The Beatles releasing their last single in 2023 is a bit surreal. They broke up in 1970. John Lennon died in 1980 (at age 40), and George Harrison died in 2001 (at age 58). Paul McCartney is 81, and Ringo Starr is 83. How is it possible to get a brand new single?
It all started 1977 when John Lennon recorded a lo-fi cassette demo of “Now And Then”.
In 1995, the three remaining Beatles…Paul, George, and Ringo…recorded parts to go with the demo. This was during the Anthologies sessions that produced “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”.
The “Now And Then” project was abandoned, because the audio of John’s voice was just too poor sounding. Almost three decades later, advanced Artificial Intelligence audio technology (utilized in the Get Back documentary & the Revolver remix) was used to extract a better quality vocal from John Lennon’s demo.
Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr decided to give “Now And Then” another try. Paul McCartney added guitar, bass, keyboards, and vocals. Ringo added drums and vocals.
They used guitar and vocals that George had recorded in 1995 (Paul’s slide guitar part is a salute to George’s style). Producers Paul McCartney and Giles Martin added a string arrangement, and even a blend of background voices from the recordings of “Here, There And Everywhere”, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Because”. That means a bit of George Martin’s production is also present on the final Beatles single.
Was it all worth it?
Yes. It’s great to hear John Lennon singing as the song begins. His voice is almost as good as we know it, but not quite. There’s great nostalgia hearing The Beatles on a new recording. Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and co-producer Giles Martin have done an admirable job of taking a rough demo and making it a fully realized song. It’s not among The Beatles best songs, but at this point we have to accept the reality that this is as close as we can get.
Update Nov. 10, 2023: “Now And Then” went to #1 in England. The Beatles have the record for having #1 songs over a span of 60 years! The song hit #7 on the U.S. Hot 100.
John’s one-time girlfriend, May Pang, recently confirmed that John told her (in the mid ’70’s) that he wanted to work with Paul McCartney again. That’s one interpretation of “Now And Then”. Here’s part of the chorus: “Now and then, I miss you. Oh, now and then I want you to be there for me.”
In an interview with Variety, producer Giles Martin said about Paul McCartney… “I think he just misses John and he wants to work on a song with him. It’s just as simple as that.”
The physical single was released on November 3rd, 2023 in various vinyl versions, and on cassette…bringing John’s recording full circle. The flip side is the new stereo remix of “Love Me Do”. It was The Beatles’ first single in England, but a different version was a #1 hit in America. The Now & Then clock on the back cover was purchased that way by George Harrison. His wife Olivia added the photo of The Beatles when the decision was made to release the song as a single.
A 12-minute movie about the making of the recording debuted on YouTube on Wednesday, November 1st, 2023. On Thursday, November 2nd, the audio of the single was released. Then on Friday November 3rd, the music video for the song, directed by Peter Jackson, debuted (review below).
Update Nov. 1st, 2023: Watched the 12-minute Now And Then – The Last Beatles Song (Short Film). Besides being informative, it was emotional seeing John & George, but also fun. That’s because it included cleverly edited video clips from across the years. We get bits of the song, but we don’t get to hear the completed recording. We do hear John’s voice, and it sounds very clear. Here are a couple screen shots:
Update Nov. 3rd, 2023: Right after it became available, my wife and I watched the music video for “Now And Then”. As it ended, my wife just said “That was amazing!”. The video mixes film from throughout The Beatles time together, also from the 1995 Anthology sessions when Paul, George and Ringo were originally working on the song, and adds recent footage of Paul and Ringo.
One problem with the video…for a serious song, Director Peter Jackson used too much film of John goofing around. Other than that, it’s very impressive film-making, and a joy to see The Beatles together.
Here’s the link to the video on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Opxhh9Oh3rg
Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr say this is “the last Beatles song”, but you gotta wonder if Artificial Intelligence technology could be used on other demos, song fragments, or even improving John’s voice on “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”. John Lennon’s son, Sean, and George Harrison’s wife, Olivia, gave their approval for the “Now And Then” project. Who knows what future projects could be approved by the heirs of John, Paul, George, & Ringo.