New Beatles song 'Now and Then': The 'final' Beatles track with John Lennon explained
10 August 2023, 13:18
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In 1995, the surviving Beatles reunited for their Anthology series of albums. As part of that project, the band released two brand new songs, but fans have always longed for more.
Partnering with producer Jeff Lynne, the Beatles - Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr - used demo recordings of the late John Lennon's voice to create two new tracks: 'Free as a Bird' and 'Real Love'.
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However, there was another song that was almost included as part of the album: 'Now and Then'.
But what happened to it, and will we finally hear it in 2023?
Who wrote and recorded 'Now and Then'?
In the late 1970s, John Lennon composed 'Now and Then'.
He made a demo recording of the unfinished song at his home in the Dakota Building, New York City, in 1979.
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The song is a typical example of the kind of love songs that Lennon wrote in the last part of his career, where he expressed regret and apology.
The verses are mostly done, but there are still some lines that Lennon did not fill in on the demo tape performance.
You can hear a bootlegged and edited version of the song below:
the beatles - now and then. [demo] 1974
When did The Beatles work on it?
Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s widow, gave Paul, George and Ringo some of his unfinished songs to work on and turn into ‘new’ Beatles tracks for the Anthology project in the mid-1990s.
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They completed two of them – ‘Free as a Bird’ and ‘Real Love’ – and they were the first tracks on the first two volumes of The Beatles' Anthology collections of archives.
The recording of 'Free As A Bird' and 'Real Love'
There were also the songs 'Grow Old with Me' and 'Now and Then'. 'Grow Old with Me' was already released in 1984 on the posthumous album Milk and Honey, so the Beatles focused on 'Now and Then'.
In March 1995, the three surviving Beatles started working on 'Now and Then' by making a rough backing track that they would use as an overdub.
But they stopped working on the song after only two days of recording and gave up on the idea of a third reunion single.
Why was 'Now and Then' scrapped?
Producer Jeff Lynne said that sessions for 'Now and Then' were only “one day—one afternoon, really—messing with it. The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track, a rough go that we really didn’t finish.”
Another problem with the song was a technical defect in the original recording. Like 'Real Love', there was a 60-cycle mains hum throughout Lennon’s demo recording. But it was much louder on 'Now and Then', making it much harder to remove.
The project was mostly abandoned because George Harrison did not like the song.
Paul McCartney later said that George called Lennon’s demo recording “f***ing rubbish”.
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McCartney told Q in 1997 that “George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it.”
A person who was part of the sessions told the Daily Express: “George just didn’t want to rework it because it’s not a matter of putting some vocals, or a bit of bass and drums to finish it. With this, you have to really build the song.”
With the first two volumes of Anthology having a new song, some fans were left disappointed that the third and final volume did not.
What bootlegs versions have existed?
The Beatles - Now And Then (AI Cover 2023)
In 2005 and 2006, there were press reports that speculated that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr would release a finished version of the song in the future.
In 2007, the Daily Express said that the song might be released when the Beatles catalogue was available for the first time as digital downloads.
More reports came out that same year that McCartney wanted to complete the song as a “Lennon–McCartney composition” by writing new verses, adding a new drum track recorded by Ringo Starr, and using recordings of Harrison’s guitar work from the archives.
The only official recording of the song that exists is Lennon’s original piano demo. In February 2009, a different version of Lennon’s recording was released on a bootleg CD, from a different source, with no 'buzz' that made it hard for the Beatles to record the song in 1995.
Will it finally be released in 2023?
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In a Jeff Lynne documentary shown on BBC Four in 2012, Paul McCartney said about the song: “And there was another one that we started working on, but George went off it…that one’s still lingering around, so I’m going to nick in with Jeff and do it. Finish it, one of these days.”
McCartney said in October 2021 that he still hoped to finish the track.
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In 2023, he told Today that he had “just finished” working on getting Lennon’s voice from an old demo of his to complete the song, using artificial intelligence.
He called the project “the final Beatles record”, but he did not say what the song was; however, BBC News said it was probably 'Now and Then'.
It is planned for release sometime later in 2023.
It remains to see what form 'Now and Then' will take, or how much audio the group had of George Harrison to go alongside John Lennon's vocals and piano. But whatever happens, Beatles fans will not want to miss this, and hear the first 'new' Beatles song for nearly 30 years.