It’s a song 45 years in the making, but yesterday The Beatles returned for a glorious last hurrah with new single Now And Then.
Tens of thousands of fans around the world have raised the alarm for 2pm UK time to hear John Lennon come back to life on the track that will undoubtedly shoot straight to number one next Friday.
As Liam Gallagher put it: “Absolutely incredible, biblical, heavenly, heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time.”
“Long live the Beatles.”
A little less poetically, he later added: “The Beatles couldn’t fit in my handbag, I’d still hide my Polo Mints in there.”
It’s gross, but I admit I understand the feeling.
Paul McCartney, along with Ringo Starr, used artificial intelligence to rework the title, which John first began working on in the late ’70s.
Bringing the tune to life was an emotional process for the pair, with Paul admitting that hearing John’s voice again took him back in time.
He said yesterday: “When we were in the studio we had John’s voice in our ears, so you could imagine he was just in the next room in a vocal booth or something, and we were just working with him again, so it was a joy .”
“It was really nice, you know, because of course we hadn’t experienced anything like that in a long time and then all of a sudden we were working with old Johnny.”
It was John’s wife Yoko Ono who found the original recording of the song after John was murdered by mad fantasist Mark Chapman in December 1980.
Recalling the moment Yoko presented John with some of John’s unfinished works, Paul explained: “Before John died he was working on some songs and Yoko talked to George Harrison and said, ‘I have a cassette with some John songs, which he never got.’ finish.
‘Would you be interested in doing them?’.
“So we thought about it and thought, ‘Yeah, that would be great,’ because in a way we’d be working with John again, which we thought we’d never be able to do.
“We worked on two songs and completed them, but we didn’t manage to finish the third.
“And the third one is called Now And Then.
“So it was teetering around for a long time and I kept thinking, ‘There’s something, you know, we should finish this’.”
Paul added: “I ended up talking to Ringo and we asked him if he would like to put the drums back on and then I thought, ‘Well, I could raise the bass a bit’, so I did the bass reissued.
“We already had George playing guitar and John singing, it was kind of magical to do that.
“We ended up turning it into a real record and it’s going to be released.”
After finally hearing “Now And Then,” fans admitted they were blown away by John’s voice again.
One fan, Harry, wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Now And Then by the Beatles is absolutely beautiful.”
“What an unexpected but wonderful end to the Beatles’ incredible discography.
“What a pleasure to experience a new Beatles release.
“Something I never thought I would have in my life.”
Louise McPherson added: “I get strangely emotional listening to Now And Then. . . the last song by the Beatles. . . “Beguilingly beautiful.”
Long-time fan Michael Warburton told his followers: “The most poignant and beautiful ending to the greatest band in music history.”
Although Beatlemania began in the 1960s, the influence of the group’s music on modern stars is undeniable.
Now And Then will undoubtedly continue to inspire the next generation, and Paul admitted he was still flattered to hear singers, including Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, talk about their music.
Appearing on Radio 1, Paul said: “It’s a great thing because when you talk to people like Dave and other people like him, they say we didn’t know what to expect.”
“It’s like for us, we listened to early rock ‘n’ roll records and they had such a big influence on us that it just inspired us.
“So it’s nice to think of millions of people like Billie Eilish and the Arctic Monkeys. . . It’s so great that the next generation has been inspired by The Beatles.”
“I can’t blame them, mind you.”
Every now and then – The Beatles
“Keep this, remember it as great.”
These are the words of Paul McCartney at the beginning of Peter Jackson’s short film about the Beatles’ final song, Now And Then.
He wasn’t specifically talking about John Lennon’s 1978 demo, which has finally surfaced with great flourishes from Macca, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
But he could have been, such is the emotional appeal of the Fab Four’s last hurrah.
It’s not in the same league as “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Hey Jude” or their greatest song in my opinion “A Day In The Life”, but that’s not the point.
Now And Then is a wounded ballad whose lyrics reveal Lennon’s softer side from his years of domestic bliss in New York with Yoko and his young son Sean, just before his life was so cruelly taken away.
But for those of us to whom the Beatles mean so much, it’s a moving four minutes and eight seconds to hear the other three bring his title to life, in what Macca calls “Beatley.”
In the film Sir Paul says: “All these memories are coming back.
“My God, how lucky I was to have these men in my life, to work so closely with them and to create such a work of music.
“To still be working on Beatles music in 2023… wow!
“It’s probably the last Beatles song and we all played it, so it’s a real Beatles recording.”
As for Ringo, he reiterates that it’s “as close as we’ll ever get to having him (John) back in the room.”
The refrain “Now and then, I miss you/Oh, now and then, I want you to be there for me” doesn’t require a huge leap of faith to imagine that it could be about the four likely boys from Liverpool, the 1970s breakup ways went.
The song comes from the same cassette of demos marked “For Paul” that also spawned “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love.”
These two works, with additions from the surviving Beatles, were released as singles in 1995 to promote the three anthology volumes, but the technology was not available to complete this third composition to a sufficiently high standard.
Using AI wizardry first used by Lord of the Rings director Jackson for the amazing Get Back film and later by producer Giles Martin for the Revolver album remaster, Lennon’s high-pitched vocals come through Crystal clear.
McCartney explains the problems they faced in the mid-nineties: “Every time I wanted a little more of John’s voice, that piano would come through and spoil the picture.
“I think we ran out of energy and time a little bit and thought, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Maybe we’ll leave this one here.
From the way he talks about “Now And Then,” you can tell it means so much to the 81-year-old Macca on a deep and personal level.
He wanted The Beatles to continue more than anyone else and is clearly the driving force behind this project.
“It was just sitting in a cupboard and then in 2001 we lost George, which kind of took the wind out of our sails,” he adds.
“It took almost a quarter of a century until we waited for the right moment to tackle Now And Then again.”
So we have new guitar, bass and vocal harmony parts from Paul, including a Harrison-style guitar solo, new drums from Ringo and George’s rhythm guitar from the 1994 session.
McCartney wonders if Lennon would have agreed.
“Let’s say I could have asked John, ‘Hey John, would you like us to finish your last song?’.
“I’m telling you, I know the answer would be ‘Yes!’ been. He would have liked that.”
Now And Then features tasteful orchestrations, which is nothing new considering many of the band’s classic songs feature strings.
McCartney says: “I had vaguely thought that strings might be a good thing.
“The Beatles did a lot of string music, you know, Strawberry Fields, Yesterday, I Am The Walrus.
“Giles (Martin) made an agreement like Giles’ father (George) would have done before.
“We had to put the music in the stands for the musicians, but we couldn’t tell them it was a new Beatles song.”
“It was all a bit quiet. We acted like it was mine.”
Of course it’s sad to think this is the last Beatles song, but who would have thought Britain’s biggest pop export would be releasing new music in 2023?
Fittingly, the single “Now And Then” is accompanied by a recent remaster of the song that started the revolution, their very first single from October 1962, “Love Me Do.”
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