WE REVIEW THE NEW SONG BY THE BEATLES – NOW AND THEN
John Lennon started writing ‘Now and Then’ in 1978. Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison attempted to finish Lennon’s work in the mid 1990s. In 2023, it sees release, the final song by The Beatles.
The release of ‘Now and Then’ is simultaneously a surprising final chapter, and a likely one. The re-working of previously written but unreleased material is something The Beatles are familiar with. Years after the death of John Lennon and armed with recordings of their former bandmate’s voice, McCartney, Starr and Harrison sought to collaborate once more in 1995, finishing what Lennon had started almost two decades previously.
Jeff Lynne produced what came of those sessions. It wasn’t vast, or necessarily the fab four’s best work, but it was significant. Most notable was ‘Real Love’, with its beatific loved-up lyrics countered by Lennon’s penchant for odd harmonic detail.
So, the Beatles have done this before. Was there any reason to believe they’d do it again? Perhaps. McCartney and Starr still perform, the former albeit more frequently than the latter, but it was McCartney’s headlining of the 2022’s Glastonbury Festival that provided the first somewhat tangible sign that ‘Now and Then’ was possibility.
In light of Peter Jackson’s film, The Beatles: Get Back, Jackson approached McCartney with archival footage of Lennon singing ‘I Got a Feeling’. Lennon’s vocals were isolated, allowing McCartney to perform the song alongside Lennon’s voice, essentially bringing Lennon and McCartney together once more. McCartney’s ostensive duet alongside Lennon included footage of his former bandmate projected onto big screens. It was without doubt the closest fans would ever be to seeing the two together again.
What was significant, however, was the technology that allowed for Lennon’s vocals to be isolated. In 1995, when reworking Lennon’s recordings, one song was abandoned. The recording in question was unable to be used because Lennon’s voice was obscured behind and intertwined with his piano. Subsequently, the recording was assumed to be unusable. That is until now. The technology, powered by machine learning algorithms, that which Jackson gave to McCartney for his Glastonbury performance, was exactly what was needed to separate Lennon from his accompanying piano.
With the final jigsaw piece in place, the final song is here. All four members are present. Lennon’s voice, McCartney and Ringo’s 21st century recordings, and George Harrison’s guitar parts, recorded during the sessions from the mid ‘90s. Giles Martin, son of producer George Martin, even provides a string arrangement.
And so it goes. A final song. A Lennon-penned love song, like so many we’ve heard in former decades, accompanied by musicians whose stylistic footprint remains so uniquely audible throughout every moment of ‘Now and Then’.
When I first heard about the release of a final song, I was conflicted about even writing this review. Was there ever a piece of music about which my opinion was this irrelevant? And what if I didn’t like it? There can’t be many greater ways for a music writer to irritate people that criticise The Beatles.
But I do like it. I like that it exists. I like that McCartney, Starr and all others involved included their former bandmates so earnestly. But at the same time, I don’t want to over-analyse, dissect or discuss this song. This history that surrounds it is a review in itself.
I want to let this one be, to simply be enjoyed and nothing more – I think this band deserves it. So, for one last time everyone, The Beatles.