Jeff Lynne & The Beatles

In 1994 Jeff Lynne was approached by the remaining three Beatles to help them produce their "new" songs and restore Lennon's vocals from poorly-preserved mono tapes containing some unfinished Lennon demos that they were given by Yoko Ono. He was chosen because of his experience - having done a skilful restoration on Roy Orbison's posthumously-released King Of Hearts album in 1992 - and his contacts to George Harrison with whom he had worked before (on Harrison's Cloud Nine album in 1987 and on the two Traveling Wilbuys albums Vol. 1 and Vol. 3 in 1988 and 1990).

This page contains several excerpts from interviews with either Jeff or one of the Beatles concerning his contribution to the Anthology project:

Jeff Lynne
in SOUND ON SOUND Magazine (December 1995):

But surely, working with Lennon's rough demos to create a high-quality result must have been extraordinarly difficult.

Lynne says: "It was very difficult, and one of the hardest jobs I've ever had to do, because of the nature of the source material; it was very primitive-sounding, to say the least. I spent about a week at my own studio cleaning up both tracks on my computer, with a friend of mine, Marc Mann, who is a great engineer, musician and computer expert."

"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. 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! 'Free As A Bird' however, wasn't a quarter as noisy as 'Real Love' and only a bit of EQ was needed to cure most problems."

Timing must have been a problem, because Lennon was never one for keeping in time with himself. "Well, nobody is 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. It's quite a complex process, but for some reason, I kind of know how to do it, through messing around on other stuff for years."

When Lynne brought the 'treated' Lennon DATs to McCartney's studio for the overdub sessions, all concerned were adamant that analogue equipment and die-hard techniques should be used wherever possible. With McCartney's studio unsurprisingly well-stocked with a Neve console, generous vintage outboard and Neumann U47s for vocals, the only specialised item of equipment required from the outside world was an Oberheim OBX8 analogue synth for what Lynne describes as "a soft, synthesized pad sound, played by Paul." He adds: "What we were trying to do was create a record that was timeless, so we steered away from using state-of the-art gear. We didn't want to make it fashionable. It's just making the statement that they are all here playing together after all these years. So while it sounds fresh and new, it wouldn't have been out of place on The White Album."

What was a surprise, however, was the absence of McCartney's trademark Hofner violin bass. Lynne says: "Paul played his Wal five-string on 'Free As A Bird' and on 'Real Love' he used his double bass (originally owned by Elvis Presley's bassist, Bill Black) - and we tracked it with a Fender Jazz. Paul went DI to the desk, but also used his Mesa Boogie amp and we took a mixture of the two signals. George used a couple of Strats - a modern, Clapton-style one (Lace Sensors) and his psychedelic Strat that's jacked up for the bottleneck stuff on 'Free As A Bird'. They also played six-string acoustics - Paul chose his Gibson jumbo while George used a smaller Martin, and Ringo played his Ludwig kit, so there are genuine Beatles drums on there."

The three Beatles began work in February [1995] on a third unfinshed Lennon demo. Contrary to press speculation, this song was not 'Grow Old With Me' but one which Lynne and [Geoff] Emerick recall being titled either 'Now And Then' or 'Miss You' - a track which Emerick expects the remaining Beatles to complete in the not too distant future. He says: "We did start work on it, but it was obviously unfinished from a writing point of view, so we thought, we'd work on 'Real Love' which had a complete set of words. It'll need to be completed as a song before everybody decides what to do with it, and," he adds with a grin, "it's not hard to imagine who would finish writing it."

Of his time spent with The Beatles, Lynne says: "Being right there in the inner sanctum and hanging out with them for a few weeks was fantastic. Although a long time passed since they last recorded as one unit, they worked terribly well together, and being in the control room watching and listening to them interact with each other was fascinating. I'd often have cause to think, 'Christ, no wonder they were the best.' But I always thought they were the greatest anyway."

"They're still great musicians and great singers. Paul and George would strike up the backing vocals - and all of a sudden it's The Beatles again! To be there in the middle of all this and have a degree of responsibility over the result was astonishing. It wasn't some kind of fake version, it really was the real thing. They were having fun with each other and reminding each other of the old times. I'd be waiting to record and normally I'd say, 'OK, Let's do a take', but I was too busy laughing and smiling at everything they were talking about."

As well as directing from the control room, Lynne also contributed a vocal harmony and a guitar overdub on 'Free As A Bird'. "But," he says, "I wanted to keep my hands off as much as possible. The only things I really did were the funny little bits at the end of the track. I made sure that whatever was done as a big part of the record was them."

For Beatle fan Lynne, it must have felt like everything he had achieved in his entire career had led to this ultimate experience. Was it like The Twilight Zone? "Sometimes! I'd get up in the morning and think, 'God I'm working with The Beatles today, I can't believe it!'. It was a lovely magical time. But as well as being the ultimate musical pleasure and thrill, the thought of it was very scary, because it had never been done before, and there were no points of reference. You know, what do you do on a Beatles record when the singer's not there?"

Paul McCartney
in BASS PLAYER (August 1995):

"To do this song, we took a cassette of John's, not multitracked, but exactly like that", he says, pointing at my little Sony recorder. "It was him and piano, interlocked. You couldn't pull the fader down and get rid of the piano - they're there. And I mean - not being boastful - with [producer] Jeff Lynne, we did a really good job. We recorded it here: me, George, and Ringo. I played the Wal, and what I liked was I played very, very normal bass, really out of the way, because I didn't want to 'feature'. There are one or two moments where I break a little loose, but mostly I try to anchor the track."

Wasn't it strange playing along with John Lennon's cassette? "It was very strange and it was very magic; it was spooky and it was very wonderful. Before the session we were talking about it, and I was trying to help set it up, because we never even knew if we could be in a room together after all these years. So I was talking to Ringo about how we'd do it, and he said that it might even be joyous. And it was - it was really cool. We pulled it off, that's the thing. And I don't care what anyone says. We could work together. We did a bit of technical stuff on the tape, to make it, to make it work, and Jeff Lynne was very good. We had Geoff Emerick, our old Beatle engineer; he's solid, really great. He knows how Ringo's snare should sound."

No George Martin? "George wasn't involved, no. George doesn't want to produce much any more 'cause his hearing's not as good as it used to be. He's a very sensible guy, and he says [plummy voice again] 'Look, Paul I like to do a proper job', and if he doesn't feel he's up to it he won't do it. It's very noble of him, actually - most people would take the money and run."

Ringo Starr
in RECORD COLLECTOR (December 1995):

"We had to overdub, because we started off with a cassette that Yoko gave us, and a cassette is not the greatest thing for keepinhg time, so we couldn't really play with it. Also, the cassette wasn't in the greatest condition, and didn't have the greatest clarity. But with modern science, we could work with it. Jeff Lynne did a great job putting it into time, and cleaning it up so we could work on it."

"We just pretended that John had gone on holiday or out for tea and had left us the tape to play with. That was the only way we could deal with it, and get over the hurdle, because was really very emotional."

Paul McCartney
in Q Magazine (November 1995):

"I was worried", Paul conceded. "He's such a pal of George's. They'd done the [Traveling] Wilburys, and I was expecting him to lead it that way. To tell you the truth, I thought that he and George might create a wedge, saying, 'We're doing it this way' and I'd be pushed out. But he was very fair, and very thorough. He looked at things with a fine-tooth comb - if you can 'look' at things with a fine-tooth comb. He was very precise."

"I was saying, 'Well, George [Martin] is doing the ANTHOLOGY. If his ears are good enough for that...' But George [Harrison] was saying, 'No, that's all stuff we know about, it's stuff that's mixed and done. He is the man for that, but if we're making a new record, we've got to get someone with immaculate ears.'"

"George Martin's thing - he'll tell you himself - is that his hearing's not as good as it was and that's why he's getting out of production. So that's how it split and he didn't mind."

"I was worried because it was going to be George on slide. When Jeff suggested slide guitar I thought (dubiously), Oh, it's "My Sweet Lord" again, it's George's trademark. John might have vetoed that. But in fact, he got a much more bluesy attitude, very cool, very minimal, and I think he plays a blinder."

Jeff Lynne
in the L.A. TIMES (Nov. 18, 1995):

They had crude, homemade tapes of four unfinished John Lennon songs... 'Free as a Bird,' 'Real Love,' 'Grow Old With Me,' and a minor-key piano ballad that Lynne speculates will be titled either 'Now And Then' or 'Miss You.'

'Now and Then' or 'Miss You,' the instrumental, was attempted at the second session at the same studio in February of this year, then abandoned.

"There was one afternoon messing with it, but a lot of words weren't there. We did a rough backing track. It was a very sweet song and I wish we could have finished it. The decision was made to do something already complete. Also because of the [limited] time frame."

There was "a little talk" among the three Beatles about possibly doing a whole album, Lynne says, but "time just didn't permit it."

Among the studio tricks he employed in the 'Bird' sessions were cutting up Lennon's slightly out-of-time vocal to get it in proper rhythm and matching McCartney's studio piano with Lennon's piano sound - "sort of like a jigsaw puzzle, really, the way we got it to work."

last modified: 26.02.2000