When was it recorded? 1979 + July 1980 + Feb. 1995
When was it first released, and on which album? Oct. 10, 1988 on “Imagine: John Lennon”
Who wrote it? Lennon (with noteworthy contribution from Harrison, McCartney and Starkey)
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
Real talk – I didn’t know about “Real Love” until 2007. I only paid attention because my favorite solo artist ever, Regina Spektor, covered it for the “Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur” compilation album. The more I read about John Lennon, the more I see how much he influenced Regina and some of her musical choices, which is fascinating. (I see 2007 was also the year John’s original version appeared in a national commercial, which I seem to have spaced out on. Priorities.)
Anyway, John originally recorded “Real Love” as a solo endeavor. According to Beatles biographer John T. Marck, it “originated as part of an unfinished stage play that Lennon was working on at the time” (Wikipedia). Wikipedia further noted, “The song was first recorded in 1977 with a hand-held tape recorder on his piano at home. Eventually the work evolved under the title ‘Real Life,’ a song Lennon would record at least six takes of in 1979 and 1980, and then abandoned. The song was eventually combined with elements of another Lennon demo, ‘Baby Make Love to You.’” A piano demo recorded in 1980 (dubbed “Take Four” in John’s introduction) appeared on “John Lennon Anthology” in 1998.
He really did lose his Liverpool accent later in life, didn’t he?
John considered “Real Love” for inclusion on his album “Double Fantasy,” but obviously decided otherwise.
The track was shelved until 1988. That year, “Real Love” appeared in the film “Imagine: John Lennon” and its soundtrack.
I wrote on Day 69: “Free As a Bird” about how the Beatles (with Yoko’s blessing) resurrected/reconstructed one of John’s solo demos for the “Anthology” series. Obviously, the same thing happened here.
Quoth Wikipedia, “Although ‘Real Love’ was comparatively more complete than ‘Free as a Bird,’ …the song also suffered from problems with Lennon’s timing.” The sound quality was also poor, causing Jeff Lynne considerable trouble when re-mastering the tape. Alan Pollack noted, “In contrast to ‘Free As A Bird,’ where the finished product remains in the same key and at the same speed of John’s demo, ‘Real Love’ is sped up some 12% to sound a full step higher (E) than the demo (which appears to be in D). I assume this was done at least in part to effect the snappy tempo.”
The Threetles didn’t have as much fun with “Real Love” as they did with “Free As a Bird.” Paul attributed this to there being less collaborative work to be done on the track. Quoth the Beatles Bible, “[George] is said to have been dissatisfied with the results of ‘Real Love,’ and declined to take part in a third recording, ‘Now And Then.’” Ringo had a more positive spin on things, saying, “Recording the new songs didn’t feel contrived at all, it felt very natural and it was a lot of fun, but emotional too at times. But it’s the end of the line, really. There’s nothing more we can do as the Beatles.”
The Beatles’ version of “Real Love” was released Mar. 4, 1996 both as a single and on “Anthology 2.”
Now comes the real drama!
“Real Love” peaked at #11 in the US and #4 in the UK. Most critics point to BBC Radio 1’s refusal to play the song as what stunted the single’s sales.
When confronted about the song’s exclusion from their playlist, Radio 1 responded, “It’s not what our listeners want to hear … We are a contemporary music station.” Beatles spokesman Geoff Baker countered, “We carried out research after the Anthology was launched and this revealed that 41% of the buyers were teenagers.” Paul went even bigger, writing an 800-word article for The Daily Mirror published Mar. 9, 1996, the day after Radio 1’s “ban” was announced.
Despite all this, the RIAA eventually certified “Real Love” Gold.
Kevin Godley directed a music video for “Real Love.” Part of it was filmed in the studio in 1995 while Paul, George, and Ringo worked on the song. The rest of the video features archive footage of the whole band. Two different versions exist – one the original televised version, the other featured on the Anthology DVD set. This is the “Anthology” version.
Quoth Wikipedia, “To date, [“Real Love”] is the last released record of new material credited to the Beatles.” Fingers crossed for “Carnival of Light” appearing in my lifetime.