New Beatles song 'Now and Then': The 'final' Beatles track with John Lennon explained
26 October 2023, 14:39 | Updated: 2 November 2023, 14:43
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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'.
However, there was another song that was almost included as part of the album: 'Now and Then'.
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And finally, on October 26, 2023, it was announced that the song would finally be released.
On November 2 we finally go to hear 'Now and Then' when it was made available to streaming platforms ahead of its launch on vinyl, cassette and CD.
Here's all you need to know about the track.
Who wrote and recorded 'Now and Then'?
The Beatles - Now And Then (Official Audio)
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 were mostly done, but there were still some lines that Lennon did not fill in on the demo tape performance.
As you'll see below, it was his former Beatles bandmates who filled everything out in two very different recording sessions decades later, and decades apart.
When did the rest of The Beatles work on 'Now and Then'?
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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.
Who plays and sings what on the finished version of 'Now and Then'
'Now and Then' features both John Lennon and Paul McCartney sharing lead vocal.
Paul also plays bass, slide guitar, piano, electric harpsichord and shaker, while George Harrison provides acoustic and electric guitars.
Ringo Starr plays drums, tambourine and shaker, while all of the Beatles sing backing vocals.
And if you listen incredibly closely, you'll be able to hear backing vocals from the original recordings of 'Here, There And Everywhere', 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Because' seamlessly melded into the track the way Giles Martin made the LOVE mashup album.
In addition to the music played by the Fab Four themselves, there's a string arrangement from Paul, Giles Martin and Ben Foster.
The finished song is produced by Paul and Giles, with an additional production credit going to Jeff Lynne, which we assume is in recognition for those earlier recorfing sessions when it was up for inclusion on Anthology
There's also a mixing credit for Spike Stent.
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?
Now And Then- John Lennon ORIGINAL piano demo
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.
When was 'Now and Then' finally released?
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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'.
And then in October 2023, it was finally announced!
Watch the trailer for Now and Then - The Last Beatles Song
A 12-minute Now And Then - The Last Beatles Song documentary film, written and directed by Oliver Murray, premiered on November 1.
The poignant short film tells the story behind the last Beatles song, with footage and commentary from Paul, Ringo, George, Sean Ono Lennon and Peter Jackson.
The song itself was released worldwide at 2pm GMT on Thursday, November 2. The double A-side single paired the last Beatles song with the first: the band’s 1962 debut UK single, 'Love Me Do'.
The new music video for 'Now And Then' will follow on Friday, November 3.
The Beatles - Now And Then - The Last Beatles Song (Short Film)
Fans can pre-order the 'Now And Then'/'Love Me Do' double A-side single here. It will be available as a download, on streaming, and as a 7-inch black & coloured vinyl, and a 12-inch black vinyl. There will also be a limited edition cassette, and a 7-inch blue and white marbled vinyl. A CD single was later announced.
Meanwhile, on November 10, The Beatles’ 1962-1966 (‘The Red Album’) and 1967-1970 (‘The Blue Album’) compilations will be released in 2023 Edition packages.
Both albums' tracklists have been expanded, with all the songs mixed in true stereo and Dolby Atmos. New 4CD and 180-gram 6LP vinyl collections pair Red and Blue in slipcased sets.
What have the surviving Beatles said about 'Now and Then'?
Paul said: “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."
Ringo added: "It was the closest we'll ever come to having him back in the room, so it was very emotional for all of us. It was like John was there, you know. It’s far out."
Speaking on behalf of her late husband George, Olivia Harrison said: "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'."
Sean Ono Lennon said: "It was incredibly touching to hear them working together after all the years that Dad had been gone.
"It's the last song my dad, Paul, George and Ringo got to make together. It's like a time capsule and all feels very meant to be."