The Now and Then Beatles is a Wistful Curiosity
Now and Then Beatles : Let’s address the most obvious criticism first: “Now and Then,” a song billed as The Beatles’ final single, probably doesn’t live up to “Let It Be,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” or whatever. Serve as your personal favorite Beatles song. The song started out as a simple demo – just John Lennon, recording on a boombox at home in the late ’70s, with the TV in the background – and has lived on as a simple demo that has blossomed into a credible full-band. production
The story of its making is just as interesting as the song, if not more so. The band began the process of tempering “Now and Then” back in the mid-1990s, during sessions that completed earlier “last Beatles songs”—namely 1995’s “Free as a Bird” and 1996’s “Real Love.” George Harrison also recorded the guitar part for “Now and Then”, which is crucial, as he died in 2001. The problem: Given the original tape quality, the constant noise and the TV in the background, Lennon’s demo just wasn’t. Showroom-ready. They couldn’t separate their vocals and piano enough to polish them as much as they needed, so the song was shelved.
That’s where artificial intelligence comes into play. Using the same technology Peter Jackson used to restore the footage used in his epic 2021 documentary The Beatles: Get Back, AI helped isolate Lennon’s vocals, his piano, and extraneous background noises and hisses that needed to be removed. For all the hand-wringing about The Beatles getting assistance from AI, this isn’t a zombie AI Lennon writing and performing songs from scratch.
Still, “Now and Then” never surpasses what it’s meant to be: a heartfelt, lovingly rendered curiosity. It’s easy to see how Lennon’s words would take on more meaning for the Beatles’ Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, People undoubtedly remember their friends who have passed away with a mix of appreciation and sadness – Every now and then / I miss you / Oh, every now and then / I want you to be there for me / Always come back to me.
As that quote suggests, however, aside from general admiration, nostalgia, and deep sadness, “Now and Then” isn’t much lyrically speaking. It’s a cocktail of emotions that’s perfect for The Beatles, circa 2023, when half of its members had passed away too soon and the other half are interpreting Lennon’s remarks from their early 1980s perspective. But there’s not much insight here, and Lennon’s vocals – buffed up as he is – were certainly not up to how he wanted the finished song to sound.
Which leaves us with four simple, improbably ending minutes. “Now and Then” never lived up to the body of his earlier work. But it can never reduce it. After that, let it be and celebrate every Beatles moment.