A new (!) Beatles recording to add to the canon.
Chris Harwood weighs in on the "last" Beatle song.
A new Beatles single dropped today. You might be thinking to yourself, excitedly, "Another one!" or possibly, with a tone of bewilderment, "Another one?" Both are valid reactions, even if you love the Beatles. Posthumous releases can be a tricky undertaking, as they have the potential of coming across a bit eerie. And one can't be certain that John Lennon and George Harrison would have been fully pleased with the final product. Nonetheless, the song is out, and it may very well be the very last new track by The Beatles.
The song "Now and Then" was originally written and recorded by John Lennon around 1977 as a piano/vocal home demo. In 1995, the three living Beatles had considered the song as the third single for The Beatles Anthology. Like this song, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" were also enhancements of John Lennon demo recordings given to the group by Yoko Ono.
But in 1995, there were challenges with this recording. Lennon made the recording via the sole microphone on a cassette player in the room. Often his voice was too buried under the sound of the piano. The three remaining Beatles and producer Jeff Lynne made attempts to bring out his voice and lay down music around it (as they had done with the other two songs). They weren't satisfied with the results, so they put it on the shelf.
Fast forward 27 years. In 2022, a lot of new music technology was available, particularly the computer software that Peter Jackson had used for his Get Back film edit in 2021. They were much more successful in separating John's voice and his piano playing. With this cleaner separation, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Giles Martin (George Martin's son) mixed in the guitar track that George Harrison had laid down for it in 1995, along with a new bass track from Paul, new drums from Ringo, and a string arrangement by Giles Martin that he and Paul conceived and recorded with musicians at the Capitol Records studios in L.A. (done with great secrecy under the conceit that it was a new McCartney record).
Does it measure up to the rest of their work? I do think it is a lovely song, but that is a very personal and subjective opinion for everyone to make for themself. But as to the quality of the recording, again, I wonder what other tweaks or additions might John and George have come up with had they been in the room in the last year? The alchemy of the Beatles output as a group was often made better because of their individual creativity feeding off one another, even up to the last minute. Each of them has brilliant solo recordings, but their output as a group – to me – often seem a greater result than the sum of the parts.
All things considered, yes, "Now and Then" is likely the very last new Beatles record. Because John Lennon and George Harrison are no longer alive, there is no way to bring the quartet together again in the future… unless there is some other recording tucked away that has both George and John on it that Ringo and Paul could add to. The Beatles have always been shrewd marketers, so that possibility always will linger in their fans' minds. If not, it is very fitting that the release of this single has a new (stereo!) mix of their first official single, "Love Me Do" from 1962, as its B-side. The words "Now" and "Then" take on a deeper meaning with that combination, bookending The Beatles' canon of recordings that now spans sixty years.