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Free as a Bird

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about The Beatles song. For an album by Supertramp, see Free as a Bird (album).

"Free as a Bird" is a song, single and video released by The Beatles in December 1995 as part of their "reunion" and promotion around the release of the video documentary Anthology and their Anthology 1 compilation album.


"Free as a Bird" was originally a piece of music that John Lennon composed, but never completed. The original Lennon recording was made circa 1977 in New York City. Yoko Ono gave a basic recording of the unfinished music to the remaining Beatles (Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr) who reunited to finalise and record the completed song.

The Beatles version

The Beatles' overdubs and production were recorded between February and March, 1994 in Sussex, England. According to interviews, the group treated the song as though Lennon had gone on holiday and had left the song for them to complete.

The song features a classic Beatles arrangement, layered with drums, guitars (acoustic and electric), bass guitar, piano, and harmonized Beatle voices. The recording bears a strong resemblance to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 1991 song "Into the Great Wide Open," produced and co-written by "Free As A Bird"'s co-producer Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra.

The song ends with a slightly psychedelic coda including a strummed ukulele (an instrument for which McCartney and Harrison have expressed fondness) and the backward voice of John Lennon. The message, when played backward, is "Turned out nice again", which was the catch-phrase of George Formby, whom Lennon admired. According to McCartney, the reference was unintentional and was discovered only after the surviving Beatles completed the single and reviewed the result. This line has been noticed by many fans as it sounds like its saying 'John Lennon'. Most fans believed this was intended to be the case, until it was reavealed it was in fact simply the phrase 'Turned out nice again' being played backwards.

The video

The video won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video. The video was produced by Vincent Joliet and directed by Joe Pytka and depicts, from the point of view of a bird in flight, many references to other Beatles songs and events, including "Chairman Mao" Zedong, Eleanor Rigby's grave, the crashed car from "A Day in the Life", the writer of "Paperback Writer", the flower saleswoman of "Penny Lane", the barber of the same song and the "Helter Skelter" amusement park ride. The Blue Meanies from "Yellow Submarine" can be sighted many times. Also The Beatles themselves appear several times along the clip, in chronological order, starring John Lennon dancing with Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney, in the "Fool on the Hill" promotional film.

The video deliberately contained many references to Beatles songs, including:

John, Paul, George, and Ringo in the "rain" outside the Liverpool docks with people coming from a "hard day's night" of work, and people waiting to see The Beatles play in the Cavern Club. It is followed by a shot of "Strawberry Field" with a "Nowhere Man" wandering around. Then an empty tree is shown ("No-one I think is in my tree"). There is a very quick shot of a "silver hammer" hardware store and then an 'Egg & Co' van, whom the owner of was (presumably) known as "the egg man".

On the left of the next shot you can see a "barrow in the marketplace", and, on the right, a barber’s shop, which is in "Penny Lane". There is also a nurse "selling poppies from a tray". There is a sign in a shop window that says, "Help". The camera then pans across a car showing two people making love "in the road", followed by showing a cake shop window which has a "birthday" cake behind it. The numbers on the cake are "64" ("When I'm 64").

As George walks up to the door of the Apple office the brass sign was changed — on the left — to read "Dr. Robert". The next shot shows a police van and the reflection on its window shows four faces in shadows, from the album With The Beatles.

The car accident that John is looking at was obviously just part of "a day in the life" of the firemen who have a "very clean machine". The policemen standing nearby are all "standing in a row". The camera moves from a "Helter Skelter" to a view of a kite, which was for "the benefit of Mr. Kite".

In the back alley, you can see a step ladder leading up to a bathroom window, probably because "she came in through the bathroom window", whilst in the back garden/yard some sunflowers are growing "so incredibly high". A group of small children run down the alley wearing masks that make them look like little "piggies". As the camera pans up and into a room, on the windowpane you can glimpse the sight of a "lizard on a window pane". Inside the room a "paperback writer" is typing near a clock which reads 10:10, which is, logically, "one after 9:09".

Outside, a "blue meanie" pops up from "a hole" in the roof, which a man is "fixing". Then, down in the street, a "newspaper taxi" pulls up as a girl walks out of a door. Maybe she is "leaving home". Two people are carrying a large portrait of "Chairman Mao" in the background, which is obviously part of the "revolution". In the foreground, John Lennon is "happy just to dance" with Yoko, and far away, you can see a coach passing that is possibly going on a "magical mystery tour"...

The scene changes, and we see "Bungalow Bill" with his gun, and, "in case of accidents, he always took his Mum", who is behind him. The camera moves through the crowd — past an Indian playing a sitar — and we see Brian Epstein putting his scarf on to leave because he "doesn't want to spoil the party". The camera pans over to a bass drum with "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" painted on it.

The graveyard: "Mother Mary" — a statue — turns her head to face the camera. "Eleanor Rigby's" gravestone is in full shot, and then "Martha" the dog runs across the graveyard, with "Father McKenzie" in the background. Paul is seen dancing like "the fool on the hill", with a girl who is "leaving home", on the road. A "long and winding road" can be seen in the distance.

The shot before last is the "Abbey Road" zebra crossing.

At "the end", an actor, playing George Formby, is finishing a song playing the ukelele on a stage in front of an audience, and Lennon (played backwards) says, "It's turned out nice again", which was Formby's catch-phrase.

Critical reception

The song was released in November 1995, the promotional video being broadcast during episode one of "The Beatles Anthology" that aired on ITV in the UK and ABC in the US. Its release was criticized by some commentators as an unimpressive track, owing less to The Beatles than Jeff Lynne, being used as a publicity gimmick, or cashing in on The Beatles brand [1]. However, "Free as a Bird" later won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

Track listings

  • 7" R6422
  1. "Free as a Bird" - 2:42
    • Original composition by Lennon; Beatles version by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starkey.
    • Produced by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Starkey and Jeff Lynne.
  2. "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)" - 3:02
    • By Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starkey.
    • Music recorded 28 November, 1967 at EMI Studios, London. Greetings recorded 6 December, 1966 at EMI Studios, London.
  • CD CDR6422
  1. "Free as a Bird" - 4:26
  2. "I Saw Her Standing There" - 2:51
    • By McCartney and Lennon. Recorded 11 February, 1963 at EMI Studios, London. Produced by George Martin.
    • This version (take 9) was recorded before the more familiar version released as an album track on Please Please Me. The introductory count-in from take 9 was actually edited onto the start of take 12 to create the version that can be heard on the Please Please Me album.
  3. "This Boy" - 3:17
    • By Lennon and McCartney. Recorded 17 October, 1963 at EMI Studios, London. Produced by George Martin.
    • Here are two fun, but incomplete, versions (takes 12 and 13) of this song; both of them break down in laughter.
  4. "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)" - 3:02

See also

  • The Beatles trivia


  1. ^ Do they believe in yesterday? Caroline Sullivan reports from the Savoy Hotel on the launch of the second wave of Beatlemania -- article from The Guardian, November 21, 1995

External links

  • Free As A Bird
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