366 Songs 316: Real Love

“Real Love” has a strange history. It started as an unfinished demo by John Lennon from a musical he planned to write that he never finished, and in that form, it always reminds me of something from the Plastic Ono Band album (Specifically, “Isolation,” which he steals from – the “I don’t expect you to understand” at 1:38 in “Real Love” is a lift from 1:28 in “Isolation”); it has a pretty melody, but it’s clearly something that unfinished and while the Lennon demos have an intimate quality to them, they’re too slight to really feel anything for, to be honest.

From there, though, the demos ended up in the hands of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and producer Jeff Lynne as part of the reunion the band had to promote the Anthology project of albums and TV series; they were “completed” by the remaining band members to make a “new” Beatles song, and… Well, it just didn’t work, for many reasons.

Shall we count the ways? Yes, let’s; the way that Lennon’s voice sounds ridiculously digitized and feeble – apparently, due to the technology used to scrub away the existing instruments on the demos – for one, or the terrible effects applied to Harrison’s guitar that makes him sound more like a member of ELO than one of the greatest guitarists in pop music (That said, I still like the solo at 2:15). Or, hey! Ringo’s plodding drums! Ye Gods, Beatles. Way to flatten a promising start into two dimensions.

That would be the end of it; an oddity of one type translated into an oddity of another, and neither one really feeling complete in any substantial way. Except… Regina Spektor covered the song for a charity album a few years back, and her version is everything that I could ever want from this song – and something that actually reveals how beautiful a song this actually is, underneath everything else:

It’s got the intimacy of the original demos, with Regina and her piano, but the performance – the lower notes on the piano, especially, which add a wonderful bassline and depth to it, but also her wonderful, cautious voice (recalling Bjork at times, as she does) – lifts it up to new heights, and by the time the multi-tracked backing vocals come in, swooping like angels, it’s just drop-dead beautiful.

I first heard this version of the song by accident, in a store in Paris when Kate and I were on vacation and I was too embarrassed (and too unable to speak French) to ask the store assistant what she was listening to. What with the rest of the trip, I soon forgot about it and only rediscovered it months later, again by accident, and had that moment of “Oh! It’s that!” Spektor rescues this song, and turns it into something magical with seeming ease, and it’s hard not to imagine that Lennon would’ve thanked her for doing so, if he had the chance.

366 Songs 147: Music Box

“Mr. Zebra” almost always, without fail, takes me to “Music Box,” for some reason. The quirky female singer-songwriter with a piano connection, maybe? Or perhaps that this song feels as short and as playful – or more playful – as the previous Tori Amos one, with Regina Spektor just playing around, throwing her vocals around (The lyric becoming vomit noise towards the end) and telling the musical equivalent of a shaggy dog story. It’s hard not to be charmed by this, at least for me.