Everything You Need to Know About The New, Final Beatles Song

In the late 1970s, John Lennon created a simple demo at his New York residence at the Dakota Building. Fast forward to 1994, and Yoko Ono Lennon presented this recording to Sir Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, along with demos for songs “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love.” These demos became the basis for two new Beatles songs, released as singles in 1995 and 1996 as part of The Beatles Anthology project. Extracting John’s vocals from the tape, all four Beatles were seemingly on the same track once again.

Simultaneously, Paul, George, and Ringo added their contributions and worked on a preliminary mix of “Now And Then” with producer Jeff Lynne. However, due to technological limitations at the time, the quality of the recording, and a strong lack of enthusiasm from George, “Now And Then” was indefinitely scrapped.

“I hope someone does this to all my crap demos when I’m dead, making them into hit songs.” – George Harrison, 1994

John Lennon in 1971.

McCartney always had the hope that it might be revisited in the future.

Fast forward to 2021, and the release of the groundbreaking docuseries “The Beatles: Get Back,” directed by Peter Jackson. This remarkable series left audiences in awe, thanks to its award-winning restoration of both film and audio. Jackson’s team utilized WingNut Films’ MAL audio technology, successfully de-mixing the mono recordings of the film. This breakthrough allowed them to isolate individual instruments, vocals, and even The Beatles’ voices within their conversations.

© Disney +

The success of this achievement paved the way for a remarkable development in 2022: a fresh mix of the iconic “Revolver,” sourced directly from the original four-track master tapes. This progress sparked a question: what could be accomplished with the long-pending “Now And Then” demo?

Peter Jackson and his sound team, led by Emile de la Rey, applied the same innovative technique to John’s initial home recording. They were able to separate his vocals from the piano, preserving the clarity and authenticity of his original vocal performance, one in which Sir Paul called “crystal clear”.

“There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear. It’s quite emotional. And we all play on it, it’s a genuine Beatles recording. In 2023 to still be working on Beatles music, and about to release a new song the public haven’t heard, I think it’s an exciting thing.” – Sir Paul McCartney, 2023

According to The Beatles’ official press release, Paul and Ringo embarked on the task of finalizing “Now And Then” in late-2022. This version featured John’s vocals alongside electric and acoustic guitar contributions recorded in 1995 by George, a fresh Ringo drum arrangement, and Paul’s bass, guitar, and piano parts, perfectly complementing John’s original performance. Paul also introduced a slide guitar solo inspired by George, and both he and Ringo provided additional backing vocals for the chorus.

“Back in 1995, after several days in the studio working on the track, George felt the technical issues with the demo were insurmountable and concluded that it was not possible to finish the track to a high enough standard. If he were here today, Dhani and I know he would have whole-heartedly joined Paul and Ringo in completing the recording of ‘Now And Then.’” – Olivia Harrison, 2023

In Los Angeles, Paul supervised a recording session at Capitol Studios to craft the song’s nostalgic and quintessentially Beatles string arrangement, skillfully composed by Giles Martin, Paul, and Ben Foster. Paul and Giles added a subtle yet exquisite touch by incorporating backing vocals from the original recordings of “Here, There And Everywhere,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Because,” employing techniques honed during the creation of the LOVE show and album. The final track was produced by Paul and Giles, with mixing expertly handled by Spike Stent.

© Calderstone Productions Limited

It’s now been a week, and a lot of things have been said about “Now and Then.” It’s currently tracking to be a number one hit single in the UK, The Beatles’ first since 1969. I’ve wrestled with my honest thoughts about the song, and here goes: I like it…enough.

There are many glaring issues. Upon deeper research, it seems as though McCartney was the only one who wanted to do this project at all. Ringo had to be persuaded into it last year, according to producer Giles Martin in a now-deleted podcast interview. He didn’t even come into a studio to record drums—instead, deciding to record them from home. That’s why they sound so heavy and genuinely bad on the record. I never even knew George Harrison hated “Now and Then” enough to use expletives when describing it.

I love the song itself! “Now and Then” is pure Lennon. But for the past 50+ years now, McCartney talks about how The Beatles were (are?) a “democracy.” I don’t want history rewritten. If George and Ringo didn’t want to do it, it really shouldn’t exist.

Giles Martin, producer of “Now and Then” , in 2006. © Adamsharp

I also love Giles Martin. He is without a doubt a defining force in The Beatles’ resurgence in the past 15 or so years, especially with his handling of their catalog since his Sgt. Pepper’s remix/remaster in 2017. That’s why I’m surprised at how bad “Now and Then” sounds, but I don’t blame Giles, who whelmed the Dolby Atmos mix. Spike Stent is credited as co-producer on the normal, stereo version. I’ve already mentioned issues such as Ringo insisting on recording at home and limited resources (John’s vocals, what could be used as backing vocals, etc.).

My favorite part of the project has undoubtedly been the reaction from fans across the globe. The Beatles’ social media team has adapted to TikTok/Instagram-type promotion, and we are seeing many more high-school and college-aged Beatles fans and how much this new release means to them. I’m in the same boat.

I keep going back to the knowledge that this is the last one. “Now and Then” is it. I don’t know if an unreleased “Hey Jude” would have been good enough.

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