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Notes on "Real Love"

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Previous page: Notes on "Free As A Bird" Next page: Frequently Asked Questions About The "Notes on..." Series

This article is from Alan W. Pollack's groundbreaking series "Notes on the Beatles". Links in the orginal article is written in this colour: index to the series, while links I have added appears as standard links. Go here for more information on my site about the song

Notes on "Real Love"

KEY E Major


FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Refrain ->
  Intro -> Verse -> Refrain -> Break (Guitar solo) ->
   Verse -> Refrain (fadeout)

General Points of Interest

Style and Form

In the spirit of many other Beatles "double A-side" singles of the past, "Real Love" and "Free As A Bird" are uncommonly complementary. Though much less troubled than "Free As A Bird", "Real Love" manifests its own packet of love's pangs. By the same token, "Real Love"'s over-riding sense of jubilation is best understood in light of "Free As A Bird"'s exploratory ruminations. In other words, I think these two songs are most effectively listened to in the order in which they appeared; try and imagine it the other way around.

Compositionally, "Real Love" is a worthy sister-song to "Free As A Bird". Yet again, we have a neo-classic and capacious formal variation, this time on the Refrain model. In this case, the novel twists are in the guise of the intro repeated in the middle of the song (look *WAY* the heck back to "Thank You Girl" for a Lennonesque precedent!), a short guitar break in a key and on a chord progression not heard elsewhere in the rest of the song, an outro with an unusually large number of repeats, a sprinking of unusual chord choices, and a Major/minor gambit.

What I call the "pangs" here are not so much a part of a story as they provide a foil against which the more chipper mood can shine more brightly. I'm reminded of baritone's entrance in the finale of Beethoven's 9th where, just as he is about to introduce the "Ode to Joy" in its decidedly Major key of D, he adjures the crowd, in reference to the tempstous d minor music of the orchestral intro with the words, "Oh friends! Not these sounds! But let us strike up sounds more pleasant and more joyful." (Loses something in the translation, but you get the drift.)

Melody and Harmony

The tune is almost purely pentatonic; consisting primarily of the notes E, F#, G#, B, and C#. 'A' shows up briefly as a passing tone in the final phrase of the verse, but D# scrupulously avoided. John's ongoing propensity toward this melodic mode is manifest in such numbers as "All I've Got To Do," "I Call Your Name," "In My Life," and "And Your Bird Can Sing"; just to cite a subset of the total.

The refrain is set on melodic ground that is distinctly higher than that of the verse, even though the verse itself manages to cover a full octave; it's just that the refrain tops out a full fifth higher than where the verse does.

The tune also has a way of casually running roughshod over the chords. A close look at it reveals not only some juicy appoggiaturas, but unresolved neighbor tones.

The harmonic cliche which is creatively played upon in "Free As A Bird" appears here in the second half of the refrains and the outro in its unvarnished form. This large does of predictability is balanced out by three details in the harmony which add surprisingly effective touches of pathos:

the e minor key choice for the intro (especially when it shows up for the second time *following* the E Major of the verses and refrain)

the "gratuitous" deployment of the augmented chord in the opening progression of the verse

and that piquant half-diminished chord at the peak of the refrain.


In contrast to "Free As A Bird", where the finished product remains in the same key and at the same speed of John's demo, "Real Love" is sped up some ~12% to sound a full step higher (E) than the demo (which appears to be in D). I assume this was done at least in part to effect the snappy tempo.

The arrangement has many touches of the kind of section-to-section layering and variation you come to expect of the Beatles, though these touches are *much* less rigidly patterned than usual; possible telltake signs of a rush job, or an intentional underscoring of John's roughshod approach to the tune? On the clear side, you find some rhythm guitar work added to the second intro, and the lead guitar first appears in the second verse but then stays in for the duration. Less clear is the handling of the backing voices; they generally turn up toward the end of each section, though it's not *every* section, and not always exactly the same place in each section.

There is a recurring leitmotif in the accompaniment of scale fragments which either ascend or descend; the musical equivalent of those Sgt. Pepper suits falling on the diagonal in the video. The verse opens with a falling bassline that is balanced out in the next phrase by a chromatically rising guitar riff in a middle voice, and at the end with a falling line in the last couple measures. The refrain similarly features a falling middle part in the lead guitar between the first two phrases.

And if you have any doubt this is a *Beatles* song, listen for the tambourine shots which reliably fall on beats 2 & 4, starting right out in the first intro.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough


The instrumental intro is four measures long and has a pseudo-classical rocking part played on some kind of keyboard:

  ------------- 2X --------------
 |e  |B  |
e:       i               V6/3

The V chord is presented in its 1st inversion. This helps the phrase feel more relaxed, less transitive, and it also sets up a logical antecedent to the descending bassline at the start of the verse; play it with the V chord in root position and note how both effects are lost.


The verse shifts directly to the parallel Major key of E. Its eight measures musically divide into two phrases of equal length, though the words parse into a design of AA'B (2+2+4).

The bassline of the opening phrase is a standard walking descent but the harmonization of it is far from standard. If you handed this into your Harmony 101 teacher as homework you'd get, at best, a wise guy's B-; i.e. you'd flunk it outright in terms of following instructions, though if the professor had *half* your sense of humor he'd give you back the difference for cleverness and cheek; as long as you refrain from throwing blackboards out the window.

The opening five measures move from I to V, but it's a mistake to give Roman numerals to any of the intervening chords. You experience this move much more as a lazily led countrapuntal filling out of the distance between the two chords. Note the couch potato minimal movement of some of the voices on the one hand, and the going out of the way to force the augemented chord (measure 4) on the other:

soprano |B  |-  |-  |-  |
alto |G#  |-  |-  |G natural |
tenor |B  |D#  |E  |D#  |
bassline|E  |D#  |C#  |B  |
E:       I

 |C# ...
 |A  ...
 |E  ...
 |A  |B  |E       A |E       A |
         IV   V   I       IV6/4   I       IV6/4

In spite of the pentatonic tune, the harmonization of the final two measures here contain a modal touch from the flat 7th (D-natural) which appears as a passing note between the E and A chords in the accompaniment. Note how in the first four measures, the tune *twice* leaves a C# hanging unresolved over the chords which harmonize it.

The bassline of the last two measures sustains the note E, robbing the chord change above it of any sense of transitive motion. Many a theorist will say that what I've labelled as "IV 6/4" really isn't even a chord change; just the result of melodic neighbor motion of two voices in between those E Major chords on either side. I think they are correct.


The refrain is eight measures long and is built out of four short, equal phrases that parse into an AA'BB' pattern:

 |E  |A  |E  |A  |
  I   ii6/5 half dim. I   ii 6/5 half dim.

 |E c# |A B |E c# |A B |
  I vi  IV V  I vi  IV V

The chord on A in measures 2 & 4 is a half-diminished F# chord in its 6/5 inversion; think of it as an otherwise garden variety "ii6/5" chord, chromatically altered here to sentimental affect. Note the guitar part in the first refrain playing the downward scale fragment that emphasizes the C-natural in the half diminshed chord.

Perhaps the best example in the entire song of a melodically dissonant note nonchalantly left unresolved is the G# sung in measure 4; your desire for it to resolve downward to F# is so strong that when you hum the song to yourself in absence of the recording, you have a tendency to provide the F# resolution in your own vocal rendition; check yourself out on this.

Break (Guitar Solo)

The guitar break is entered as a non-sequitor from the end of the second refrain; all of a sudden you seem to find yourself in the key of f# minor.

The section is an unsquare, rhetorically extended length of 5 measures in which the V chord back to the home key gets more than the usual amount of emphasis; the latter motivated by the desire to set the real home key straight in the wake of the disorienting key change at the start of the break:

 |f#  |C#  |f#  |B  |
  ii   V-of-ii  ii   V

 |-  |

The guitar part is characterized by rhythmic triplets, as well as a dwelling on the descending melodic appogiatura of C#->B which resonates nicely with the tendency of the verse tune to hang around those two notes.


The second half of the refrain provides the basis of the outro where it is repeated a relatively large number of times, seven(!), in its entirety before the fadeout is made complete. Do you suppose this was done out of affinity for, and in allusion to, the likes of "Hey Jude," or is it more an aesthetic acknowdgement of the so-called "extended dance mixes" of the 80's and 90's?

Some Final Thoughts

As appropriate as it seemed for "Free As A Bird" to appear in the key cluster of A/a/C, it seems equally so for the contrasting "Real Love" to appear in the key of E. Yes, I know John placed it in D for his demo, but the now released version is the *Beatles* definitive form of it.

E Major is a popular key for guitar players in general; the standard tuning and layout of the strings making it easy to finger the basic chord set. But just browsing through Beatles songbook, it's striking to note how many times they chose this key. The following list is a representative sampling rather than an exhaustive search, but note the bias toward the early end of the chronology:

That last one appropriately takes us full circle back to where we left off in our regular studies which, hopefully, we pick up with next the time.

Alan (
"... don't you know it's gonna last."       120895#195

Copyright (c) 1995 by Alan W. Pollack

All Rights Reserved

This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.

These articles were originally posted in the News Group The content from this newsgroup is archived at, and Alan W. Pollacks "Notes On" series can be found at

. I used to link to the versions published in Soundscapes before I decided to include them on my own site.

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Arranged by The Beatles

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