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: backing vocals, drums, percussion
Jeff Lynne: backing vocals, guitar
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.