The Beatles in 90s

From 1994 until 1996, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr participated in the making of Anthology project. Anthology is the name of a three-volume set of double albums, a documentary TV series, and a book focusing on the history of the Beatles.

For the Anthology albums, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr originally intended to record some incidental background music, as a trio, but later realised that they wanted to record 'new music'.

According to Harrison, they had always agreed that if one of them was not in the band, the others would never replace them and, "... go out as the Beatles", and that the "only other person that could be in it was John."

So, they decided to overdubbing two of John Lennon's unfinished songs — "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love".

The idea of re-doing Lennon's unfinished songs apparently was inspired by former Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall and Harrison, who first requested some old demos from Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono. 

Then, in January 1994, McCartney went to New York City for Lennon's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While there, Ono gave McCartney cassette tapes of four songs. "Free as a Bird", "Grow Old With Me", "Real Love", and "Now and Then". According to Aspinall, it was "two cassettes" which "might have been five or six tracks." 

George Martin, who had produced most of the Beatles recordings, turned down an invitation to produce "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" due to hearing problems. Harrison, in turn, suggested Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra as producer.
"Free as a Bird" was recorded by Lennon in 1977, in his Dakota building apartment in New York City, but was not complete. The original tape was recorded on a mono cassette, with vocals and piano on the same track. They were impossible to separate, so Lynne had to produce the track with voice and piano together, but commented that it was good for the integrity of the project, as Lennon was not only singing occasional lines, but also playing on the song.

"Free as a Bird" original tape (demo 1) by John Lennon

"Free as a Bird" studio version incorporating contributions from McCartney, Harrison and Starr

The remaining Beatles recorded a track around Lennon's basic song idea, but which had gaps they had to fill in musically. Some chords were changed, and the arrangement was expanded to include breaks for McCartney and Harrison to sing extra lines. Harrison played slide guitar in the solo and McCartney added some lyrics to fill the gaps.

The Beatles' overdubs and production were recorded between February and March 1994 in Sussex, England, at McCartney's home studio. It ends with a slight coda including a strummed ukulele by Harrison and the voice of John Lennon played backwards. The message, when played in reverse, is "Turned out nice again", which was the catchphrase of George Formby. The final result sounds like "made by John Lennon", which, according to McCartney, was unintentional and was only discovered after the surviving Beatles reviewed the final mix.

George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr during the Anthology project

"Free as a Bird" was released as a single on 4 December 1995. The song also as part of the promotion for The Beatles Anthology video documentary and Anthology 1 compilation album
"Real Love" was first recorded in 1977 with a hand-held tape recorder on John Lennon's piano at home. He made six takes of the song in 1979 and 1980 with "Real Life", a different song that merged with "Real Love". The song was ignored until 1988 when the sixth take was used on the documentary soundtrack Imagine: John Lennon.

"Real Love" original tape (take 1) by John Lennon

"Real Love" studio version incorporating contributions from McCartney, Harrison and Starr

Some takes featured an acoustic guitar, while the eventual Beatles release featured Lennon on piano, with rudimentary double-tracked vocals, and a tambourine. The song eventually released in 1996 most closely reflected the lyrical structure of the early demo takes of the song.

The first problem they had to confront was the low quality of the demo, as Lennon had recorded the demo on a hand-held tape recorder. Lynne recalled:
“We tried out a new noise reduction system, and it really worked. 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. ... We'd spend a day on it, then listen back and still find loads more things wrong. ... 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!”

Although "Real Love" was comparatively more complete than "Free as a Bird", the song also suffered from problems with Lennon's timing. Lynne said:
“Well, nobody is [keeping time] when they're just writing a song. You don't think, 'I'd better use a click while I'm putting down this idea.' You just play and enjoy yourself. So it took a lot of work to get it all in time so that the others could play to it.”

Therefore in February 1995, the Beatles gathered once more in Sussex, England, at McCartney's studio to produce "Real Love". Added to the demo were the sounds of a double bass (originally owned by Elvis Presley's bassist, Bill Black), Fender Jazz bass guitar, a couple of Stratocaster guitars, one a modern "Clapton-style one" as Lynne described it, and George Harrison's psychedelically-painted "Rocky" strat, as well as a Ludwig drum kit. McCartney did not use his signature Höfner "violin" bass guitar or his Rickenbacker 4001S, as he did during his career as a Beatle. Other than the Beatles traditional instruments, a Baldwin Combo Harpsichord and a harmonium. During the recording process, it was decided to speed the tape from the key of D minor to E flat minor which would be the speed that it was released in at the song's completion.

"Real Love" was released as a single on 4 March 1996. The song also as part of Anthology 2 compilation album.
Three albums for the Anthology project were issued, each containing two CDs or three vinyl LPs of mostly never-before-released Beatles material, although many of the tracks had appeared on bootlegs for many years prior.

The album cover of Anthology 1

Anthology 1 was released on 20 November 1995. The album includes music recorded by the Quarrymen, the famous Decca Records audition tapes, and various out-takes and demos from the band's first four albums. Anthology 1 also includes a new song, "Free as a Bird".

The album cover of Anthology 2

Anthology 2 was released on 17 March 1996. The second collection presented out-takes and demos from the Beatles' sessions for Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour. Anthology 2 also includes a new song, "Real Love".

The album cover of Anthology 3

Anthology 3 was released on 28 October 1996. The third collection featured out-takes and demos from The White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be as well as several songs from Harrison and McCartney which later became post-Beatle tracks.

The Beatles Anthology series of documentary was broadcast on ITV in the United Kingdom and ABC television in the United States in 1995. The Anthology series takes a form similar to that of the Anthology book, by being a series of first-person accounts by the Beatles themselves, with no external "objective" narration.

A clip from special features in The Beatles Anthology documentary DVD. McCartney, Harrison, and Starr spend a summer day in Harrison's house (Friar Park, Henley-on-Thames, England) in June 1994. They are playing music and remembering early days of first cars and meeting Elvis.

Footage in the Anthology series features voice-over recordings of all four Beatles to push the narrative of the story, with contributions from their producer, road manager and others. As well as telling their story through archival footage, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison appear in interview segments recorded exclusively for the series itself; John Lennon appears only in historic archival footage. 

The series, which was made over five years of planning and production, is composed of numerous film clips and interviews that present a complete history of the band from the Beatles' own personal perspectives. When it aired on ABC, the series comprised six hour-long programs, aired on three nights in November 1995. The series was later released, as eight expanded episodes, on VHS, laserdisc and as a boxed set of five DVDs (4 discs with 2 episodes a piece and a disc of extras).

The Beatles Anthology book was published in October 2000 as part of The Beatles Anthology project. It includes interviews with all four band members, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, and others involved, most notably George Martin, plus over 1,200 rare photos.

Many of the interviews quoted are from those featured in the documentary films, and additional interviews were conducted for the book specifically (excluding John Lennon's passages, which were accumulated from various archives and sources). The book is designed as a large-format hardback, with imaginative artwork throughout, and several visually impressive and colourful spreads featuring graphics relevant to the proceeding chronology, photographic arrays and a variety of text styles and layouts.