An unlikely gift from the passage of time with a release of the dubbed ‘Final Beatles song’; Now And Then. A song that began as a demo from John Lennon playing his piano in his New York apartment in the early 1970s, this song has had an interesting journey to fruition.
A short film was released a day before the release of the song, chronicling the over-four-decades-long journey that Now And Then has taken to get to this point. In addition to the short film, the song will be released alongside their debut single, Love Me Do, remastered in 2022 in stereo for the release of the last Beatles song, as a B side. This choice takes us through time in an instant, representing the band’s entire journey, from their very first single to their final song.
Paying homage to the band and its entire journey, the short film opens with a montage of footage from their earliest live performances to their final days at Abbey Road studios in London. Aided by visuals from the recent Get Back movie from Peter Jackson, we get freshly surfaced candid motion pictures from sessions in 1995 when George, Ringo and Paul worked on the record. It’s a mesmerising watch as the classic yellow submarine technicolor cartoon creates wonderful transitions to illustrate the timeline.
With interviews from George, Paul, Ringo, Sean Oko Lennon and Peter Jackson, we get insight into how this magical track came to be. Without Yoko, we might not have ever seen this track come to life, as she shared the demo tapes of John’s with the rest of the band in 1994. The opportunity was there for the taking. Paul explained that with much certainty, he knows if he could ask John, he would say yes to completing his song.
The 1995 sessions took place at Paul’s studio, where he invited George and Ringo to come and work on the music. Jeff Lynne was also there helping to produce. It’s incredible to watch snippets of the three of The Beatles in studio. It’s also starkly different, as one is clearly missing. But you can feel this renewed sense of collaboration in the brief windows provided into those sessions.
‘Real Love’ and ‘Free As A Bird’ were also worked on in the 1995 sessions as previously uncompleted demos of John’s. Those tracks have since been released. But with Now And Then The Beatles found it hard to hear John’s voice in the mix with the washed out piano sounds. In the first instance, the band ended up leaving the song to lapse completion given the ongoing frustration with the mix of the audio between John’s vocals and the piano. The two components couldn’t be handled in such a way that allowed the band to overlay their respective parts in the studio. The technology in 1995 just simply wouldn’t allow it. We hear a snippet of the original demo from John’s recording in the video and this provides good context for The Beatles’ frustration. The recording sounds a little haunting with John and his piano, in a low fidelity fashion. Ringo sadly remarked that the result at the time further brought to the fore that John was truly gone. So the song was left on a shelf somewhere with the hopes of one day being able to finish it.
The video then fast forwards to 2022, where Paul then explains that the same technology used in Sir Peter Jackson’s Get Back movie could be used for extracting John’s voice, so that it could be freed from the overbearing piano keys. It’s important to know that John’s voice wasn’t altered for Now And Then, just simply separated from the piano sounds using machine learning AI. The technology used was called the MAL Audio Machine, which enables this restoration in John’s vocals, ensuring integrity of the performance. The time had finally arrived for the band to complete the song. This feat enabled the band to confidently mix John’s voice into the final track. The short film features a wonderful snippet of John’s isolated vocal performance, and it is sure to send chills down your spine. It’s stunning.
Even with the passing of George since the last attempt to complete the single, the band had luckily kept his guitar contributions from those sessions in 1995, both electric and acoustic rhythm sections. Paul made the creative decision to emulate a George Harrison inspired guitar solo using slide guitar and the result is a considered and sincere tribute to his late friend, again, such an emotive moment. It’s quite magical how much time has past between contributions, it has meant the song feels transcendental. It’s like a complete hybrid of the best bits of each member. But as eloquently put by Sean, John would not have been shy about using new technology to achieve an outcome with music, he thinks what the band has done is really beautiful.
Perhaps a contribution that could go unnoticed, is the orchestral string passages building this song out. Paul intrinsically felt that some strings would pair nicely with the existing foundation, as it had done on previous Beatles songs. So George Martin’s son, Giles Martin pulled together a bunch of classical musicians without having them know what song they would be performing. The addition of the strings is enveloping and the kind of stylistic choice that results in a grandiose aesthetic, making it more dramatic and heartfelt.
Now And Then is a sentimental piece, which feels incredibly emotional given its place as the last Beatles song, with lyrics like “I know its true, its all because of you / And if I make it through, it’s all because of you”. It feels as if the song illustrates those dear connections we have in life, centred around the subject matter that mattered most to The Beatles – Love. A testament to each individual’s talent and prowess. Paul’s bass glides nicely to give the track a bedrock and his backing vocals on the chorus are welcomed, hearing him sing with a late John Lennon, is something to behold. Ringo also joins backing vocals which is a treasure too, as his vocals are certainly a rare contribution. And his drums remain tight as ever as a steadfast anchor for the rhythm of the track.
It’s even the subtle group backing vocals that add so much value to this track. It’s incredibly rewarding when you listen to this song and then learn that Giles and Paul put the cherry on top, adding backing vocals from the original recordings of ‘Elenor Rigby’, ‘Here There And Everywhere’ and ‘Because’ into this new single. A lovely touch indeed.
Now And Then is an impossible amalgamation of what made The Beatles so great, it’s a true song of theirs, with all members featuring, and given the various touches and contributions from various points in time, it is something truly special. It gets better with each listen, as you can appreciate all the various elements. The song has all the hallmarks of a Beatles song you could wish for. This one will be timeless as the rest of their catalogue remains. It’s a real challenge to put into words what hearing John Lennon at the beginning of the track is like. It can only really be known through experiencing it yourself. Go listen and appreciate the last gift the Beatles have given us, when seemingly it was all said and done… how lucky are we?