60 years after their debut single, 50 years after their breakup, and 25 years after their last single, The Beatles have released was is being dubbed their final farewell. Throughout the use of modern technology, “The Fab Four” have reunited across parallel planes of life and death to deliver their departing dalliance.
This is not only a review of the track but also the story of how it came to be that such a monumental single can be composed.
A “Rubbish” Demo
As noted by Ian MacDonald in Revolution in the Head: The Beatles Records and The Sixties, at John Lennon’s solo introduction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Yoko Ono gifted Paul McCartney a number of demo tapes during the late 1970s.
The so-called “Threatles” of Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr went on to work on three tracks.
“Free As A Bird” was the first release, a US top 10 single and UK runner-up. The next year, they released “Real Love”, which hit number four in the UK but peaked outside the top 10 in the US.
However, despite having tapes, the band could not record a third track, “Now And Then”.
During the band’s reunion recording in the mid-1990s, Harrison insisted on getting in ELO’s Jeff Lynne as a producer to work alongside trusted engineer Jeff Emerick.
However, the demos for the single were more or less unusable, with the vocals muddied by the piano playing, with the technology not then existing to allow the song to come to fruition. As Variety noted: “Lennon’s rough home-cassette vocal lacked the fidelity to easily mesh with what the other members were attempting to graft on two decades later.”
As Jeff Lynne recalled, they worked on it for “one day — one afternoon, really, messing with it.” Ringo Starr more flippantly remarked: “we worked on it for 10 minutes.”
Another big factor in the single’s rejection was George Harrison’s hatred for the track, calling it “fucking rubbish,” according to The New Yorker.
According to an article in The Sunday Telegraph in October 1996 titled “Reunited Beatles abandon Christmas single”, Beatles press officer Derek Taylor was disappointed “Now and Then” was not released.
Peter Jackson Fixes A Hole
Paul McCartney sometimes bemoaned the fact the single was never made and it seemed that way until two decades after George’s death and four decades after John’s.
In 2023, Paul McCartney announced the track had been made using AI (artificial intelligence).
More accurately, Peter Jackson – who had directed The Beatles’s Get Back documentary – was able to manipulate different elements of the demo through MAL (Machine-Assisted Learning).
Via The New York Times, “the technology was used to preserve “the clarity and integrity of his original vocal performance by separating it from the piano.”
It would not be the first time the band had utilised experimental recording techniques. Indeed, they had utilise many unique devices in the past from the mellotron in “Strawberry Fields Forever” to the reversed tapes in “Tomorrow Never Knows” to the synchronised tape machines in “A Day In The Life”.
The track also makes use of a new string arrangement and backing vocals from three previous Beatles tracks, “Here, There and Everywhere”, “Eleanor Rigby”, and “Because”. A guitar solo inspired by George Harrison was added, played by Paul McCartney.
The single would be produced by Giles Martin, son of famous Beatles producer George Martin and be released as a double A-side with their first single “Love Me Do”.
The Evening Standard described the track as: “one of the most anticipated releases of the Beatles’ long and endlessly eventful history.”
The Beatles Final Track – Review
The track’s rawness is reflected by McCartney’s clear count in, followed by a vibrant and melancholy piano.
Then the piercing, haunting vocals of John echo clear as day. For many fans, it might be enough to bring tears to their eyes as they remember John and their own personal memories of one of the most prominent musicians of the 20th century.
This is soon backed by the forceful drumming of Ringo Starr before the piece reaches an emotional crescendo in the refrain as Lennon sings “Now and then, I miss you/Now and then, I want you to be there for me.” This is evaluated by the backing orchestra, who tug on heart strings with their performance on the track.
The George Harrison-esque guitar solo, produced by McCartney with a slide guitar adds another dimension to the piece as we pay homage to the second departed Beatles member. The solo, adding with the harmonising and strings, gives an almost evangelical sense to the track, the kind of send-off Harrison would almost definitely have eaten up.
The song features a half-a-minute closing sequence in which Harrison’s guitar wails out like a series of pained cries, supported by a dramatic and impressive string build. This is followed by a perfect cadence and lingering tremolo which rings out, closing the book on the most illustrious band in musical history.
Analysis & Epilogue
The track lyrically is quite simplistic. It is no “Yesterday” or “Across The Universe” in terms of lyrical density but its simplism is not to take away from its tranquil nature, emotional resonance, and historical importance. It is simple but poignant, a beautiful standalone single even though the importance of the track is so much more than simply the song itself.
As The Los Angeles Time advises us: “Positioning “Now and Then” as an event runs the risk of putting too great a burden on a wispy, melancholy ballad Lennon wrote during his time in seclusion at the Dakota apartment building and then promptly forgot, letting it languish among the hundreds of hours of demos he recorded during the late 1970s.”
Led by the vision of the remaining members, Giles Martin, and other figures, the musicality is fraught with tear-jerking overtones. From the significance of the piano – an instrument Lennon has become synonymous with since “Imagine” – to the Harrison solo to the string quartet, it is a delectable piece of composition that works compellingly to evoke a sense of bittersweet and sentimental joy that such a project had been undertaken.
Our last look at “The Fab Four” was in 1996 with “Real Love”, with “Free As A Bird” being described as “no classic” by prominent music journalist Neil McCormick the previous year. Overcoming the “Real Love” send-off would be a hurdle to overcome. Another more lyrically low-key track, the song’s accompanying video is a masterpiece of video editing, stitching together old footage of the band throughout their careers, matching Lennon’s eery vocals.
A music video for “Now and Then” will be released shortly.
However, this single offers one final piece of closure to dedicated fans who can now put to rest any dreams of hearing this unfinished musical marvel. It is a more than appropriate track for music’s greatest entity to close our their career on the track, the last note in a lifetime of making exemplary music for the masses.
I now quote Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone, who writes more eloquently than I ever could. He writes: “Now and Then” is the four lads from Liverpool, now separated by death, 60 years on from the skittish boys who start Red Side One with “Love Me Do,” their voices full of terror. Everything has changed in 2023 — but not the most important thing, which is that fierce, unkillably enthusiastic passion for their musical bond. It’s a tribute to a friendship where Paul and Ringo go the extra mile to finish a song left undone decades ago, simply out of loyalty and fellowship. It’s a tribute to their mad love for the song — and for one another. There’s no story anywhere else in music quite like “Now and Then.” It’s a poignant farewell, to be sure. (The final scene of Jackson’s video will wipe you out for real — be prepared when you watch.) But it’s a final tribute that sums up the whole story of why this music matters — and why this music is more beloved now than ever. It’s the Beatles’ final song — now and then and forever.”