Real Love

Real Love single artworkWritten by: Lennon
Recorded: c. 1979; February 1995
Producers: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne
Engineers: Geoff Emerick, Jon Jacobs

Released: 4 March 1996 (UK), 5 March 1996 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, piano, drum machine
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass, double bass, acoustic guitar, synthesiser, percussion
George Harrison: backing vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, percussion
Ringo Starr: drums, percussion
Jeff Lynne: backing vocals, guitar

Available on:
Anthology 2
John Lennon Anthology
Wonsaponatime

The second 'new' Beatles recording made for the Anthology project, Real Love was based on a piano and vocal demo recorded by John Lennon in the late 1970s, and completed a year after Free As A Bird.

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The song began variously as Real Life and Real Love. Lennon recorded a number of demos of both songs, on piano and acoustic guitar, the lyrics to which varied each time.

At least six takes of Real Love were recorded by Lennon in 1979, one of which was eventually used as the basis for The Beatles' single.

Other versions of the song have also been released: in 1988 the Imagine: John Lennon soundtrack album began with a guitar-and-vocal recording, of significantly better quality than the one used in 1995. This also appeared on the Acoustic album, released under Lennon's name in 2004.

The Lennon Anthology box set, from 1998, contained a piano version taped in 1980, which was also included on the highlights disc Wonsaponatime. The song was also included on the 2005 compilation Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon.

In the studio

Lennon's original demo was recorded on a piano, with a drum machine accompaniment, at Lennon's home in the Dakota building, New York City. A cassette containing the song was given to Paul McCartney by Yoko Ono in January 1994, along with Free As A Bird, Grow Old With Me and Now And Then.

The sound quality of Real Love was poor, and took considerable preparation in Jeff Lynne's Hollywood studio before overdubs could be added.

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. So I had to get rid of the hiss and the mains hum, and then there were clicks all the way through it. When we saw the graph of it on the computer, there were all these spikes happening at random intervals throughout the whole song. There must have been about 100 of them. We'd spend a day on it, then listen back and still find loads more things wrong. But we could 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 and transferable to a DAT master. Putting fresh music to it was the easy part!
Jeff Lynne
Sound On Sound, December 1995

McCartney later said that the remaining Beatles enjoyed working on Real Love less than they did Free As A Bird, due to its degree of completeness in its original form.

[Free As A Bird] was really like working on a record with John, as Lennon/McCartney/Harrison, because we all chipped in a bit on this one. George and I were vying for best lyric. That was more satisfying than just taking a John song, which was what we did for the second, Real Love. It worked out great but it wasn't as much fun.
Paul McCartney

The extra recording took place at McCartney's Sussex studio with Lynne producing. McCartney played the double bass originally used by Bill Black on Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel, as well as a conventional Fender Jazz electric bass.

Harrison is said to have been dissatisfied with the results of Real Love, and declined to take part in a third recording, Now And Then. This led to A Beginning, an unused orchestral piece recorded in 1968 as an introduction to Don't Pass Me By, to be the lead track on Anthology 3.

Chart success

Real Love debuted at number four in the UK singles chart on 16 March 1996, selling 50,000 copies in its first week. However, its failure to perform better was widely felt to be linked to BBC Radio 1's refusal to add the song to its playlist.

The decision was widely criticised. Paul McCartney wrote an impassioned article for the Mirror newspaper, published the day after Radio 1 announced the exclusion.

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. You can't put an age limit on good music. It's very heartening to know that, while the kindergarten kings of Radio 1 may think The Beatles are too old to come out to play, a lot of younger British bands don't seem to share that view. I'm forever reading how bands like Oasis are openly crediting The Beatles as inspiration, and I'm pleased that I can hear The Beatles in a lot of the music around today. As Ringo said to me about all this, who needs Radio 1 when you've got all the independent stations?
Paul McCartney
The Mirror, 9 March 1996

In the US, Real Love entered the charts on 30 March, peaking at number 10. It sold 500,000 copies in four months. The song's parent album, Anthology 2, topped the charts in both Britain and America.

The Real Love single was accompanied by a video directed by Kevin Godley. It featured studio footage filmed in 1995, along with archive shots of the group from the 1960s.

The CD single contained three exclusive b-sides: Baby's In Black recorded at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1965; a new mix of Yellow Submarine featuring a spoken word introduction and more sound effects; and an alternative version of Here, There And Everywhere.

45 responses on “Real Love

  1. Shawn Goldwater

    I agree, as well. I heard the version of Real LIFE that appeared on a John Lennon podcast — albeit in segments — and it seemed to me a much more honest and moving song.

    And to echo comments made regarding Free As A Bird, the Jeff Lynne arrangement did no one any favours, It just made them sound like ELO. A shame George or Giles Martin didn’t work on it.

  2. Jon S

    Real Love is a great song. It’s amazing how Paul could fill in the vocal parts that were faded on the original tape and sound so much like John. Georges guitar work was some of the best guitar work I’ve heard in years. Poor Ringo was so limited on what he could do with his drumming on the Real Love and Free As a Bird because of the drum machine used on the original recordings. Both great songs though.

  3. robert

    Someone is going to have to explain something to me – since Yoko was willing to give Paul a copy of the song, and I assume she had to approve the recording, why did she give and why did Paul accept, such an inferior version when there were better versions out there?

    Anyone have any insight into this?

    1. Joseph Brush

      Paul had no prior knowledge of Real Love let alone if one version was better than another.
      He mentions this in the Anthology series.
      As for Yoko offering that particular version of the song…who knows…

  4. robert

    Ok – here’s the irony – I was going to make the same point as Deadman but I might be over the top – but that is EXACTLY my theory.

    if that is true, then why did Paul & Co put up with it? The cleaner version was already out there, wasn’t it?

      1. Vonbontee

        Yeah, a quarter-century after John’s death and Yoko’s still trying to sabotage a Beatles reunion – even a virtual one – for her own inscrutably evil purposes. Or some people would have us believe. Me, I have no problem with her wanting to keep the superior version in its pristine state while sacrificing a rougher version for the Threetles to screw around with. I think the most respectful (to John’s memory) move would’ve been for her to NOT allow John’s songs to be exposed to that kind of posthumous gimmickry, especially for what was basically a marketing move. (But just imagine the outrage from the Yoko-haters if she went that route!) And I don’t blame her for possibly expecting the worst, considering how uninspiring “Free As A Bird” came out. (I quite liked “Real Love” fwiw.)

        I mean seriously, the woman can do no right in some people’s eyes.

      2. Joseph Brush

        Yes there is the Imagine docu and soundtrack with Real Love on it.
        BUT did the other Fabs see the movie and hear this version of the song?

        As for Yoko–enough of the reissues!
        Usually just before Christmas.

        1. robert

          One thing that is quite clear to me, is that over the years, regardless of their personal squabbles each of them always kept close tabs on what the others were doing – especially musically.

          In any interview when one is asked about another’s newest record they’ve always heard it.

          So I am 100% sure that at least ONE of the other three had seen the Imagine movie and at least ONE of them had to know there was a better version of Real Love.

          1. pat

            In Barry Miles’ Paul McCartney Bio (Many Years from now)which is based on interviews Paul gave to him from 1991-1996, Paul talks about a scene from the Imagine Film (The bed-in scene in which this asshole-cartoonist tries to provoke John etc) – so he clearly must have known the Imagine-Version of “Real Love”. Maybe they used the other demo, because it was more complete or had a better (or different) structure: the guitar demos have this bridge (“I don’t expect you to understand…”), which is very similar to the one John had used for – I think – “Hold On”. But the quality of these demos is A LOT better, there is no doubt about that. But I think after dealing with “Free as a bird” (which must have been a nightmare for the working crew – to fill John’s vocals in exactly etc), “Real Love” was like cruising in comparison.

            1. Dave

              I never have seen the Imagine movie , but according to Jeff Lynne when redoing these tracks they have to have a raw recording, maybe that’s why they went with the fourth take. I read that on the internet when they redid an Elvis Presley song on one of the Traveling Willbury albums

  5. robert

    Von, I don’t think I’m a Yoko hater – however at the same time, she’s no Saint Yoko either.

    If we were looking to her to be respectful of John’s memory, we wouldn’t have all the overpriced artwork she’s been hawking – especially where SHE ADDED color and John’s chop to artwork that NEVER had either on it. And then she ups the price for the color and the chop mark – I mean c’mon these are facts. She is the Mastress of marketing John’s legacy to be sure.

    I don’t think she’s evil, she’s just Yoko.

    Let’s remember Anthology’s main purpose was to get George and Ringo financially solvent – especially George.

    1. Von Bontee

      Thank you Robert, I wasn’t aware of George and Ringo’s financial problems. Or of Yoko’s artwork-manipulations, which indeed sound dubious at best, disrepectful at worst.

      I still don’t buy the theory that Yoko’s got some nefarious agenda to trash the Beatles legacy.

      1. robert

        And thank you Von – and I agree with you in that I also don’t think Yoko had a “nefarious agenda to trash the Beatles legacy” however, I do think her temperment is such that she stills see the Beatles legacy as a threat to the John and Yoko legacy.

        It makes no sense but I do believe that’s how she thinks.

  6. pat

    I agree absolutely: Lynne was the wrong choice as a producer for these songs – they sound overproduced and just like typical ELO songs. I love the demos in their original untouched versions, there is so much sincerity and authenticity there – they should have kept their fingers off these historic tapes. Or included both the originals AND the overdubbed versions. But I think they really screwed up on Free as a bird (John’s voice sounds so noise reduced it’s almost unlistenable), Real Love is a bit better, but the decision to speed up the tape half a step makes John’s great voice sound a bit like he’s one of the chipmunks. My question: can anybody tell me, which take of Real Love was released on the John Lennon Acoustic Album? Thank you.

    1. Dave

      I respectfully disagree with the comment that Jeff Lynne was the wrong producer. If my history serves me right John Lennon was a Phil Spector fan and had him produce a few of his records.(Wall of Sound)

      1. Vonbontee

        What’s Jeff Lynne got to do with Phil Spector?

        (I thought Lynne did a good job too – anyways, he didn’t overload the thing with a dozen ELO-style vocoders.)

        1. Dave

          In the previous comment that I was commenting on, I got the impression that the person said that Jeff Lynne overproduced the last two Beatles songs. I was comparing Jeff Lynne to Phil Spector because I thought John Lennon liked the way Phil Spector produced being famous for the Wall of Sound. Jeff Lynne in my opinion had some similarities. I think John Lennon would of liked the way the three remaining Beatles did these two songs. By the way I think Jeff Lynne did a good job too.

  7. Richard F Crawley III

    I feel Harrison’s guitar work on “Real Love” took style and tone cues from Lennon. After the solo, Harrison’s guitar takes on a Double Fantasy “I’m Losing You” influence. I have pondered if Harrison was paying tribute to Lennon’s solo career guitar work throughout “Real Love.”

    1. AutomaticButt

      On Double Fantasy, Lennon did not play lead guitar on any tracks. His obvious lack of musical skill was covered up with a cast of no less than 37 musicians. A very good songwriter though he was, he never developed past rudimentary skills on any instrument, unlike McCartney, Harrison and Starr

      1. Rich

        Lack of musical skill, aye? Give me a break, he was no Clapton, but he could make a guitar “f-ing howl.” The riffs and his lead work on Get Back are Blues 101, relatively simple stuff technically but used so effectively.

        1. Tweeze

          Ask Clapton. John was always putting down his own guitar playing but Eric thought he could play just fine, he just had this shyness. Donovan even has cited John’s ability as being quite good. But when you’re in a studio you want to get the best sound and normally you want it quickly. To do this you let more proficient people do it.

  8. andrew

    I always thought “Real Love”
    was released b John on one of his earlier albums.
    That it was an oversight by Yoko and the remaining Beatles thinking it was a new unfinished song.

  9. Travis

    I’m so glad to see all these obviously true beatle-freaks on here agreeing with me, because I haven’t gotten a lot of agreement with people I’ve spoken with on this issue – I think “Real Love” is not only far superior to the over-hyped “Free As A Bird”(still a good song) but one of the best songs John ever wrote, and one of the best love songs ever written. The pre-chorus “No need to be alone…no need to be alone”, the way his voice sounds there…it’s just incredibly beautiful with a hint of sadness that only Lennon could convey in that way of his. I find it interesting that “Real Love”, “Grow Old With Me” and “Free As A Bird” are I think inarguably some of his best post-Beatles work. It’s like he was rediscovering his 60′s muse right at the end…I don’t have to say how tragic that is. Take into account things like “Watching The Wheels”, “Now and Then”, “Nobody Told Me”, all written ’78-on. He hadn’t been on a role like that since his first two solo albums. I think a lot of it had to do with his house husband years, he finally accepting and understanding his place with the Beatles and reconciling his feelings for that time in his life(that recent Lennon biography mentioned how in the sessions for “Double Fantasy” he would often refer back fondly to Beatle days, or compare sounds he wanted to things they would do, all things he reportedly was not comfortable expressing before). Oh, and then there’s that tantalizing scrawled “For Paul” on the the tape that Yoko gave to Paul…I have a strong feeling they would have worked together again, specifically on some of these wonderful songs and who knows what else. Oh what might have been!

  10. pat

    Yeah…it’s sad to think about it – we’ll never know how much great music has been lost (apart from losing John AS A PERSON). Did John write “For Paul” on that Tape or was it Yoko (or Fred Seaman)? This is interesting, because I read in an interview with Jack Douglas that John honestly considered writing with Paul again (in that interview Douglas also said there were plans for a “true” Beatles-Reunion, meaning John and Paul writing together, making an album AND DOING CONCERTS AGAIN). I’m sorry, I can’t give you a link…I read it somewhere on the web (and to be honest: I thought it was – let’s talk Beatles-style – RUBBISH!). But of course I WANTED to believe it. And it might be true: John had become so proud of “The Bs” that he even collected Beatles-memorabilia of all kind! He “admitted” that in 1974 (doing promo for “Walls and Bridges”). I ask myself if George would have agreed to reunite…even if John AND Paul (and of course Ringo) had been willing to do it. But that’s just my fantasy going mad…(I hope someday you’ll join me!). Isn’t that amazing how important they STILL are? Let’s hope John knows…where ever he is.

  11. Schminking of gin

    I heard somewhere that towards the end of the Lost Weekend Lennon was planning on heading to New Orleans to join up with Paul in the studio, but that was scuttled as him and Yoko got back together and the house husband years began instead…

    1. Tweeze

      This is likely to be true although I can’t vouch for the time-frame. I do have it on good authority I can’t cite that John and Paul were indeed serious about trying to do something together, but not as Beatles. The ’80s were very possibly going to boast new Lennon/McCartney songs. That makes John’s death that much harder for me to take knowing how close we were to seeing this happen for real.

  12. Tweeze

    I agree with George – this version of ‘Real Love’ is not good. It’s a great song, but to try and force the bad quality into the mix did not work for me. Whereas Beatle recordings always boasted glitches being left in that no one ever notices or are simply thought to have been intended – this recording sounds horribly like what it was – a bad quality recording forced into the stream.

  13. Riffking

    As to the question as to whether the P,R & G ever saw “Imagine” (the film), the answer is ‘yes.’ I’ve got an article around here somewhere (LA Times, I believe) noting the following: “Paul watching and singing harmony, George watching thoughtfully while Ringo sobbing openly.” Back then, the Times was a great newspaper…and the account seems pretty much what I would expect. Later brethren and sisters, Riffking

  14. Beatlemaniac

    The Threetles’ version of Real Love is much better than Free As A Bird. I particularly enjoy George’s lead guitar.

    That said, I still think the acoustic guitar demo on the Imagine soundtrack is the best version.

  15. Peyeyico

    I really don’t care what your arguments are but I simply enjoy listening Free as a Bird and Real Love where I actually think its length had to be a few seconds longer… they fade the song out in a beautiful George solo…

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