‘Now and Then’ represents more than music

Some 54 years after the band broke up and with only two members still living, The Beatles have released what they are referring to as “the final Beatles song.” “Now and Then” was released on Nov. 2, and it marked the last time in history that a song would ever feature a Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr songwriting credit.

The song’s creation involved reverse-engineering, building off of a never-officially released 1978 demo tape of Lennon’s. This isn’t the first time The Beatles have done this, either. “Now and Then” is actually the final piece in a trilogy of these semi-posthumous Lennon demo tracks. The songs “Real Love” and “Free as a Bird” were recorded and released in 1995 as singles alongside “The Beatles Anthology” albums, a collection of the band’s best unreleased material and demos.

It doesn’t compare to the triumph of the band’s most groundbreaking work, but it’s more about what the song represents as a novelty and relic of the greatest band of all time.

These previous songs followed the same format as the new track, with the three surviving band members constructing full songs out of the tape. “Now and Then” was considered during these sessions, but was ultimately shelved until last year when it was finished by McCartney, Starr and producer Giles Martin, the son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin.

The four-minute track features Lennon’s vocals from this tape paired with rhythm guitar recorded by Harrison from the “Anthology” sessions, topped off with vocals and bass from McCartney and Starr on drums. The song is also home to strings arranged by Giles Martin and a slide guitar solo played by McCartney — the last but certainly not the first time McCartney has swooped in to play lead guitar over Harrison.

The song made news headlines earlier this year with publications fixating on its use of AI technology, leading many to believe that the song would feature an artificially generated Lennon voice. However, as shown in the promotional film for the track, this technology was purely used for isolating the vocal and in no way crosses this ethical boundary.

So how does the song itself pan out? Well, there’s a lot to unpack. 

To start, the song is a beautiful Lennon composition with a great melody. The chorus takes on an anthemic form with him and McCartney singing together, and while I think it’s ever-so-slightly underwhelming musically, the “Now and then / I miss you” couplet is sure to make Beatles fans emotional. An omission which I greatly missed in the song is the “I don’t want to lose you” B section from the original demo, which would’ve brought the track to greater heights.

One will immediately notice the track’s production, which in some ways strays from the production techniques that defined the band throughout multiple albums. Giles Martin opted for a loud “wall of sound” approach more akin to the style of Phil Spector, the producer of The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” whose techniques the band disliked.

The piano especially is much too loud, and its pounding presence in the mix is more reminiscent of a modern pop track or McCartney’s recent solo work than a Beatles song. I implore fans to listen to this track back-to-back with a song like “Golden Slumbers,” which is masterful in finding the perfect balance between its vocals, piano, bass, brass section and beautiful string arrangement. 

The strings on “Now and Then,” however, are gorgeously arranged, and the balance of staccato quarter-note hits and stunning swells falls right in line with a George Martin string arrangement. Another high point is McCartney’s bass playing, which is played with perfect feel and has one of his signature pentatonic fills before the chorus which sounds straight off of “Revolver.”

Overall, the song is a solid track, but it’s about what you’d expect from one of these demo projects. It doesn’t compare to the triumph of the band’s most groundbreaking work, but it’s more about what the song represents as a novelty and relic of the greatest band of all time. The final chapter of Beatles music, however contrived and strange it may be, is being closed the way it should be — with a song that was co-written by Lennon and McCartney.


4/5 Stars




Featured photo courtesy of @thebeatles, Instagram