50 years after the Beatles split, a new song by John, Paul, George and Ringo has been released. The single “Now And Then” was only made possible by modern technology.
Paul McCartney can hardly believe it himself. “The fact that I’m still working on Beatles music in 2023, wow!” More than five decades after the Beatles split, a new single from the legendary British band was released on Thursday.
“It’s a real Beatles recording,” emphasizes the 81-year-old music legend in a short documentary that was published on YouTube on the eve of the premiere of “Now And Then.” “It’s probably the last Beatles song we all played on.”
“Now And Then” is a melancholic, slightly nostalgic mid-tempo song. Vocal harmonies in the chorus, striking guitars and strings create the unmistakable Beatles sound. John Lennon’s lead vocals are from a 1979 recording.
“They say my father took a break from music for a while to raise me,” says Sean Lennon, son of John and Yoko Ono. “But at home he was always playing music and making demos all the time. I remember him making recordings on these tape recorders.” One of the songs Lennon recorded in his apartment in the Dakota Building in New York City was “Now And Then”.
In 1980, Lennon was shot at the building. It wasn’t until 1994 that his widow Yoko Ono gave the cassette containing several songs to Paul McCartney. Together with the other two Beatles, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, he set about finishing the unfinished songs. “If the three of us did something together, that would certainly be interesting, but John should just be a part of it,” Harrison said in 1995. That same year, “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love” appeared on the “Anthology” albums, which were created under the aegis of star producer Jeff Lynne. But with “Now And Then” Lynne and the three Beatles reached their limits.
Lennon’s voice on cassette
“There’s John pounding away on his piano,” says McCartney, describing the demo recording from 1979. And that was exactly the problem. Lennon’s voice could not be clearly extracted on the old cassette because it could not be separated from the muffled piano sounds. “Every time we wanted to hear more of John’s voice, the piano would come through and overwhelm it,” McCartney recalls of the work in 1995. “At some point we ran out of time and didn’t want to, and then we thought, well, maybe We’d better leave this piece out.”
When guitarist George Harrison died in 2001, the project seemed to be off the table for good. “That was quite a setback,” says singer and bassist McCartney. “We had to wait almost 25 years until the right moment came to revisit Now and Then.” This was made possible by Peter Jackson. The director of the “Lord of the Rings” and the “Hobbit” trilogy produced the Beatles documentary series “Get Back” in 2021 and developed revolutionary software with artificial intelligence for it with his team. This made it possible to isolate individual instruments and voices.
Lennon’s voice could finally be separated from the piano on the “Now And Then” recording. “And there it was, John’s voice, crystal clear,” says McCartney happily. “We were able to use John’s voice and try to make a recording,” says 83-year-old Ringo Starr. “We can’t get any closer to having him in the same room.”
McCartney: “Homage to George”
First McCartney re-recorded the bass and sang along, then Starr played the drums. The electric and acoustic guitars that George Harrison had already recorded in 1995 were added. McCartney also played a Harrison-style slide guitar solo. “It was really a tribute to George.” Giles Martin, son of the legendary Beatles producer George Martin, was responsible for the orchestration. “Giles came up with an arrangement like his father would have done before,” says McCartney.
26 years after the last new Beatles songs, “Now And Then” is likely to be an emotional affair for many Beatles fans – and it is also for the two surviving Beatles. “It’s like John is there. Really crazy,” says Ringo Starr in the documentary short film. “All these memories come back,” reports his bandmate McCartney. “My God, how lucky I was to have these men in my life and to work so closely with them.”
Paul McCartney has no doubts that John Lennon would have approved of the project. “Let’s imagine if I could ask John, ‘Hey, John, would you like us to finish your last song?’ I’m sure the answer would have been yes, he would have loved that.” Sean Lennon also sees it the same way, and he is happy about what is probably the last Beatles single. “My father would have loved this because he was always interested in new recording technology,” he says. “I think it’s really beautiful.”