The Great British Songbook #11: ‘Real Love’

If you imagine the Great British Songbook as a collection of of precious jewels scattered on a kitchen floor, which need to be gathered up and, y’know, put in a jewellery box or a safe or something, the songs of the Beatles will naturally be among the biggest, and therefore the first to be picked up. You know that, and I know that. There’s no point making a case for “Yesterday” or “Something” or “In My Life” as songs of note, when they’ve been cherished by millions and covered from here to the moon and back.

However, there are still a few little diamonds on the floor, leftover Beatles songs that very few people cover, and therefore ripe for reinterpretation and discovery.

Among these are “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love,” two songs that only just count as Beatles songs, in that they both use John Lennon’s voice from old cassette recordings, with added bits from George, Paul and Ringo in 1995. They’re a little like the Doctor Who novels and audioplays, in that they are tangential: clearly part of the same reality as the main event, without actually being a continuation of that event.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWWJx4gpfMg

By which I mean it’s relatively easy to picture a world in which “Free As A Bird” never existed, something you could never say about “I Am The Walrus” or even “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”

However, some hardy souls are prepared to explore this tangential hinterland, and well they might. After all, it’s practically impossible to come up with an improvement on most Beatles songs, not least because of their incredible familiarity, whereas these two lost treasures are comparatively easy to beat. Lennon’s vocals are weakened by their lo-fi origins, and as recordings they always sounded a little bit patchwork, no matter how plush and quilty the final results.

So hats off to Regina Spektor, the Russian/American singer-songwriter, for taking on “Real Love” and coming back with this lovely reinterpretation:

The point being, when these two songs were first released, the sound of those four men making music together, via whatever means they managed it, drowned out the songs themselves. And actually, they’re worth a second listen, possibly even a third.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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