It’s November of the year 2023, and somehow, someway (I’m desperately searching for a “Something” pun here), we get a new Beatles song. As a lifelong Beatles devotee, upon hearing the news first came surprise, then delight, and then finally gratitude to the surviving members of the Fab Four, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, for assuring the band’s legacy remains alive and vibrant after all this time. Perhaps filmmaker Peter Jackson is also owed some credit here for stirring up a minor renaissance of salvaged Beatles material in the wake of his Get Back series – an appropriately named, monolithic restoration of the footage that comprised the now mostly lost Let It Be film. Whoever is ultimately to thank, to those of us for whom The Beatles’ catalogue is a tentpole in the soundtracks of our lives, it’s hard to feel anything but thankful for another chance to experience the unique pleasure of a hearing a Beatles song for the first time after all these years.
We owe “Now and Then” to something of a technical marvel. Originally a John Lennon solo composition that never made it past the demo phase, some impressive tech allowed Lennon’s voice to be isolated to allow space for the remaining Beatles to collaborate around it. With some posthumous contributions from the late George Harrison also layered in, the end result is a brand new tune that combines the creative talents of all four artists, just like the hits of days past.
The production values on “Now and Then” feel decidedly McCartney; certain elements of the mix, particularly the piano and backup vocals, sound like they might have come right off of New or Egypt Station . The music itself, however, is pretty distinctly John. The melancholic sequence of minor chords that dominates the song’s verses shares its harmonic DNA with Lennon’s more contemplative ballads like Imagine’s “Oh My Love.” Ringo’s percussion work is as subtle and perfectly apt to the tune as ever, and Harrison’s archival contributions round out an immediately familiar Fab Four sound, oft-imitated but never truly duplicated.
The song feels like somewhat of a sister-track to the last “last” Beatles songs, “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love,” which makes sense in light of the fact that all three tunes originated from the same demo tape. While those tracks were salvaged by the other three Beatles for their 1995 Anthology project, “Now and Then” remained in limbo. The technology of the day wasn’t quite up to snuff to isolate John’s lead vocal from the rest of the demo in a way the other band members found satisfactory, but now some 28 years later one could argue that the digital wizardry employed to again reunite the Fab Four is even more seamless.
In what Paul McCartney once called it, “the ever-changing world in which we’re living,” we so often turn back to the stories and songs that have shaped us and shared in our tragedies and triumphs, in our sorrows and our joys. The Beatles brought just such music to the lives of so many people, over so many years, and “Now and Then” stands as an unexpected but welcome addition to their vaunted output. A gift to Beatles fans music lovers of all stripes, “Now and Then” is a fitting final offering from one of the most seminal bands of all time.
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