrison was written. It was a daring proposition for them to undertake, and one that opened themselves up to a lot of criticism. But they shielded themselves by noting that it was something that happened fairly regularly in the old days. As McCartney said in the liner notes, 'We took the attitude that John had gone on holiday, saying, I finished all the tracks except this one but I leave it to you guys to finish it all. And once we agreed to take that attitude, it gave us a lot of freedom.' Bolstered by a video that contained sly references to dozens of Beatles songs, Free as a Bird reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Anthology 1 debuted at No. 1 and stayed there for three weeks."
Dave Lifton (November 20 2015 - Ultimate Classic Rock online magazine)

"Every night I'd be going, 'How am I gonna get this?' 'Cos John's vocal [for Free As A Bird] was on cassette, stuck with the piano-- you couldn't get rid of the piano and it was all out of time. Ahhh, it was bloody murder to get that to work. The whole thing was very strict, 'cos I had to fly John in, which I could only do with my finger. He was on a harmonizer. And so I put him in all the places he needed to go and then I'd trim it a little bit here and there. It was a hard thing, 'cos there was no computer used. Not one. That's why it was so difficult. If we'd had a computer, it would have been a doddle. In the end, we got it. Paul gave me a big hug. He said, 'You did it!' I though, 'Yeah, I just made a Beatles record!' It was another of them moments in me life-- like, 'Fancy that!'"
Jeff Lynne (December, 2015 - MOJO magazine)

"John Lennon's observation when he heard Eldorado-- that ELO were making the kind of music The Beatles might have made had they continued-- wasn't really taken seriously until years later, when Jeff Lynne produced Free As A Bird and the so-called 'Threetles' sessions."
John Lewis (December, 2015 - Uncut magazine)

"Free as a Bird (1995): George asked me to do this [a 'new' Beatles track built around an old John Lennon demo]. It was the hardest thing I've had to do in my life. There was this elation and dread at the same time. I was given a mono one-track tape of John singing the song in 1977. I came to the first session with George, and we were late, which was a bad start. Ringo and Paul were already there. All four of us sat down at a table, I think the first time they'd all been together for about 20 years. They spent a long time talking about the old days, just reminiscing. I was thrilled to bits. Some days I thought I was going to get it right, and other days I thought, 'What did I get myself into?' One day, I waited until everyone went home, then used a little sampler to insert John's voice into the song wherever I could. It would have been much easier if I had ProTools! The next morning Paul came in and was like, 'Jeff, you did it! Well done.' He gave me a big hug. It was a relief. "
Jeff Lynne (January 21, 2016 - Rolling Stone article entitled: 'ELO's Jeff Lynne: My Life in 15 Songs')

Geoff Edgers:

"Yes, Sir George Martin accomplished so much as the fifth Beatle, from the crunch of those early records to the experimentation of Revolver and beyond, but there's one important moment I'd like to remember: The time Martin wasn't involved in making Beatles music.

Those are the 1994 sessions during which the remaining three took John Lennon's late '70s demos for Free as a Bird and Real Love and tried to produce them up into a so-called reunion.

Free as a Bird was certainly a hit, cracking the top-10 shortly after its 1995 release. It also served as a key marketing tool for the launch of the Beatles Anthology series.

It also sounded terrible.

For me, this was more than a minor misstep. I was 10 in 1980 and was standing outside a frozen schoolyard when I learned that John Lennon had been shot. So about 15 years later, nothing sounded more thrilling than the idea of the remaining Beatles taking one of John's songs to create new work. And producer Jeff Lynne, the Electric Light Orchestra's front man, had worked on some of my favorite late-'80s albums, including comebacks by George Harrison and Roy Orbison.

Then I heard Free [sic].

Two reassuring thumps of Ringo's snare, George's signature slide and then … John's voice?

Ouch. John sounded as if he had been slapped onto a Maxell tape and left on the dashboard of my Plymouth TC3 on a scorching summer day. And Sir George Martin agreed. There have been reports that he declined to work on the song and the other Lennon demo dub, Real Love, because of his hearing problems. But that's not what he told Rockcellar Magazine in a 2013 interview.

"I kind of told them I wasn't too happy with putting them together with the dead John," he said. "I've got nothing wrong with dead John but the idea of having dead John with live Paul and Ringo and George to form a group, it didn't appeal to me too much. In the same way that I think it's okay to find an old record of Nat King Cole's and bring it back to life and issue it, but to have him singing with his daughter is another thing. So I don't know, I'm not fussy about it but it didn't appeal to me very much. I think I might have done it if they asked me, but they didn't."

He explained in relative detail where he thought Free went wrong. To deal with the poor quality of John's demo – which had been recorded on a boombox on top of his piano – Lynne and Co. had been forced to compress the original until "what you ended up with was quite a thick homogeneous sound that hardly stops. There's not much dynamic in it," Martin said.

That's not surprising, as Jack Douglas told The Washington Post this morning. Douglas produced Lennon's final studio album, 1980's Double Fantasy — a collaboration with Yoko Ono — and was working with the ex-Beatle in the studio the night he was shot. Douglas was familiar with Free and Real Love, which were among the tapes Lennon had sent Douglas in 1979 as he prepared to get back into the studio for his first album since 1974's Walls and Bridges.

"Here's the basic thing about those songs," says Douglas. "I rejected those for Double Fantasy because I didn't feel they were completed."

There was also the sound quality issue. The demos, which featured Lennon's narration between songs, were recorded during the late '70s in his New York apartment in the Dakota and in Bermuda. And Lennon never intended them to be used as anything other than demos. That's why he created a decidedly lo-fi multi-track system. He would record a first track on one boom box and then, while playing that tape openly in the room, sing or play another instrument over it to be captured on a second boom box.

"I'm sure that somebody did the best they could to beef it up but you really couldn't do much with it," says Douglas, who teamed with Martin to co-produce the 1978 Aerosmith cover of the Beatles classic Come Together.

Still, Douglas adds, "I was happy that they did [Free as a Bird]. Because it just brought them together for a bit of a memorial."

Martin made sure not to criticize the ex-Beatles or Lynne in his 2013 interview, saying that "what they did was terrific."

He added, though, that he would have taken a different approach. Instead of breaking down Lennon's demo and trying to dub over it, he would have had George, Paul and Ringo use the demo as only that, a road map to create a new song. John's voice could be dropped in, but it wouldn't be as central to the recording.

And then, like a true gentleman, Martin admitted he wasn't sure he was right: "Whether that would be practical or not I don't know, this is just theoretically the way I would tackle it.""


Geoff Edgers (2016 March 9 - The Washington Post)

"Free as a Bird became The Beatles' 34th Top 10 hit in the U.S. The song also won the 1996 Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal Grammy award."
Tony Sokol (April 3, 2016 - Den of Geek)

"Free as a Bird became the band's 34th American top 10 hit and won a 1996 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocal."
Ryan Reed (2016 April 4 - Rolling Stone)

"For years, ELO’s hits were considered a guilty pleasure. Rock snobs saw them as cheesy, obvious, shamelessly Beatles-ish. Not that it bothered The Beatles themselves: after joining Lynne in the Traveling Wilburys, George Harrison persuaded Paul and Ringo to let Lynne produce Free As A Bird. Lynne has the last laugh."
Tim De Lisle (2016 April 9 - Daily Mail)

"Each of the [Anthology] collections sold multi-platinum quantities across several countries, whereas Free As A Bird (the song being completed by George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr from a 1977 demo originally recorded by John Lennon) became the Beatles’ 34th ‘Top 10’ hit in the U.S. which, at the time of release, was 25 years after the break-up of the band and 15 years after the demise of Lennon. For those interested, Free As A Bird was co-produced by Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), who had worked on Harrison’s 1987 album, Cloud Nine, and as part of the Traveling Wilburys with him. Free As A Bird won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance By A Duo or Group With Vocal."
Parag Kamani (May 22, 2016 - The Asian Age)

"In the ’80s and ’90s, Lynne became a go-to producer for classic-rockers like Tom Petty, George Harrison, and the reconstituted Beatles on Anthology-era tracks such as Free As A Bird and Real Love."
Steven Hyden (April 25, 2017 - Uproxx website)

"With its treacle-thick Jeff Lynne production and its obligatory checklist of Beatlesque elements, Free As a Bird is a tombstone where there should be a butterfly house, and that over-processed, way-too-prominent snare is literally the hand slamming the coffin shut. Please let this Frankenstein’s monster of a track, released as a 'new' Beatles song as part of the Anthology series in 1995 but in fact just the three other members jamming on top of an unreleased Lennon demo, die in the river under the castle, undisturbed by villagers. "
Tim Sommer (2017 August 22 - L.A. Weekly)


  • Running Time: 4:26
  • Record Date: 1977 (original) & February/March 1994 (Beatles version)
  • Record Location: The Dakota, New York City, New York, USA (original) & Hog Hill Mill Studio, Sussex, England (Beatles version)
  • Written By: John Lennon (original) & John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr (Beatles version)
  • Produced By: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne
  • Engineered By: Geoff Emerick
  • Performed By: John Lennon (vocals, piano), Paul McCartney (vocals, bass, backing vocals), George Harrison (guitar), Ringo Starr (drums), other artists and instruments unknown

  • Released On:
    • Anthology 1 LP album (1995 November 21 — UK — Apple PCSP 727)
    • Anthology 1 CD album (1995 November 21 — UK — Apple CDPCSP 727)
    • Anthology 1 CD album (1995 November 21 — USA — Apple/Capitol CDP 7243 8 34445 2 6)
    • Free As A Bird 7" single (1995 December 4 — UK — Apple R 6422)
    • Free As A Bird 7" picture disc single (1995 December 4 — UK — Apple RP 6422)
    • Free As A Bird CD single (1995 December 4 — UK — Apple CDR 6422)
    • Free As A Bird 7" single (1995 December 12 — USA — Apple/Capitol NR 7243 8 58497 7 0)
    • Free As A Bird cassette single (1995 December 12 — USA — Apple/Capitol 4KM 7243 8 58497 4 9)
    • Free As A Bird CD single (1995 December 12 — USA — Apple/Capitol C2 7243 8 58497 2 5)
    • Free As A Bird CD promo single (1995 December 12 — USA — Apple/Capitol DPRO-11153)

  • Top UK Chart Position: 2
  • Top US Chart Position: 6
  • Cover Versions: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on their Symphonic Beatles album (2000)