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“Now And Then:” The Beatles’ last hurrah

The legendary band floats brilliantly through the 21st century with its brand new single.

The Beatles are putting out new music in 2023 with their latest release “Now and Then,” although this single should not come as a surprise. Considering their countless contributions to popular music over the course of their short-lived group, a modern-age single is exactly the innovative music sorcery we should expect from the rock-and-roll greats.

A series of remasters and anniversary editions have been in steady release since the band’s separation in 1970. However, this is the public’s first time hearing brand new music from the group since their retrospective project, Anthology 1, released in 1995.

“Now and Then” originated back in 1978. Beatles member John Lennon recorded a home-demo of the song featuring only his vocals and piano. Lennon died shortly after in 1980. In 1994, Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, gave a cassette tape containing the demo to the other Beatles members. George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr entered the studio to complete the demo. However, the poor quality of the cassette tape prevented the group from making significant progress.

Music-mixing technology developed over 25 years later would make it possible to revisit the demo. Director Peter Jackson’s production company WingNut Films discovered a way to extract Lennon’s voice from the muffled background noise of the piano. The technology was developed and perfected as Jackson worked on 2021’s Get Back, the intimate three-part docuseries on the “Let It Be” and Abbey Road recording sessions.

As Harrison passed away in 2001, only McCartney and Starr returned to the studio in 2022. At this time, they placed finishing touches on the song with Lennon’s newly recovered vocals. The final iteration of the single combines Harrison’s guitar instrumental from 1995 with new drum and piano instrumentals, courtesy of Starr and McCartney. If that wasn’t enough of a happily-ever-after, Giles Martin produced the final track. Martin is the son of the famous George Martin, who served as The Beatles’ producer in the late-60s.

So how does “Now and Then” actually sound? It’s best described alongside the single’s official music video, which debuted on November 3. In the opening scene, we aptly see a cassette placed in a player before the guitar and piano launch into a warm, melancholic melody. Lennon’s distant-sounding vocals are perfectly accompanied visually. His own profile emerges looking on to a sunset vista, singing “I know it’s true, it’s all because of you”. 

Starr’s drum track brightens the song as it progresses into the next verse. McCartney and Starr’s modern day vocals join with Lennon’s to symbolize, both literally and figuratively, the fusion of the present and the past: “and now and then, if we must start again.”  

The bulk of the video is a carousel of clips where the group members appear as their younger and most-recent selves. Sometimes both versions appear in one frame. Most poignant are the shots of all four members playing on the song together — a present-day McCartney and Starr with Lennon and Harrison of the past. The lyric is bitter sweet: “I want you to be there for me, always to return to me.”

It is strange at first to see The Beatles of differing periods together. The way the group members’ creative journeys intertwined in real time is key to the group’s magic. Yet, that’s the beauty of “Now and Then.” Each member together, though different in age and time, created a piece of art that transcends time itself.

Also woven throughout the video are shots of the present-day string section. This is a Martin-production signature featured on many now-iconic Beatles songs including “Eleanor Rigby” and “The Long and Winding Road.” These visuals are punctuated with classic Beatles humour. A present-day McCartney looks on to a Lennon of the past, who seems to be doing more dancing than conducting. The new arrangements give the song the quality of an epic end-credits ballad. Solemn but hopeful, sad it’s over but happy it happened.

The final scene of the video is the ultimate full-circle moment, a proper closure to the band’s unprecedented journey. As the final chords ring-out, the 60s-era Beatles take one final bow before fading out, leaving only the “Beatles” sign in the background. No matter what time The Beatles members are in, their legacy lives on. To live during a time with new Beatles music is truly special.

To learn more about the making of “Now and Then,” watch this 12 minute mini-documentary.

Breezy Prochnau

Breezy is the 2023/24 Deputy Arts and Culture Editor. She's in the fifth year of her BSc in chemistry, minoring in philosophy. When she’s not working in the lab or writing papers, she enjoys surfing Spotify playlists to expand her eclectic music tastes or planning her next concert adventure.

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