'THREETLES' REUNION SONGS
NEW 'FREE AS A BIRD,' 'REAL LOVE'
MIXES. . .
BUT WHERE IS 'NOW AND THEN'?
John, Paul, George Ringo.
By Rip Rense
© Rip Rense/The Rip Post 2016 all rights reserved.
Beatles song was released on “Beatles 1”---actually two---but
no one seemed to notice. The songs: “Free as a Bird” and “Real
Love,” in completely new mixes by Jeff Lynne, accompanying the
videos for each.
Ah, so what’s
special about a new mix? That doesn’t make the songs new. And yet,
in this case, it really does.
“Free As a Bird,” the
1994 “reunion” song done by the so-called “Threetles” using a John
Lennon home demo on cassette, was widely slammed. Lennon’s voice was
“ghostly,” obviously taken from an inferior sound source, and did
not meld with the others. He sounded slightly more present in the
studio than Stu Sutcliffe.
And what of Ringo’s
drum fills, such a characteristic part of any Beatles song?
Mixed down and blurry. What’s more, producer Lynne had Ringo bash
the snare alone to a click track, killing his behind-the-beat
drumming personality in the process.
True, the song had
winning new lyrics from Paul McCartney, stellar guitar work by
Harrison (including a solo based directly on Lennon’s scat-singing
on the cassette demo), lovely harmony vocals and a dash of whimsy in
the form of a ukulele vamp “outro.” But in the end, it sounded like
a cobbled-together pastiche. Well-intended, touching, but not quite.
. .The Beatles.
Lynne has fixed the
Lennon vocal. John sounds as if he is in the studio, singing
with Paul and George. Ringo’s drum fills have been mixed up and now
have clear and meaningful presence, as opposed to the near
background noise they were. And to give things a bit of variety,
George’s solo vocal has been changed to a different take in which he
sings “love” instead of “life” in “Whatever happened to the life
that we once knew?”
The result: this new mix feels like The Beatles. It has
lost most of the pastiche quality, at least to these ears, and
sounds of a piece. Well done to Lynne. (Note to producer: the song
could now really benefit from a great string arrangement. It would
get the kind of Beatle-esque George Martin-esque “finishing touch”
that feels lacking. Hint.) The same is true
to a lesser extent with the lesser reunion song, “Real Love.” The
mix is stronger, Lennon is more present, and Lynne has restored a
number of fine Harrison guitar fills that were mixed out of the
original. The net effect is an improvement.
The problem with
“Real Love” remains what it has been all along: it’s a trifle of
a tune, a sweet-sounding ditty. This “ditty” factor was only
heightened by the fact that Lynne and the “Threetles” speeded the
track up to make it a bit more uptempo. When you listen to the
original demo, or superior original demos (with more lyrics!) of the
same song, you cringe at the reflective ballad that was sacrificed
Which brings up the
real problem with the reunion sessions: Yoko Ono’s choice of songs.
Why George, Paul, Ringo did not ask to go to the Dakota and listen
to everything available is well beyond me. Out of the dozens of home
recordings, demos---complete and incomplete---that existed, Ono
selected “Real Love,” which had already been released as part of the
“Imagine: John Lennon” soundtrack, “Grow Old With Me” (rejected by
the “Threetles”), which had already been released on the John/Yoko
“Milk and Honey” album, “Free As a Bird,” and a fledgling song
referred to as “Now and Then,” “Miss You,” or “I Don’t Want to Lose
You” (as Ono dubbed it in a short-lived musical, “Lennon,” that
closed six-weeks after being dubbed “Ono-centric” by critics.)
Harrison rejected “Grow Old With Me” as being too sad to deal with,
and also vetoed “Miss You” reportedly due to disgruntlement over bad
reviews of “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.”
all but certain that if Harrison, McCartney, Starr (and possibly
George Martin) had listened to everything available, that not one of
the works given to them by Ono would have been chosen. Just knowing
that the more reflective, expansive version of “Real Love” was
bypassed is disappointing enough, but when you add to the list such
gems as “India, India,” a ballad written in 1968 with wonderful
words, or the deeply moving, poignant, “Memories,” it’s
heartbreaking to think of what was missed. Perhaps Ono was unaware
of these songs at the time. And if previously released Lennon songs
were fair game, I’ve always thought that the anthem, “Nobody Told
Me” might have gotten a terrific treatment and arrangement by the “Threetles.”
Just strip off the studio musicians, and add Beatles till done. . .
What’s done is
done, and yet the many demos Lennon left behind still remain. .
.left behind. Why not use some of them as the basis for “finished”
versions by musicians who knew and worked with Lennon? Including
Paul and Ringo? I see no harm in it whatsoever.
up, speaking of things left behind, the last reunion song, “Miss
You.” Where is it? How finished is it? Will it be released?
When I interviewed Lynne about the song in 2005 for the
Washington Post, he said this:
"It was one day--one afternoon, really--messing with
it. The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in
verses. We did the backing track... a rough go that we didn't really
finish. It was sort of a bluesy sort of ballad, I suppose, in A
minor. It was a very sweet song; I liked it a lot, and I wish we
could have finished it."
Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, who also worked on the sessions,
told me this: "It would be nice to get it finished. Paul's up for
it. . .The chorus is great... it would make a great record."
remarked on a number of occasions that he would like to finish the
song and release it. I have confirmed through a source that
McCartney gave the partially completed track to producer David Kahne
(who handled McCartney’s well received “Memory Almost Full” album),
and that Kahne worked on it. And now comes this new comment from
Lynne in the April, 2016 issue of Uncut Magazine:
“We put a few
instruments down and Ringo added a harmony on it. I did a couple
of big edits on it. Paul liked it, I liked it. But George didn't
like it, so we didn't carry on."
like much more than a day’s work, never mind that extensive
preparation that would have been done to the original Lennon
cassette to make it suitable as a track. Given the further work by
Kahne, and McCartney’s statements about wanting to release it, it
sounds as if “Now and Then” is effectively finished. (And, from what
one listener who has heard the work-in-progress said, it bears no
resemblance to the various fantasy completions floating around
has it not com out? One highly dubious rumor is that Paul has set it
aside to be issued after his passing. It seems unlikely that Olivia
Harrison or Yoko Ono would stand in the way of the world receiving
one last new Beatles song, never mind Ono’s statement to me in 2005:
“I sent those songs to them when the situation was quite different.
Now that George is gone, I don't know if the same would apply. I
will consider the possibility, that is, when I get the call.”
justification or occasion is necessary, there is always the 25th
anniversary of “Free As a Bird” in 2019, when Lynne will no doubt
create that special “FAAB” edition with an added string arrangement.
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