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Free As A Bird

by

The Beatles



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

John Lennon recorded this as a demo in 1977. The other Beatles recorded around his tracks to complete song in 1994. The next year, it was released as a single.
Jeff Lynne of The Electric Light Orchestra produced this. Ringo Starr and George Harrison both played on E.L.O.'s 2001 album Zoom. Lynne had quite a task on this song, as Lennon's original vocal was mixed with the piano track.
Yoko Ono agreed to release Lennon's demo to the other Beatles the day after he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yoko got a bad rap by a lot of Beatles fans, but she has been very protective of Lennon's legacy. This is one of the few projects she has authorized on his behalf.
Before their breakup, The Beatles won just four Grammy Awards, but they picked up three more in 1997 when "Free As A Bird" won for Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal and Best Music Video, Short Form, and Anthology won Best Music Video, Long Form.
Some royalties were donated to a Romanian AIDS charity set up by Elton John and the Beatles' wives.
The phrase "Turned out nice again" at the end of the song is a reference to George Formby, a musical hall entertainer who played the ukulele and is represented in the closing scenes of the video. "Turned out nice again" was Formby's catchphrase. The connection here is that George Harrison played the ukulele and was a member of the George Formby Appreciation Society. He even attended their gatherings. Harrison was said to have had a ukulele in every room of his home and gave one to McCartney early on in their career. (thanks, PJ - Glasgow, Scotland)
McCartney told Observer Music Monthly that they put some backward recordings at the end of the single as a joke, "To give all those Beatles nuts something to do." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
While locked up in Wormwood Scrubs prison for breaching a probation order, the controversial Rock vocalist Pete Doherty claimed he listened to this song every day.
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More songs that became hits after the artist died

Comments (71):

I love the whole song. George's guitar riffs are haunting especially when at the end of one of them, he makes it sound like a bird flying. One of the greatest guitar players in the world if not THE greatest. Joni, Northern Ireland
- J, Belfast, United Kingdom
That song and "Real Love" made me think of "What if the Beatles never ended? Could their 'modern' style be like that?"
I can imagine the guys working on those recordings 25 years after the band breakup...
- Eliseu, Canoas, Brazil
The lyrics straight lift from the Shangri-Las "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)."
- Christian, Berlin, Germany
Toto guitarist Steve Lukather recalled developing a dream-come-true friendship with Harrison in the 1990's while out in California: "He started calling me all the time, like every time he was in L.A. He played me 'Free As A Bird' way before it came out, and he would tell me stories of all the Beatles stuff from his point of. . . As a matter of fact he signed a thing for me, he signed all the Beatles names, he goes, 'That's what we all used to do.' So a lot of the Beatles' signatures are all one guy doing everybody's signatures -- they all learned how to do everybody's signature because back in the early days that had to sign thousands and thousands of things."
- DeeTheWriter, Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
This song makes me cry every time I hear it
- Ruby, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Great song :)
- Olivia, Philadelphia, PA
in mexico this was announced like "the new song by The Beatles" - 25 years after they band was ended. And so, without doubt another HIT from the Legendary and "eternal?" Beatles.
- Jorges, Oaxaca, Mexico
When I hear this song I always take it as each Beatle saying that while it was good to pursue solo careers (to be free as a bird), it was never as great as when they were together as The Beatles. But at the same time, being together made them feel free as a bird, as if unrestrained by the world they were a part of. So being "Free as a Bird" holds a slight ironic twist, yet sums up (at least to me) how the Beatles felt and brought themselves into perspective. Especially with Paul's contribution to the song does this idea start to creap into my head. I believe this is the band telling everyone that being together was the greatest thing in the world to them.

--I know John wrote most of this song on his own and may have wrote it as a song for Yoko or his family, but by some weird fate it ended up with the remaining Beatles and became an ode to the lifestyle of the greatest rock artists in the world. It is, as a Beatles song, the closing to a storied and tumultuous past, with the bittersweet reminder of their lives lived together.
- David, San Francisco, CA
Has anyone else noticed the how the "Whatever happened to..." sounds very similar to the Shangri-La's "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand)" "Whatever happened to, the boy that I once knew," ??? Did Lennon consciously rip this off?
- Andy, Detroit, MI
Look I am a huge Beatles fan but I think this is a terrible song.There I said it and the world did not end.I think sometimes people think just because they are a fan of a particular band they have to like all their songs.Not true.Even if it were true this is not really a Beatles song.It is a song written by lennon in his solo years and then then paul george and ringo added thier voices.How many people ever even heard of this song before it was redone?I like about 99% of all Beatles songs they were the best band ever.This song however is not good.
- brian, boston, MA
also at the end when the ukele is being played, theres a voice which says "Made by John Lennon" at 4:16
- Ahmed, Karachi, Pakistan
I think the video for this song is an exceptional masterpiece with references to so many Beatles' songs like penny lane, strawberry fields forever, the ballad of john and yoko, she's leaving home, fool on the hill, the long and winding road, yellow submarine, helter skelter, happy birthday, doctor robert, magical mystery tour, i am the walrus, a day in the life...im sure im missing a lot of them..theres also a whole reference to the 'paul is dead' hoax..the whole thing gives me chills everytime i watch it and makes me sad! Love u John Paul George Ringo!
- Ahmed, Karachi, Pakistan
great song, to me its like the perfect way to say "the end" to the beatles and the video is really amazing
- ben, rohnert park, CA
My God, I cry everytime I hear this. It's heartwrenching. Lennon wrote this on his own, and then his Beatles friends completed it as a tribute to him after his death. He obviously didn't think of it this way, but it feels like he's saying he's finally free as a bird, in his death. Free from earthly troubles. Free from pain. I think it's touching that the other Beatles brought this together for him.

We love you, John. Thank you for touching our world, for however brief a time. You were a beautiful person. Now, fly.
- Scarlett, Denver, CO
I have the Lennon Anthologies, and there are several demos of Free As A Bird. Some contain "next best thing" and others contain "nearest thing". I guess it's all in what he remembered to sing at any moment he was playing it. But yes, "where did we lose the touch" and all that comes after the line were written by the rest of the group years later. John merely sang a series of "duns" in place of the lines.
- Ruth, Indianapolis, IN
Hi, sorry to break somme comments about the lyrics but in the original take from John Lennon the lyrics go more like
«It's the nearest thing to be» instead of »It's the next best thing to be» on this demo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASLrPNfu6nI&feature=PlayList&p=6F019C0815957BA1&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=21
But yes on this one SecondListen to it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHSFTRUekT0&feature=related
On both the part Can we really live without each other?
«Where did we lose the touch
That seemed to mean so much?
It always made me feel so....» is an invention.
Love the Beatles
- Gilles, Hull, Canada, QC
There is a haunting story (told by everyone in the studio at the time of the recording's "post-production") that while the fellows were, indeed, backmasking "Turned out nice again" at the end, they weren't prepared for the voice to eerily say, "This is John Lennon." Paul, Ringo, and George (RIP) readily admit (and were pleasantly surprised by) other crazy John-related things happened while they were making the anthology -- almost as if John gave them his blessing. He did say he'd always find a way to come back.
- Ruth, Indianapolis, IN
"Free as a bird, it's the next best thing to be" means that to be in a relationship is better than being, um, free as a bird.
The "whatever happened to..." part, where (presumably Paul) wrote a few lines, misses the point completely. John was NOT saying that to be home with Yoko made him feel free, he was saying to be free and without her was second best.
- Jack, Mesa, AZ
Sunny- excuse me, but....you WISH you could write lilke McCartney!
- Harold, San Bernadino, CA
Always stick by John's vocals in the verse "Free as a bird ... next best thing".

The "Whatever happened to" refrain just sounds too much like another money-making, chart-topping soppy Mecca solo ballad.
- Sunny, KL, -
An old friend of mine used to swear that the singer of this song wasn't John, but his son, Julian Lennon. He said to compare the singer's voice to his (Julian's) solo work and I'd realize they were one in the same. Hmmm....
- Jena, Leavenworth, KS
I didn't like this when I first heard it - it sounded like an odd take of Skynard's Freebird and I am still not crazy about it. But when I listen to it as the opener for the Beatle's anthology album - it's haunting like Lennon played his own tribute. It's strikes a chord like of how Lennon's influence can reach to us from beyond the grave and it reminds me it's not always about the "music" per say.
- Linc, Beaumont, TX
1st "Beatle" tune I would not care to hear again.
- Rick, Caldwell, NJ
This is really a fantastic song with so beautiful melody...the lyrcs touch my heart as the beatles sing it.This song reveal a truth...that if someone is without the person who love feel so free as a bird and sometimes when we are with our person who love so much maybe feel that we are in a cage...When i listen to this song, i lose my mind...the rythm takes it away...but it's really enjoyable that.However when i think that this song was recorded by the other Beatles without John ,it makes me sad...but all in all i find the song...as a link for the Beatles.
- TIMOKLIA, ATHENS, Greece
This is my favourite Beatles song hands down.
- nady, adelaide, Australia
In John's demo, he used a metronome to keep time. Since it couldn't be removed, Ringo's drumming had to match the metronome exactly to cover it.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
I love this song but it makes me want to cry because it was released in 1995, 15 years after John's death
- Kayla, Nashville, TN
George Harrison played the ukelele in the "coda", because he was a uke fan (his son, Dhani, said that his father always carrried one with him, everywhere he went) In the music video, George asked if he could play the uklele player on stage, but the video's director said they they already agreed that none of the surviving Beatles weould appear in the video, except in the old clips of them together in the 1960's. In the Anthology special features, the director lamented this decision, saying it was a mistake not to show George playing the uke.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
just imagine what if???? this song is great because all 4 of the beatles had some amount of input.the boys rocked then and they still do now. you never know there may still more demos out there. here's hoping !!!! :)
- paul, cornwall, England
Ever since this song and Real Love were both done over, I always wished that a 3rd Beatles song would come out and complete Anthology 3, but it wasn't meant to be. It was incredibly cool when Free As A Bird first came out and listed as a new Beatles song...which it was. I was almost 30 at the time and I never thought I would ever see the day that a new Beatles song would ever be announced. There is a God.
- Jeff, Suffern, NY
I always thought "the whatever happend to..." bit was about how the beatles' relationship's after they split up...
- Jonathan, Bishop, England
Why do people refer to it as "the Paul bit" when the second time it is sung it is clearly George??? The song would have been pretty bland without that bit anyway.
- Jonathan, Bishop, England
Everybody saying anything along the lines of "Paul ruined this with his ' whatever happened to..' line" is completely ignorant.John Lennon wrote that line, so everybody who is saying that John's version is better because is doesn't have that line has never even heard the John Lennon demo tape.
- Conley, Mequon, WI
This song has one of the greatest endings ever.
- Ian, Lethbridge, Canada
Ringo does pretty well on this.
- Sarah, Sacramento, CA
I don't see what is wrong with the "whatever happened to" thing. It doesnt ruin the song. It is quite weird though.
- John Smith, Southington, CT
This is one of the few Beatles songs where the lyrics 'free as a bird - it's the next best thing to be' don't actually make sense. Next best thing to what?

Now I know that other Beatles lyrics don't make 'sense' - but these are deliberate nonsense, rather than just a lyric that doesn't really work. Great song - but 'next best thing to be' wanted an answer I think
- Calum, Edinburgh, Scotland
The "whtever happened to..." line was part of John's orginial demo. He sang "Whatever happened to/The life that we once knew", then hummed the rest of the verse because those were the only words he had at the time. Paul finished the verse and sang it himself, with George singing an abridged version on the second break.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
It´s a cool song and the video version has a lot
of refferences to other Beatle-songs.
- Asef, Silkeborg, Denmark
the best part of the song is Paul's "whatever happened to..."
- Zack, Dublin, OH
George's slide guitar solos really kick some major ass!!!
- Meaner, Karachi, Pakistan
people say it wrecks the song, but i really like Paul's "whatever happened..."
i would agree that it doesn't really fit, but i equate it to John's middle eight in Paul's 'we can work it out.' it introduces a real depressing theme into such an optimistic song. both additions by the other beatle make each song that much better.
- jordan, ontario, Canada
i quite liked the 'whatever happend' stanza :)
- Chitra, Bangalore, India
Who cares if the 'whatever happened to...' part doesn't fit in?! It's a great song that to me is really sad when I think of how they recorded this without John. :(
- Sylvia, London, England
I came back to this page as i remember this song getting a lot of bad press.
I beg to differ. I think it is a lovely song. Captures the pain of separation in a very beautiful way.
... and that slide sound ... Killing, redeeming, crying all at once.

I wonder if it was about him and the other beatles??

-vickeybird India
- vivek, delhi, India
There is a parody version of this song passed around on the Internet. The opening line has "John" singing "Please...don't put out this turd." In the middle, "Paul" sings "Whatever happened to/The rights to 'Love Me Do'?/We made Michael Jackson one rich mother". At the end you can hear "John" saying "That turned out like a piece of crap."
- Ken, Louisville, KY
It does sound a little druggy, so to speak, but who cares? I can think of other songs where there is a line that might not fit so well literally, but does well musically. Whatever happened to the life that we once knew. Wait, I know how it got there...IT RHYMES!!!!!! I think sometimes people over analyze.
- lee, clearwater, FL
How come no one notices the true backwards translation at the end after the little ucalayle?
Its someone saying "turned out nice again". Not paul is dead as a door knob or something or i'm john lennon.
- Kurt, Hawkesbury, United States
I agree the "whatever happened to..." verse doesn't quite fit with the rest of the song's meaning, but I don't necessarily think that's so bad. Many of the Beatles' songs were made up of unfinished compositions by John and Paul, look at 'A Day In The Life'...
- Rhedyn Williams, bristol, England
Very druggie/ i don't think so Jason. But yes, it's a beautiful song.
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
I remember waiting impatiently for ABC to stop dragging out the credits of the first segment of the Beatles Anthology so we could finally see and hear a new Beatles song. It was like the night before Christmas or my birthday, waiting to see which of their albums I would get. And when it came on, it was absolute bliss. Thank you, Yoko. Thank you, Jeff Lynne. Thank you, John, Paul, George and Ringo. You all mean so much to me. Yoko, you are right. John's name has never been shamelessly exploited like a certain singer from Memphis has. I support you 100%.
- Jude, Thomasville, GA
The idea for making a "new" record from an existing demo tape was orginally George's. When Roy Orbison died, the remaining "Traveling Wilbury members asked if he had any leftover demos. Sadly there were none. But later George found out that there were Elvis Presley demos that existed for an album that was never recorded. George thought it would be a great idea to incorporate Elvis as "Aaron Wilbury", but the Presley estate refused permission. That's what gave George the idea of seeing if any of John's demos were usable for a "new" Beatles record.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
George Martin contends that the reason he wasn't involved in this song was that he was too busy going through the thousands of hours of orginal Beatle recordings for the Anthonogy records, and also because he wasn't very enthusiastic about trying to make a new record from an old demo cassette tape.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
The lines "Whatever happened to/The life that we once knew" were part of John's orginal composition, but the rest of the McCartney/Harrison parts were written by Paul and George, because on the orginal demo, John just hums after those 2 lines.
- Ken, Louisville, KY
Totally agree with Randy (St Marys, OH)
What if... :(
- David, OVL, Belgium
I do think that the 1994 version was better than the 1977 version, but the 1977 version was also really good, especialy with the extra "rock" in it than the 1994 version. Both of them I do like a lot!
- Cameron, Southington, CT
Anyone notice the ironic first letters of the title--F-A-A-B? Like a misspelled "Fab" (Four)
- Shayne, Edmonton, KY
i like the original demo alot. it's amazing how john can speak jokingly ("this is............. free..... free as a boid") and then burst into this beautiful, epical song about being free.
- Loretta, Liverpool, England
There is an excellent website that dissects the musici video of the song and explains the many references to other Beatles songs. Check it out at http://www.phaseshift.com/beatles/faab/
- Rob, Hutchinson, KS
The video for this is great, depicting various Beatle songs such as the Paperback Writer. Maybe it wasn't meant as a retrospective on the Beatles originally, but it works for me, including the added verses.
- Alan, City, MI
This song is great. Definitely not druggy, just very... odd. But wonderful; that and the "what ever happened to" makes you think that although this was once a love song it's context makes it sound like they're talking about being the Beatles, and how it made them feel as free as, well, a bird.

Incidentially, the voice in the end of the song (that sounds like "My name is John Lennon") is indicated by the Paul-Is-Dead Brigade as saying something along the lines of "he's a dead man Paul" when played backwards.
- Martin, Sterling, VA
i love the overall sound of this song, it's so deep. and i like how the other beatles got together to finish it for John. But the "What ever happened to..." verse, that's not what the song's about! it kinda ruins it. Still, it is a great song!!
- Sarah, Adelaide , Australia
Makes me cry every time I hear it. I just keep wondering, What If.
- Randy, St Marys, OH
I don't like it nearly as much as the demo, lennon only, version. That claptrap 3rd verse (whatever happenned to...) is embarassing.
- Matt, Cleveland, OH
No it definitely wasnt first released in 2000! It was in 95.
- Stuart, Essex, England
s, the song was ORIGONALLY released in 2000, so unless they went back in time, it can't have been "re-released" in 1995. Paulo, John obviously liked it enough ot keep it and record several demos, so i highly doubt he would have deemed it "complete garbage" or "a throwaway". This is a wonderful song about how John's time off from the rock'n'roll thing while he was raising sean made him feel, as free as a bird. He wrote this during that time because he wanted to remember what it felt like once he went back to writing and recording songs.
- gavin, hampden, MA
Such a great song to relax to.
- Mike, Jackson, NJ
This song is beautiful, although it's really druggy.
- Jason, monterrey, Mexico
No doubt John would have deemed it "complete garbage" or a "throwaway." ;)
- Paulo, New York, NY
I love this song!!! :)
- Sarah, Santa Rosa, CA
this was re-released in december 1995 in the british charts, peaking at number 2. it was the first beatles record to be released in 25 years.
- simon, newcastle, England
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