Friday, October 2, 2009

Real Love

It's the attack of another Zombie Beatles Song! And even if Zombie Song #2 staggered out into the world groaning for brains in a less overhyped way than Zombie Song #1, it's totally a better song. At least I think so. In fact, I think I'm probably guilty of liking "Real Love" more than it might deserve. That's okay. Hear me out. Well, no-- first have a listen.

I like this video a lot, too-- I like to see them returning to their late '60s meme of making a music video by basically staring dramatically into the camera. (See here for more of this.) No, but seriously, don't we all like to see our favorite people having a good time with each other? The video just enhances the tendency to take this song (as I think we did with "Free as a Bird") as being about, you know, real love, but also being about the Beatles. Which just makes a kid like me happy.

So on the heels of the initial media blitz for Beatles Anthology in the fall of 1995 (the Anthology being a three-pronged onslaught composed of a TV miniseries, Anthology 1 the album, and a gorgeous and informative coffee table book published by one of my favorite publishers, Chronicle), Anthology 2 followed in March of 1996 in what I remember being a much quieter kind of way. I've never bothered to look this up, but it wouldn't surprise me if Anthology 2 and 3 didn't sell as well as Anthology 1, just because of the timing and initial brouhaha and so forth. And yet the latter two were widely considered superior in the Beatle geek community, I think (mostly because the contents of Anthology 1 had already been frequently bootlegged). But more to the point, the second Zombie Beatles single, "Real Love," is, I believe, widely acknowledged to be superior to the first.

The story of "Real Love" is the same as for "Free as a Bird"-- it's a demo that John recorded in a very low-tech kind of way in 1977, which Yoko handed over to the three surviving Beatles to make a new Zombie Beatles song out of in the mid-'90s. "Real Love" was already a little bit better known to the world, or at least to kids like me who were fans but who had not yet discovered the world of bootlegs. That's because it had been featured prominently in the 1988 documentary Imagine: John Lennon (which I remember being pretty good). The version used in the film is actually a demo that got taped a couple years later than the version the Beatles used, but the tune is familiar, and when "Real Love" was announced as the next Zombie single I remember feeling quite pleased with myself that I had some familiarity with it already.

Here's an original demo-- it's not the one the Beatles used, but sounds like it was taped at about the same time, or at least predates the later version from the film.

As you can hear, "Real Love" is really a more complete song in its demo form than "Free as a Bird" had been. It's not just that all the lyrics and structural bits are there-- in "Free as a Bird," remember, Paul ended up contributing to the unfinished middle eight-- it's that even the piano part feels a lot more realized. He's come up with that catchy introductory riff that comes back in the middle, he's figured out the nice upward bassline at the ends of the verses, and he's varying the parts in the verses more.  Clearly, John has spent some more time actually arranging this, such that ultimately it's more than a doodle.

And not only is it more finished than "Free as a Bird" was, it's just a stronger song fundamentally. Don't you think? "Free as a Bird" has that dreary quality, a sort of heaviness, which is particularly weird considering that it's a song about, you know, feeling like a bird. Whereas even in the demo, "Real Love" just moves more. And although "Real Love" probably qualifies as what I yesterday uncharitably referred to as music that an old guy would write, the lyrics are less lamely content and more impassioned-- the language is simple and does rely on the cliches a bit much, but holds your interest a bit better, and it's totally relatable. Most of all, I just find the melody to "Real Love" totally, totally pretty. I do. I know. I'm just, as has been witnessed before, a big soppy Meg. What can I say?-- I'm a sucker for that sweet little Motowny I-vi-IV-V run in the chorus. Anyway, I don't know what John was planning for "Real Love," but I swear, if he'd beefed it up and put it on Double Fantasy (his final album, released in 1980) it could have been one of the stronger tracks.

But of course it didn't go out on Double Fantasy, and it fell to the surviving Beatles to turn this thing into a single. They had less work to do here than they did on "Free as a Bird" (which, according to their interviews on the subject, made the sessions a little less fun), and you'll note that they're largely making musical flourishes that John had initiated. That nice keyboard riff in the intro stays there, while Paul plays pretty much the same simple walking bass line on his bass that John did on the piano; they beef up that nice ascending line from the demo with what sounds like more keyboard as well. But they do make some key innovations, one of this which is, well, a key change. They've sped up the song such that it's a whole tone higher than John's demo-- it's in E, from D-- which is a good move, as the song benefits from a slightly brisker tempo. And the more trebly sound it gives John's voice is characteristic Beatles anyway, because John liked nothing more, it seems, than to try to mess around with the way his voice sounded on their recordings. So that's a good change. And the other thing they introduce that really gives the song some zing is the deceptive cadence that kicks off George's guitar solo. That's good stuff, isn't it? There's nothing too daring about it or anything (I mean, the whole song feels sort of conservative, if that makes sense) but it seems to me that it's exactly what's needed. A good solo, too, from George-- I like the triplets.

As with "Free as a Bird," the three Beatles we have left have longer histories than they did when they were actually doing Beatles songs-- and far more uneven histories, too. And, see, though I really like George's guitar solo here, it doesn't sound Beatley-- it sounds like George Harrison the solo artist. That's just one example, but it's the one that stands out, even if it's not actually bad. It's okay. It's like I said: you can't knock 'em for trying. And sometimes a Zombie Song can still be pretty rad.

I welcome abuse in comments and probably deserve it. I'm well aware I like this song more than it makes sense to.

"Real Love," released in the U.K. and the U.S. disc 1 track 1 of Anthology 2, March 18, 1965.


  1. The song: plodding, plodding, plodding. Boring, boring, boring.

    Thomas Wolfe said, You can't go home again.

    Still, I think if the four Beatles had gotten together to record any time after their break-up, they would have made more great music. But, those 90s attempts to do so with John from the grave, were lame. I don't view today's song or yesterday's song as Beatles music.

  2. No pillorying from me. Yes to all that, plus, when you get George to sing the word 'real,' you get him to stand out in the mix with his Liverpool accent, which is always fun for me.

  3. I'm not a big fan of this one, either. But the video is awesome.

    Just wanted to share: As I type this, my 11 year old daughter and her best friend are downstairs singing their hearts out to Beatles Rock Band. I just heard "I feel fine" and "Eight days a week," both of which sounded pretty darned good. Now they're on to "If I needed someone," which they are completely butchering.

    But at least I've infected a new generation with Beatles appreciation.