My third Beatles fantasy album, Free As A Bird, takes place about six years after Abracadabra and about a decade after A Doll’s House– the reason being that much of the solo Beatles work during that time was pretty bad.
Ringo was nearing his low point, George’s creativity had started to wane after two good solo albums, and Paul continued releasing sub-par Wings albums almost every year. And John? After Sean was born in 1975, he took a break from songwriting and recording, which means there’s nothing. That’s the real reason for my delay.
By 1980-81, things were looking up music-wise: John recorded and released Double Fantasy shortly before his death, George released the popular “All Those Years Ago,” Paul was working on Tug of War, his best album since Band on the Run, and even Ringo had a minor hit with “Wrack My Brain.”
So it seems only fitting that we get one final album out of these guys.
The only problem is that by this time, the four had drifted away from each other so much that it was hard to piece together an album from the same era. So I tried to find the most “Beatley” songs from the years preceding and following 1980. It also features tributes the three wrote for John, plus the two demos that actually brought the three remaining members together in real life.
The album cover comes straight from the single “Free As A Bird,” released in 1995.
Track listing – Free As A Bird:
“In Spite of All the Danger” (Harrison/McCartney, Anthology 1, 1995)—The first known recording ever of John, Paul and George, playing as the Quarrymen in 1958.
“(Just Like) Starting Over” (Lennon, Double Fantasy, 1980)—I can hear a voice that sounds like Paul in the backing vocals.
“Take It Away” (McCartney, Tug of War, 1982)—Paul’s hit single from the Tug of War album, released a few years after John’s death. Ringo plays drums.
“Nobody Told Me” (Lennon, Milk and Honey, 1984)—A leftover from the Double Fantasy sessions, it was not released for another four years, but it was recorded in 1980.
“Call Me Back Again” (McCartney, Venus and Mars, 1975)—This is definitely out of sequence. I pretended that Paul was holding this one back for a special occasion; you can almost hear John in the backing vocals.
“Wrack My Brain” (Starr, Stop and Smell the Roses, 1981)—George wrote the song and played guitar on it. It’s a simple, eccentric song that would have fit on any Beatles album.
“Free as a Bird” (Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starr, Anthology 1, 1995)—This scenario, of course, actually happened; Yoko gave Paul an old demo of John’s, and the three surviving Beatles added to the demo to create the song. I simply pretended that she gave him the tapes sixteen years earlier.
“Woman” (Lennon, Double Fantasy, 1980)—The harmonies sound very Lennon/McCartney here.
“Tug of War” (McCartney, Tug of War, 1982)—Paul’s description of his complex relationship with John has to go on this album.
“All Those Years Ago” (Harrison, Somewhere in England, 1981)—George’s tribute has to be here as well, and it is arguably the best song he’s ever written. Ringo played drums, and Paul provided backing vocals. Another near-miss reunion.
“Here Today” (McCartney, Tug of War, 1982)—Paul’s personal message to John is more than fitting.
“Real Love” (Lennon/ McCartney/ Harrison/ Starr, Anthology 2, 1996)—Another project culled from a Lennon cassette tape and embellished by the three surviving Beatles.
Want to find out the story behind this third fantasy album? Read my book, The Death and Life of Mal Evans, which presents an alternate history where the Beatles stay together to make these albums.