George Harrison initially did not like it, and fans had always believed it would never see the light of day. However, the final song by the Beatles, titled “Now and Then,” will now be released at 2pm GMT, a surprise finale for what is arguably the greatest band in the UK.
Dr. Holly Tessler, a specialist in the history and legacy of The Beatles at the University of Liverpool, describes this as a significant moment. It is remarkable to consider that a band that disbanded over 50 years ago is now declaring that this is their final song. In a way, both Paul and Ringo, who are now in their 80s, are marking the end. For many Beatles fans, this is a bittersweet moment that feels like a conclusion. Therefore, I believe it holds great significance.
The melody includes musical input from each of the four band members, including guitar played by the late George Harrison in 1995 and vocals by John Lennon taken from the initial late-70s demo of the song. It was composed and sung by Lennon at his residence in the Dakota building in New York City, where he was tragically killed in 1980.
In 1994, Yoko Ono, the wife of John Lennon, gave a demo tape labeled “For Paul” to Paul McCartney. The tape included vocals from Lennon for the songs Free As a Bird and Real Love, which were later completed by McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr and released in 1995 as part of the Beatles’ Anthology project. However, George Harrison’s wife Olivia has stated that George believed the technical challenges with the song “Now and Then” were too difficult to overcome and decided that it was not possible to finish the track to a satisfactory level. As a result, the song has remained unreleased.
Philip Norman, known for authoring biographies of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison, including the highly praised book Shout! The True Story of the Beatles, reveals that during the 1990s, George Harrison was in disagreement with Paul McCartney about releasing this particular song. Harrison had previously deemed it unfit for release, but advancements in AI have now brought it up to modern standards.
The AI technology was utilized to improve the separation of Lennon’s vocals – however, McCartney has made it clear that “nothing has been artificially or synthetically created. It’s all authentic and we all contributed to it.” The Lennon vocals were then incorporated into new sections of the song, which were recorded by McCartney and Starr, along with guitar parts from Harrison in 1995 and a new string arrangement.
Olivia Harrison stated that if he were still alive, George would have enthusiastically joined Paul and Ringo in finishing the recording of Now and Then. McCartney has described the project as “emotionally charged” and mentioned that it is exciting to be working on new Beatles music in 2023 and releasing a never-before-heard song to the public.
Norman refers to the release as a significant occasion, yet he is of the opinion that even with the advantages of AI technology in improving vocals and sound quality, Now and Then will not capture the same energy and sense of togetherness found in other Beatles songs. He believes that the band had a strong collective mindset, as discussed by psychologists, and functioned artistically as a cohesive unit. He does not believe that this can be replicated in Now and Then.
He is not familiar with it, but he is confident that Now and Then, which was originally written by Lennon alone, will have a different sound from the typical Beatles style. He explains, “John Lennon usually didn’t sing lead vocals – they were always very cohesive as a group.” He believes that this was their greatest strength and also what made their breakup so heartbreaking. The Beatles had a unique male choral sound that was not common before they formed, and many artists began imitating it afterwards.
“According to Norman, Now and Then serves as a reminder of John’s sense of isolation. During a conversation with Yoko Ono, he expressed frustration over the fact that his songs were not being covered as frequently as Paul’s. Although his legacy is well-established, he struggled with feelings of insecurity.”
Tessler anticipates that the debut of Now and Then may have a significant impact on the perception and cultural understanding of the band’s overall legacy. She notes, “Those who are 53 and younger have grown up in a world without the Beatles at all.” She believes that the album provides an opportunity to soften the narrative of the band’s breakup and create a more poignant conclusion. Instead of four young men angrily parting ways, it presents a natural ending.
This is a long-lasting friendship that has lasted a lifetime. The past cannot be erased, but it will provide us with a new perspective on the Beatles, who continue to collaborate in some capacity since the 1960s until 2023.
The music video for the single is being directed by Peter Jackson, known for his work on Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The art for the single was created by visual artist Ed Ruscha. In 2021, Jackson also directed the Beatles documentary Get Back, which used AI technology to analyze recordings of songs from their last two albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be.
The video is set to feature previously unseen footage of the band, given to Jackson by Olivia Harrison, Lennon’s son Sean and Pete Best, the band’s original drummer who left in 1962. Best, Jackson said, provided “a few precious seconds of the Beatles performing in their leather suits, the earliest known film of the Beatles and never seen before”.
A behind-the-scenes film, lasting 12 minutes, documenting the creation of the latest track titled “Now and Then – The Last Beatles Song” can be found on YouTube. Physical copies of “Now and Then” in various formats (12-inch and 7-inch vinyl, cassette, and CD) are now available for pre-order, with an official release date of Friday. Additionally, enhanced and freshly mixed versions of the compilations “1962-1966” and “1967-1970” (also known as the Red and Blue albums) will be released on November 10th.