"Free as a Bird" was written as a demo in 1977 by John Lennon. While working on The Beatles Anthology, Paul McCartney asked Lennon's widow Yoko Ono if she had any of Lennon's unreleased tapes. McCartney's plan was to have the remaining Beatles clean up and augment the track with their own instruments while adding extra lyrics. "Free as a Bird" was one of two songs that Ono offered (the other was "Real Love"). The tape, circulating as a bootleg, was simply a poor-quality cassette that Lennon had made at the Dakota in New York City, where he and Ono resided.
The song was used at the end of the first two-hour special of The Beatles Anthology on ABC television in November, 1995. It also appeared on Anthology One, the first of three two-CD sets that accompanied the TV series. The song was produced by the remaining Beatles with the help of Jeff Lynne, formerly of the Electric Light Orchestra and The Traveling Wilburys. George Martin's production skills were not used because by then Martin had developed hearing problems and did not think he could give his best effort to the project.
The track that was given to McCartney was a tape of Lennon singing and accompanying himself on piano. The new arrangement, recorded in McCartney's home recording studio in Sussex, England in February and March of 1994 included breaks in the Lennon song so that McCartney and Harrison could insert and sing extra lines, which was the only time that the Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison all sang lead on the same song except for a Christmas song issued many years earlier for the Beatles Fan Club. Scenes of the recording sessions can be seen in The Beatles Anthology.
For the music video aired at the end of Part One of TV's The Beatles Anthology, the camera angle depicts scenes as if from a bird's point of view. During this "flight," scenes suggestive of many Beatles songs are seen, such as "Eleanor Rigby," "A Day in the Life," and "Paperback Writer." More than eighty such allusions to the life and music of the Beatles exist in the short clip.
The surviving Beatles themselves loved the final result of the overdubs, feeling as if the Beatles had really succeeded in finally reuniting. Fans and critics also gave the song high marks
Lennon plays piano and does a lead vocal; McCartney plays acoustic guitar, bass, and does lead and backing vocals; Harrison played acoustic and slide guitars, ukulele, and does lead and backing vocals; and Starr played drums and percussion.
The song was released as a single in December of 1995 in both the UK and United States on the Apple label. The B side was "Christmas Time (Is Here Again).
The song won a 1997 Grammay Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group.
Beatles Albums: Background and History
Beatles Connections: Official Websites for the Beatles Inner Circle
Beatles General Discussion Topics
Beatles Roadies: Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans
Beatles Solo Discography
Beatles Songs Discussed on BeatlesFacts.org
Beatles Songs - Solo
Beatles Trivia Quiz
Books About the Beatles
Books by John Lennon and George Harrison
Sites Related to Beatles History
Songs Covered by the Beatles
The Beatles Official Website
The Lennon Pages