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Just released: A Beatles song called ‘Now and Then’

It is an indubitable fact that the music of The Beatles continues to remain popular even to this day. Their debut single ‘Love me do’ released in 1962 and six decades on comes the last song from the iconic rock band, thanks to modern technology.

The Beatles released ‘Now and then’ on November 2, a song first written and sung by late John Lennon. The song was recorded while Lennon was singing and playing the piano at his home in New York in 1979. Lennon passed away the following year.

McCartney&Starr:  Paul McCartney (L) and Ringo Starr, surviving members of The Beatles, at a performance in 2014. McCartney&Starr:  Paul McCartney (L) and Ringo Starr, surviving members of The Beatles, at a performance in 2014.

McCartney&Starr: Paul McCartney (L) and Ringo Starr, surviving members of The Beatles, at a performance in 2014.


In 1994, Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono gave the recording of ‘Now and then’ on a cassette to the remaining Beatles trio — Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr along with two other songs ‘Free as a bird’ and ‘Real love’. The two latter songs were released in 1995-96 as singles, reaching No 6 and No 11 respectively on the Billboard Hot 100.

In 1995, efforts were made by the trio to bring out ‘Now and then’ but it was abandoned due to poor sound quality. In 2001, George Harrison died. McCartney and Starr got on with their music and their lives.

Interestingly and happily for Beatles fans, in 2022, the duo decided to complete ‘Now and then’ with the help of Peter Jackson, director of ‘The Beatles: Get Back’ documentary.  Jackson used technology aided by artificial intelligence (AI) to “de-mix” muddled recordings of overlapping sounds. Essentially, the new technology made it possible to strip Lennon’s vocals from the old demo cassette and bring ‘Now and Then’ to life.

All four Beatles feature in the final version of the track that includes Lennon’s vocals, electric and acoustic guitar recorded by Harrison in 1995; bass, guitar and piano from McCartney and a new drum part from Starr.

Finally, when the single was released in early November, it came with ‘Love me do’ on the B-side, bookending the band’s career.

On the eve of the single’s release, a short documentary ‘Now and Then – The Last Beatles Song’ was screened featuring exclusive footage and commentary from McCartney, Starr, Harrison and Lennon’s son Sean Ono Lennon.

Not surprisingly, like some earlier Beatles’ songs, ‘Now and then’ created history by topping the UK singles chart in just over a week after it was released.

Moreover, McCartney and Starr, both octogenarians, have made The Beatles the oldest band to claim a U K No 1 single.

“It’s mind boggling. It’s blown my socks off. It’s also a very emotional moment for me. I love it,” McCartney told Official Charts.

Personally, as a Beatles fan, I much appreciate the efforts put in to piece together the track sung over four decades ago, the machine learning/AI and the interesting story behind the song, but to be honest, when I listened to the song, I found it melancholic, rather ho-hum compared to the band’s many earlier songs.

At the end of the day, it is a Beatles song even if it was recorded without the Fab Four in a room. Any wonder why it is the fastest selling single in the UK so far this year?

It seems like Beatlemania is here to stay.

But will ‘Now and Then’ be remembered fondly as some of their other songs in the cannon? Time will tell.

(Published 17 November 2023, 23:17 IST)

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