So as Christmas fast approaches, the music and marketing industries are getting the big guns out. Coca-Cola has their Santa, the X Factor has their Christmas number 1 attempt, and John Lewis has their much-awaited adverts. They’ve really nailed their niche over the last few years, in combining heartwarming stories set to a cover song by a contemporary artist. This year, it’s the turn of Tom Odell and his version of John Lennon and the Beatles’ ‘Real Love’. I’ll be looking at Tom Odell’s version, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s made quite a few changes from the original, particularly in the structure and arrangement, so please do listen to both and compare!
‘Real Love’ is a mid-tempo ballad in 4/4, with influences of pop, classical and jazz styles. It has a short structure of Verse/Verse/Pre/Chorus/Chorus, probably to keep it to an appropriate length for the TV advert. The chords in the verse are a little unexpected, going F – Em/F – F7 – E – Bb – Am – C – F, and the pre chorus using F and Bbm, however the chorus is a traditional pop progression of F – Dm – Bb – C. The use of 7ths, 9ths, suspended chords and substituted chords show quite a jazz influence in the harmony. However the arrangement is of a pop ballad and classical kind, beginning with just vocals and piano, then gradually adding a glockenspiel, a string section, percussion and backing vocals. Lyrically, the song describes the new meaning of his life now that he has found ‘real love’.
This song certainly fits the John Lewis niche of the heartfelt ballad. Tom Odell has a pure, folk-influenced voice that suits the emotion of the song, and he also shows off some vocal riffs towards the end. But the most enjoyable part of this song for me is the arrangement, the gradual layering of the instruments towards the soaring climax is really beautiful! Ok, it’s a little cheesy and sentimental perhaps, but if there’s any time of year when I can excuse sentimentality, it’s definitely Christmas. And it’s important to remember that this cover was specifically designed to fit hand-in-hand with the advert, so it’s more of an audio AND visual experience. It’s sweet, it’s effective, and it definitely won’t do any harm to the careers of John Lewis or Tom Odell.
Favourite lyric – ‘All my little plans and schemes, lost like some forgotten dream’