The appeal of the three Anthology albums released by The Beatles in the mid-1990s was obvious – it was a treasure trove of unreleased material from the biggest band of all time. Alternate versions, studio banter, and even previously unreleased recordings were featured on the discs, along with new tracks recorded by the surviving members.
Those two tracks were ‘Free as a Bird’ and ‘Real Love’, two songs that were originally demoed by John Lennon before the rest of the band fleshed them out nearly 15 years later. There were only two new originals but three Anthology albums: why didn’t Anthology 3 have its own original?
In the beginning, it did. ‘Now and Then’ was another of Lennon’s home demos, and the song was slated to be the third track redone by Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and producer Jeff Lynne. “It was one day – one afternoon, really – messing with it,” Lynne explained. “The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track, a rough go that we really didn’t finish.”
As Lynne states, ‘Now and Then’ was messed around with by the band, but no suitable arrangement ever came out of it. As a result, only two of the Anthology albums wound up containing a new original. “There was one more that we didn’t do, which was a pity,” McCartney told Q magazine in 2006. “It didn’t have a very good title, it needed a bit of reworking, but it had a beautiful verse and it had John singing it. But George didn’t wanna do it.”
There were other reasons why ‘Now and Then’ didn’t appear on Anthology 3. The hiss that accompanied the original Lennon demo was apparently more pronounced than on the other demo tracks. The arrangement also required quite a bit of fixing up in order to fully fleshed out the song, something that would have required more extensive input than the other tracks. Another reason might have been that recording ‘Real Love’ wasn’t as satisfying to the band as ‘Free as a Bird’.
“[‘Free As A Bird’] was really like working on a record with John, as Lennon/McCartney/Harrison, because we all chipped in a bit on this one,” McCartney shared. “George and I were vying for best lyric. That was more satisfying than just taking a John song, which was what we did for the second, ‘Real Love’. It worked out great but it wasn’t as much fun.”
However, Starr denied that there was any reduced enthusiasm for recording material. “Recording the new songs didn’t feel contrived at all,” he claimed. “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.”