Fab Four finally come together in spirit for one last song

Mersey's new beat: Security was tight and tempers frayed at the launch of the first new Beatles single for 25 years
  • @davidlister1

Arts Correspondent

Security was tight. So tight that one frustrated European journalist at the launch of the first new Beatles music in 25 years yesterday shouted at the president of EMI: "This is not the Rosetta Stone. This is just a pop record that you are marketing."

His plea failed. Camera crews from all over the world were made to turn their backs as an exclusive video of the three surviving Beatles answering questions was shown.

The first double CD of Beatles' outtakes, demos and rejected songs was delivered to shops yesterday, after having spent the last few weeks literally under armed guard at the warehouse. Its highlight, "Free As A Bird", the first genuinely new Beatles song in a quarter of a century, was played for the first time.

Paul, George and Ringo failed to attend a press conference at the Savoy Hotel in central London to launch the new album. But they were there in spirit, or at least on video, to give their views on the Beatles' enduring popularity.

"We were cute," said George. "We certainly made some good records, and in our early days we were a tight little band. And we looked quite good at the time, which always helps."

He put into perspective the frenetic pace of those years when he said: "When I was 17, I was in Hamburg. By the time I was 23 we had done Sergeant Pepper and I was in the Himalayas. We put 20 years into every year."

Ringo Starr said that impresarios were still offering the three pounds 1bn to play a reunion concert. "They don't quite get the picture. There were four of us. One of the Beatle boys isn't there any more," he said.

The surviving members of the group used Jeff Lynne, a fellow musician, to produce their new single, "Free As A Bird", in which they added their harmonies and music to a cassette John Lennon made in 1977 of him singing his composition to piano accompaniment. George Martin, who was the group's producer, said yesterday he had been too busy producing the Anthology album, the first of three double CDs to accompany a television history of the group starting next weekend.

The song has a clear Beatles sound to it, with harmonies reminiscent of some of the songs on Abbey Road, the last album they recorded back in 1969. It will be released as a single on 4 December.

Though a number of early songs and demos on the album are very poor quality, and though Lennon once said that everything of worth was used on Beatles' albums, Mr Martin defended the project yesterday. "I used to say that. But in the last year I have listened to every take of every track we have ever done. And I realise that maybe I wasn't right. Now I realise that some of the early takes may have had mistakes but they have charm and they are gorgeous. It's in the raw. It's warts and all. People are ready for it now. They wouldn't have been ready in 1970 or 1980," he said.

Derek Taylor, the Beatles' press officer, said the album was similar to a literary exercise. He said it was the "musical equivalent" of the Churchill Papers.

Mr Martin said "Free as a Bird" was "a super song. I like the way the harmonies move. I like the lyrics. I don't think it's as good as 'Strawberry Fields', which actually didn't get to number one, but I think it's much better than other number ones we've had. Having heard it now I wish I had produced it . . . This will certainly be number one all over the world."