Real Love - The Beatles

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"Real Love" - The Beatles (1996)

The origins of “Real Love” were when John Lennon made six takes of the song in 1979 and 1980. It was subsequently reworked by the three remaining members of the group as a promotional track for the Anthology 2 album released in 1996. It is their last single to become a Top 40 hit in the US yet it would earn a gold record faster than any of their others:

After recording “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love”, Ringo said:

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.”

According to John T. Marck, “Real Love” originated as part of an unfinished stage play that Lennon was working on at the time titled “The Ballad of John and Yoko.”

The song was first recorded in 1977 with a hand-held tape recorder on his piano at Lennon’s home. Eventually the work evolved under the title “Real Life”, a song Lennon would record at least six takes of it in 1979 and 1980, and then abandoned it. It featured him on piano, with rudimentary double-tracked vocals, and a tambourine.

McCartney said:

“Free As A Bird” was a huge success. Ringo was very up for it, George was very up for it, I was very up for it.”

When they turned their attention to “Real Love” there was much less to work with. Producer Jeff Lynne said, “...we thought, we’d work on ‘Real Love’ which had a complete set of words.”

Although “Real Love” was comparatively more complete than “Free as a Bird,” it had required the addition of some lyrics by McCartney, The Beatles gathered once more in Sussex, England at McCartney’s studio to record the single. Added to the demo were the sounds of a double bass Fender Jazz bass guitar, a couple of Stratocaster guitars, one a modern “Clapton-style one” as Lynne described it, and George Harrison’s psychedelically-painted “Rocky” strat (as seen in the “I Am the Walrus” video), as well as a Ludwig drum kit.

Other than their traditional instruments, a Baldwin Combo Harpsichord (used by Lennon on the “Because”) and a harmonium (which appeared on “We Can Work It Out”) were also used. After recording the overdubs Lynne and Geoff Emerick decided to speed the master tape from D minor to E flat. This gave it its’ special feel- the “hook” which grabs in the listener.

The composition’s lyrics have been described by one reviewer as conveying the message that “love is the answer to loneliness” and “that connection is the antidote to unreality.” One reviewer described it as a, “mature, still hopeful but frightened man less concerned with screaming at life than surviving it.”

The single entered the British market in March 1996 at number four, selling 50,000 copies in its first week. However, its progress up the charts was stunted by BBC Radio 1‘s exclusion of “Real Love” from its playlist. Reuters, which described Radio 1 as “the biggest pop music station in Britain,” reported that the station declared, “It’s not what our listeners want to hear ... We are a contemporary music station.”

Beatles spokesman Geoff Baker responded by stating the band’s response was indignation, shock and surprise, adding: “We carried out research after the Anthology was launched and this revealed that 41% of the buyers were teenagers.”

The exclusion of “Real Love” provoked a fierce reaction from fans, and elicited comment from two members of parliament (MPs). One Conservative MP called the action censorship, and urged the station to reverse what he called a ban. An angry McCartney wrote an 800-word article for British newspaper The Daily Mirror about the ban:

“The Beatles don’t need our new single, ‘Real Love’, to be a hit. It’s not as if our careers depend on it. If Radio 1 feels that we should be banned now, it’s not exactly going to ruin us overnight.”

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