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Review: The Beatles’ New Song, ‘Now and Then,’ Is Beautiful, Moving

The Fabs finish their final tune, remaster their greatest hits and release a video that will make you cry

spinner image The Beatles arrive in Liverpool, England for the premiere of their movie "A Hard Day's Night."
(Left to right) John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney arrive in Liverpool, England on July 10, 1964.
AP Photo

Fans are rejoicing over the release of a new Beatles track, which the band says is their “final” number. Titled “Now and Then,” it’s a demo John Lennon first recorded, which Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr finished last year with some help from AI. The track came out Nov. 2 and is available on all major streaming sites.

“Now and Then” may be a work that was patched together like Frankenstein, but that doesn’t mean it is not a beautiful and moving song. That’s in part because Lennon had such skill at crafting universal lyrics, and his words here could stand as an epitaph for the Beatles’ entire career. Lennon’s voice itself is evocative of an era and generation, but so are the themes and sonic structure of the tune. The addition of the strings, and Harrison’s guitar, makes an already sad song so heart-rending. It’s one of the simplest Beatles’ songs, but forever it now also ranks as one of their most important.

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“Now and Then” will be released also as double A-sided single with the Beatles’ 1962 debut “Love Me Do” on Nov. 10, along with a Beatles video by Peter Jackson, 62 (The Lord of the Rings, The Beatles: Get Back). The song will also be added to remastered album versions of the Beatles’ so-called “red” (1962-1966) and “blue” (1967-1970) greatest-hits albums and cementing the new number alongside their most loved songs.

An emotional final track from the beloved band

“Now and Then” was a demo that Lennon worked on in the late ’70s, recording a rough version on a cassette two years before his tragic murder in 1980. Yoko Ono, now 90, later presented the tape to Paul McCartney. With Ringo Starr and George Harrison, McCartney attempted to finish this and a couple of other tracks in a 1995 session. They completed “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” but even after trying “Now and Then” with Harrison adding a guitar solo, they felt they simply couldn’t get enough of Lennon’s voice off the cassette.

The song sat unfinished all these years, but when Peter Jackson began work on The Beatles: Get Back documentary, his engineers used technology to isolate Lennon’s vocals. In 2022, McCartney and Starr went back in the studio and finished out the song using Lennon’s demo and Harrison’s guitar part.

Now and Then’ was possible only because of AI

While it’s truly Lennon’s voice on the track, which has garnered such an emotional response from Beatles fans to hear it again, the studio miracle was possible only because of Jackson’s computers. Programmed with machine learning, a form of AI, they were able to separate Lennon’s vocals from his piano.

In a 15-minute promotional film released this week, the remaining Beatles said they were shocked at the clarity of Lennon’s vocal track.

“It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room,” Ringo Starr said. “Far out.”

“My dad would have loved it,” said Lennon’s son Sean Lennon, 48. “He was never shy to experiment with recording technology.”

One of Lennon’s many poignant love songs

The original demo had circulated among fans as a bootleg, but it had sketchy audio quality. The song shows Lennon’s skill at writing a melancholy chord and pairing it with poignancy about life and death. “If I make it through, it’s all because of you,” Lennon sings. When McCartney joins him in the chorus, it’s a virtual tearjerker to hear the two lifelong friends singing together again.

The song bears some similarities to “Jealous Guy,” one of Lennon’s last great solo tracks, but the added guitar done by Harrison before his death brings another layer of emotionalism. Giles Martin, 54, son of Beatles’ legendary producer George Martin, added a string section to round out the track.

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A surprise release that has delighted Beatles fans old and young

Though Beatles’ diehard fans had known about the demo, the idea that the remaining Beatles would create a brand new track, and one they have announced is their “final Beatles’ song,” surprised even the hardcore fans. Rumors of its existence first spread earlier this year, but were confirmed just last week with the release of the 15-minute promotional film.

The film intersperses some footage of the three Beatles’ attempting the song during those ’90s sessions with other clips of the band over the years. “All those memories came flooding back,” said McCartney in the film. “My God, how lucky was I to have those men in my life.”

Ringo Starr turned 83 this year, and McCartney turned 81. “To still be working on Beatles music in 2023?” McCartney says in the film. “Wow.”

Beatles’ fans are 'stunned' by the new song and its power

The Beatles fans who have heard the song have been overwhelmed with emotion at hearing Lennon sing again.

“It’s just stunning to hear John’s voice once again,” said Seattle's Sue Ennis, 73, who saw the Beatles as a teen and wrote more than 70 Beatlesque tunes with her high school classmate Ann Wilson of Heart, selling more than 35 million records. “It’s a truly beautiful song, but also not predictable. Rarely are songs that are scripted together from bits and pieces in the studio as emotional and pure as this. It’s a gem, but that’s a testament of the power of these men playing together.”

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There's also new Beatles music video with unseen film, and vinyl releases

The new release will come out on vinyl, CD, digital and cassette, and the Beatles’ Red and Blue albums with the new track are being remastered and rereleased Nov. 10. Almost certainly, “Now and Then” will chart high, as the very idea of a new Beatles’ song is unprecedented at this stage in their career.

Additionally, Jackson has created a new music video for “Now and Then.” The video includes previously-unseen footage of the Beatles throughout their career. Jackson has obtained the first known footage of the Beatles — before Ringo Starr was even in the band — from the brother of original Beatles drummer Pete Best. The band is seen performing in leather suits in the footage, taken before manager Brian Epstein cleaned up their rough image by putting them in collarless Pierre Cardin suits.

'A balance between the sad and the funny'

Jackson uses only a few seconds of that rare video — the full silent film will be on display at the Liverpool Beatles Museum. Jackson said he had other “unseen outtakes in the vault, where the Beatles are relaxed, funny and rather candid.”

He said his resulting music video is poignant, but also includes light moments to counteract the sadness in seeing the deceased Lennon and Harrison. Lennon clowns around, pointing at his living bandmates McCartney and Starr. “We wove the humor into some footage shot in 2023,” Jackson said. “The result is pretty nutty and provided the video with much needed balance between the sad and the funny.”

spinner image A person looking at photos of the Beatles at the Sir Paul McCartney exhibition 'Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm' at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Lucy North/PA Images via Getty Images

Questions about the future of AI on other unreleased recordings

“Now and Then” raises questions about the future of “lost” recordings by the greats, and whether AI will allow other demos by legends to come to life again. But when it comes to the Beatles, the band’s vaults have truly been explored for decades, and “Now and Then” is indeed the last time we’ll ever hear the Beatles together. Which is part of the reason it’s emotional to hear it. Even the title of the song suggests a parting.

But use of technology like that developed by Jackson will likely make future “new recordings” by legendary acts possible, as previously unlistenable tracks are cleaned up, and individual vocals isolated from muddy mixes.

Still, for Beatles fans like Ennis who have stuck with the band from the start to this “final” track, no other band will ever compare to the love the Beatles have given their audience.

“There is only one John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr,” she said. “There will never be anything like them.”

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