Jeff Lynne is one of England’s most original songwriters, with a very similar streak to The Beatles, employing similar techniques. Lynne’s band from Birmingham, Electric Light Orchestra, picked up what The Beatles finished doing at one point in their career and continued with grandiose orchestrations, combining the cello and violin with rock guitars. ELO also had a slight science-fiction influence, especially on their 1977 record Out of the Blue.
Lynne became close friends with The Beatles, but especially George Harrison. Harrison would, of course, later ask Lynne to join his supergroup, The Travelling Wilburys, years later, alongside other greats, such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. It was some of Lynne and Harrison’s finest work.
Probably one of the most awe-inspiring things Jeff Lynne has done in his career so happens to involve The Beatles — and in a very big way. In 1995, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunited for the time in years since before Lennon’s death to record two of Lennon’s unfinished demos, ‘Free as a Bird’ and ‘Real Love’, and Lynne was going to help produce the record. It made complete sense; these two Lennon songs sounded like something Lynne would have wanted to write.
In regards to ‘Free as a Bird’, Lynne has said that it is his absolute favourite number of theirs. “The amazing thing is that it even exists,” the singer recalled. “I had to make this little cassette of John’s become a Beatle record. It was just recorded on a Walkman on top of a piano, and the voice was so scratchy and thin, and you couldn’t separate the piano. It was a real industrial job.”
Lynne added, “Paul, George and Ringo hadn’t been in a room, all three together, for maybe 25 years. They were like ‘wow!’ it was all hugs and kisses and sit down and reminisce, and those hours were just magic. Then the seriousness of the situation kicked in. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.”
When listening to Lynne’s produced track of the old Lennon song, ‘Free as a Bird’, it is incredible to hear what it became and it gives one a real appreciation for these musicians’ level of mastery.
Jeff Lynne explained how they did it, adding: “One of the reasons it worked is that Paul ghosted the vocal under John, he follows somebody really closely, just to give it some body. When it was over, Paul came up and said ‘Well done, Jeff, you did it’, and gave me a hug. It’s just the Beatles playing but I do one low harmony on the chorus, so I can hear myself on a Beatle record. It was a marvellous experience.”
Turns out, not only is ‘Free as a Bird’ Lynne’s favourite Beatles track, but he also sings on it. Listen to this incredibly haunting and newer Beatle track, below.