In the studio

Before recording could take place, the demo had to be digitally cleaned up and synchronised to a click track, as John Lennon’s time-keeping was typically erratic. It was then transferred to a 48-track analogue multitrack, which was done – at George Harrison’s suggestion – at producer Jeff Lynne’s Hollywood studio.

It was very difficult, and one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had to do, because of the nature of the source 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 and computer expert…

Putting fresh music to it was the easy part! ‘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.

Jeff Lynne
Sound On Sound, December 1995

George Martin declined to work on the song, claiming that his hearing was no longer up to the job. This is in spite of his involvement as producer and director of the entire Anthology project, and in 2006 he co-produced the Love album with his son Giles.

George wasn’t involved, no. George doesn’t want to produce much any more ’cause his hearing’s not as good as it used to be. He’s a very sensible guy, and he says, ‘Look, Paul I like to do a proper job’, and if he doesn’t feel he’s up to it he won’t do it. It’s very noble of him, actually – most people would take the money and run.
Paul McCartney
Bass Player, August 1995

In Martin’s absence, Paul McCartney took the demos to his Sussex studio. Work began in February 1994, with Lynne co-producing with the other Beatles, and the group’s former engineer Geoff Emerick manning the mixing desk.

I invented a little scenario; he’s gone away on holiday and he’s just rung us up and he says “Just finish this track for us, will you? I’m sending the cassette – I trust you.” That was the key thing, “I trust you, just do your stuff on it.” I told this to the other guys and Ringo was particularly pleased, and he said “Ahh, that’s great!” It was very nice and it was very irreverent towards John. The scenario allowed us to be not too, ahh, the great sacred fallen hero. He would never have gone for that. John would have been the first one to debunk that – “A fucking hero? A fallen hero? Fuck off, we’re making a record.”
Paul McCartney

In its original state, ‘Free As A Bird’ was an unfinished demo recording by John Lennon. Its raw state enabled the ‘Threetles’ (as they were later dubbed by the press) to create a new arrangement and add new chords and lyrics.

Being right there in the inner sanctum and hanging out with them for a few weeks was fantastic. Although a long time passed since they last recorded as one unit, they worked terribly well together, and being in the control room watching and listening to them interact with each other was fascinating. I’d often have cause to think, ‘Christ, no wonder they were the best.’ But I always thought they were the greatest anyway.

They’re still great musicians and great singers. Paul and George would strike up the backing vocals – and all of a sudden it’s The Beatles again! To be there in the middle of all this and have a degree of responsibility over the result was astonishing. It wasn’t some kind of fake version, it really was the real thing. They were having fun with each other and reminding each other of the old times. I’d be waiting to record and normally I’d say, ‘OK, Let’s do a take’, but I was too busy laughing and smiling at everything they were talking about.

Jeff Lynne
Sound On Sound, December 1995

McCartney re-recorded Lennon’s vocals for the middle eight. Lennon’s demo contained just the words “Whatever happened to the life that we once knew?” – possibly inspired by “Whatever happened to the boy that I once knew?” from the Shangri-Las’ 1964 hit ‘Remember (Walking In The Sand)’. McCartney added the remaining lines in place of Lennon’s ad-libbing.

John hadn’t filled in the middle eight section of the demo so we wrote a new section for that, which, in fact, was one of the reasons for choosing the song; it allowed us some input, he was obviously just blocking out lyrics that he didn’t have yet. When he gets to the middle he goes, ‘Whatever happened to/The life that we one knew/Woowah wunnnnn yeurrggh!’ and you can see that he’s trying to push lyrics out but they’re not coming. He keeps going as if to say ‘Well, I’ll get to them later’. That 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 studio equipment was mostly analogue, to make the recording as authentic as possible. While McCartney used a Wal five-string bass instead of his trademark Hofner violin instrument, Starr used his original Ludwig drum kit. Harrison played two Fender Stratocasters, and both he and McCartney added acoustic guitars. McCartney also used an Oberheim OBX8 analogue synth.

What we were trying to do was create a record that was timeless, so we steered away from using state-of the-art gear. We didn’t want to make it fashionable. It’s just making the statement that they are all here playing together after all these years. So while it sounds fresh and new, it wouldn’t have been out of place on the White Album.
Jeff Lynne
Sound On Sound, December 1995