By Rip Rense
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 21, 2005
There is yet another bend in the long and winding road.
There is one more Beatles song. Not another overlooked '60s tune from a dusty corner of a vault. Not an outtake, rough rehearsal, or crude early tape made in Paul McCartney's living room and found in somebody's shoe box.
But neither is it a finished work. A Beatles song in the sense that all four group members are heard on it, it is one of three "virtual reunion songs" worked on in 1995 by McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and producer Jeff Lynne. Two songs, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love," were completed and released. The third started with John Lennon's home tape of his haunting, unreleased ballad "I Don't Want to Lose You."
It was left incomplete, but McCartney has said that might change. "When we did 'Free as a Bird' and "Real Love,' " McCartney said in a 2002 MSN Internet chat, "there was another track under consideration for us to work on but we didn't get around to it, so I wonder if there will be a chance in the future. I wouldn't mind doing it."
In fact, though, he, Harrison and Starr did "get around" to the song. It was worked on, according to one report, in 1994 and 1995 at McCartney's Mill Studio in Sussex.
Producer Lynne recalls it differently: "It was one day -- one afternoon, really -- messing with it," he said in the only comments he has made about the song, to this writer in 1995. "The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track . . . a rough go that we didn't really finish.
"It was sort of a bluesy sort of ballad, I suppose, in A minor. It was a very sweet song; I liked it a lot, and I wish we could have finished it."
Added longtime Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, who also worked on the sessions, in a 1997 interview with this writer: "It would be nice to get it finished. Paul's up for it. . . . The chorus is great . . . it would make a great record."
Yoko Ono, who in 1994 chose the song, as well as "Bird" and "Real Love," for the remaining group members to turn into full-fledged Beatles tunes, says she does not oppose having it finished today.
"I sent those songs to them when the situation was quite different," she said from her home in New York. "Now that George is gone, I don't know if the same would apply. I will consider the possibility, that is, when I get the call."
In the meantime, a rendition of the song is available six nights each week to New York theater-goers.
The flurry of new Beatles work in the mid-'90s was part of the multimedia "Beatles Anthology" project, which all the Beatles had committed to doing. (Lennon, in 1979 court documents relating to a lawsuit against the producers of the stage show "Beatlemania," said the group would produce a documentary that would include new music.) Completed by the so-called Threetles, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" were greeted with mixed reviews and controversy. BBC Radio 1 refused to add "Real Love" to its playlist, saying the song did not meet its young target demographic. Another song, "Grow Old With Me," was rejected by the group (rumored to be too poignant to handle), although was later scored with small orchestra by veteran Beatles producer George Martin, at Ono's request, and included on the "John Lennon Anthology."
"I Don't Want to Lose You," originally intended for the third "Anthology" CD package, was put aside, reportedly because it was not falling together easily and required more writing. The song was ultimately abandoned after critical notices for the first two reunion songs left the trio, especially Harrison, reluctant to venture a third.
Harrison -- who during the mid-'90s "Free as a Bird" sessions morbidly quipped, "I hope someone does this to all my crap demos when I'm dead, making them into hit songs" -- is present on the recording, though it is not known whether just on guitar or also on vocals. He died of cancer Nov. 30, 2001.
Oddly, it was Harrison, known to sometimes speak and sing bitterly about his Beatles years, who first approached Ono about a virtual Beatles reunion.
Ono took the request to heart, selecting unreleased Lennon songs "very carefully," she said, "because these songs were to come from the Beatles. The Beatles will be singing to the world again. The implication of that was tremendous."
She chose "I Don't Want to Lose You" for almost therapeutic reasons.
"I thought, this was a song which would release people from their sorrow of losing John," she said. "By listening to the song, they will eventually be able to release their sorrow and arrive at an understanding that, actually, John is not lost to them. . . . Paul, George and Ringo lost a great friend as well. If they sung this song from their hearts it would have helped many people around the world who felt the same."
If completed, the song would acquire an extra layer of meaning, what with Harrison's loss. Should it be finished? McCartney, Lynne and Emerick are on the record in the affirmative. And so, at least with qualifications, are several Beatles specialists, including Mark Hudson, Starr's close friend and writing and producing partner of his last five albums.
"I'd love to see it happen! Are you kidding?" said Hudson, reached in Los Angeles.
There is a "political" problem, Hudson added, stemming from the fact that it is a Lennon song that would be completed by McCartney, who in recent years objected to Lennon's name on the credit for the McCartney-penned "Yesterday." (He since withdrew the complaint, saying it was poor judgment.) In any case, Hudson added, "if anybody is going to be capable of making an addition to a John Lennon song, it definitely would be Paul McCartney. . . .
"And I think he would write it like a Lennon-McCartney song, I really do. I don't think he would make it too McCartney."
Bill King, editor and publisher of Beatlefan, the oldest Beatles fan publication in the United States, said "naturally I'd like to see it completed" -- though not necessarily as an official Beatles song.
"Whether I'd like it to be released under the name the Beatles depends on the degree of collaboration," said King. "If George played or sang on it and his contributions are kept in the finished version, and if both Ringo and Paul are involved in finishing it up, then I wouldn't have a problem with it being a 'Beatles' release. If it's just Paul finishing it off (and Harrison and/or Ringo are absent), it shouldn't be called the Beatles."
Chris Carter, host of "Breakfast With the Beatles" on KLSX-FM in Los Angeles and a widely recognized authority on the group, had other Beatles priorities. "I would value any song, especially if it was great, performed by John, Paul, George and Ringo, no matter how or when it was recorded," he said. "If Capitol is really looking for some 'new/old' Beatle product to release, they can always release the Beatles' Christmas discs on CD. We've only been waiting for that since 1971!"
The Beatles recorded annual Christmas messages on flexible discs mailed exclusively to members of their fan club. They were compiled in "The Beatles Christmas Album," on the Apple label, which was pressed only for fan club members in 1971.
For now, "I Don't Want to Lose You" has found life as one of three "new" songs Ono presented to "Lennon -- The Musical," which opened last week at the Broadhurst Theater in New York. (The others are a demo of "Cookin' in the Kitchen of Love," which was recorded by Starr in 1978, and a 1980 demo of a breezy, lyrical 1968 ballad titled, "India, India.") Said Don Scardino, writer and director of "Lennon," in a recent interview: " 'I Don't Want to Lose You' may be the saddest, most poignant love song he ever wrote."