‘Now and Then’: The Beatles’ final song
Anna Falk | Tuesday, November 7, 2023
On Nov. 2, the unthinkable happened — The Beatles released a new song.
For anyone even remotely familiar with the legendary Liverpool rock quartet — composed of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — this seems like an impossibility, as Lennon and Harrison passed away many years ago. However, the truth about the song’s production reveals the magic of modern technology and why some artificial intelligence isn’t all that bad.
The creation and production of this release, titled “Now and Then,” began in 1977 at Lennon’s home in Manhattan. It was one of many songs Lennon had been working on before his assassination in 1980, stored on a cassette tape which was eventually given to McCartney in 1994 by Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono. The cassettes contained four songs — “Free as a Bird,” “Real Love,” “Grow Old with Me” and “Now and Then.” After taking them to the studio, the first two were released by the remaining Beatles as singles. “Grow Old with Me” ended up on Lennon and Ono’s final album “Milk and Honey,” but “Now and Then” presented some problems.
Producer Jeff Lynne remembered McCartney, Harrison and Starr messing with it for “one day — one afternoon, really.” There was a noticeable and hard-to-remove hum on the track, the song lacked verses and the band never finished the backing track among other issues. Mostly due to Harrison’s distaste for the record, the band stopped working on the project.
Over the years, hope for a finished product lingered even past Harrison’s death in 2001, but director Peter Jackson’s work on the documentary “The Beatles: Get Back” was pivotal for the fulfillment of the promised song. Throughout the production process, he and his team were able to utilize a technique called sound source separation to take apart the sound clips and enhance them. The same was used for “Now and Then,” allowing the surviving band members to isolate Lennon’s vocals from the track. Artificial intelligence is not, to many fans’ relief, used to generate new, synthetic vocals but rather to fix the issues with the original recording.
Not knowing this, I was quite skeptical of “Now and Then” — dubbed the Beatles’ final song. As someone who had not even been born by the time Harrison passed, I never thought there was even a small possibility of this reality. Very obviously, I was proven wrong.
The song is a bittersweet reminder of the band’s friendship. Opening lyrics “I know it’s true / It’s all because of you / And if I make it through / It’s all because of you” tug at the heartstrings, reminding the listener of the band’s history together and their time apart. In his lyrics, Lennon asserts to his former bandmates, “I want you to be there for me / Always to return to me.” Despite the storied past and breakup of the Beatles, this song ultimately emphasizes that, no matter what hardships the four had gone through together, they have an inseparable bond that lasts beyond life itself. Lead vocals from Lennon in 1977 and McCartney in 2023 are especially heartbreaking in their ensemble.
The instrumentation in this song is complex, with Harrison’s guitar retrieved from archival works along with McCartney and Starr’s various additions and an orchestral arrangement. The strings pack a particularly powerful punch, drawing on the emotional nature and context of the lyrics to deliver an incredible performance. As the Beatles’ last song, McCartney and Starr make sure they go out with a bang.
Though this may be the end for the Beatles — even though many thought their end was many years ago — “Now and Then” does not mark the end of their legacy, as its release has further proven their impact on modern music and the everlasting power of their creativity and their friendship.