The Beatles - Now and Then (2023)
The Stones' new one is Hackney Diamonds - a full length album - while the Fab Four's "Now and Then," is one final song that Paul McCartney has wanted to complete for decades. It's been forty-four years since John Lennon put the unfinished tune on a cassette that Yoko Ono gave to the three surviving Beatles to complete for their anthology series in the mid-nineties.
Anthology One opened with "Free As A Bird," an unfinished Lennon song that McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr completed with the help of producer Jeff Lynne. They also turned "Real Love - a second Lennon track - into a genuine Beatles song for Anthology Two.
When the three ex-Beatles started working on "Now And Then" it was supposed to be the opening track of the third compilation, but Harrison didn't like the song so it was abandoned.
The original, primitive recording contains just Lennon's voice and piano. At the time they couldn't be separated properly to make a crisp, final mix which is another reason the song remained in the vaults. The cassette also had an annoying buzz that couldn't be filtered out.
Fortunately, new AI technology has since been developed, and Peter Jackson - the man behind the Get Back documentary - was finally able to make the tape usable. That allowed Starr and McCartney to enter a studio last year and complete it for release.
The new single includes electric and acoustic guitar from Harrison. McCartney added bass, additional piano and some slide guitar as a tribute to Harrison, and Starr added new drum and percussion parts. Lennon and McCartney share lead vocals. McCartney and Giles Martin produced a string arrangement that at the very end of the record sounds like it could have been cherrypicked off of either "I am the Walrus" or "Strawberry Fields Forever," and the multi-instrumentalist and drummer augmented the sessions with their backing vocals.
For those of you who may not think "Now and Then" is a true Beatles production because of how the song was created, constructed and completed I would have to argue with you. It's actually more of a Fab Four work than a lot of songs that had The Beatles name attached to them. All four Beatles had a hand in making this long awaited finale - something that can't be said about classics such as "Yesterday," "Blackbird," "Julia," and a few other tunes on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The White album and Abbey Road.
Upon hearing "Now and Then" for the first time it sounded like a slow dirge, but after three more immediate listens to the cluttered arrangement I quickly realized how The Beatles' uncanny penchant for composing easily hummable melodies was in full bloom and towered over anything else they have ever put into a song.
I'll let you decide if "Now and Then" was worth the wait. The verdict here is that while it will never become an immortal Beatles track I'm glad it has finally been made available to the public. It's good enough to be a deep track on one of their albums, and that's good enough for me.
"Now and Then" has been released on vinyl, CD, iTunes, and multiple streaming services.