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Friday, January 10, 2014

Free as a Bird

On December 4th, 1995, just a few weeks after the release of Anthology 1, Free as a Bird, which had already served as the lead track on that package, appeared as both a single backed with Christmas Time (Is Here Again) and a four song EP.  At first glance, the additional tracks on the EP - I Saw Her Standing There and This Boy - seemed redundant since they, too, were on Anthology 1, but these are studio takes instead of the live performances on the earlier release.

Free as a Bird - There was a quite a bit of nervous anticipation when it was announced that the Threetles would be overdubbing a John Lennon recording to create a "new" song for this project, and with good reason.  One of the main reasons that the group had not reunited during the 70's, even after they patched up their differences, was that they knew they could never live up to the hype.  But when Yoko offered a few of John's demo tapes to Paul, the temptation was simply too much to resist.  Paul, George and Ringo met in February of '94 to flesh out the tape of this song, which merely had John's vocal and piano.  Paul and George also added lyrics and a melody to the unfinished bridge.

Though fascinating, the end result could not escape being a disappointment, starting with the dirge-like tempo of the number.  Producer Jeff Lynne (of ELO and the Traveling Wilburys) is never quite able to mesh the thin sound of the demo tape with the 48-track studio technology at his disposal.  It is nice to hear Paul and George's Beatlesque harmony and backing vocals, and George plays his trademark slide guitar to great effect.  They add on a distinctly mid-60's coda to the song, featuring George on ukulele and a backwards message from John.    

I Saw Her Standing There - The version we have known for all these years was take 1 of this first great rocker by McCartney, but his famous count-in that opens the song is actually from this take - take 9.  The boys were clearly getting tired on their first full day in the studio, and multiple takes did not improve their performance of this number, especially George's guitar solo.

This Boy - By the end of 1963, they were already seasoned professionals in the studio, however, as evidenced by takes 12 and 13 of Lennon's three-part harmony tune.  They laugh off an early flub of take 12 and launch right into the next take, which holds up until John flubs a few lines in the final verse, causing another eruption of laughter from the boys.

Christmas Time (Is Here Again) - Though credited to all four Beatles, there isn't much to this little ditty, but it is one of the absolute joys of the Anthology series nonetheless.  The group sent out exclusive flexi-discs to members of their fan club every Christmas from 1963 to 1969 with little songs, skits and seasonal messages, and the '67 one featured the boys singing this tune along with producer George Martin and actor Victor Spinetti, who had appeared in all of their films to date.  We are also treated to some of those messages from '66 and a bit of Lennon gobbledygook over an organ playing Auld Lang Syne.

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