After a long rollout, and nearly 50 years since John Lennon first demoed it, the “last Beatles song” is here. Before you roll your eyes at the way the song is being touted, the story behind “Now and Then” is actually really heartwarming, and the song itself is great. It began as one of three unreleased demos that John made in the late ’70s that Yoko Ono held onto and then passed on to Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr in the ’90s. The other two, “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love,” were fleshed out with contributions from the surviving three members and released as singles in the ’90s as part of The Beatles Anthology project, but they couldn’t do the same for “Now and Then” because John’s vocal track couldn’t be mixed without his piano also rising and messing up the mix.
That finally changed in 2022, when Peter Jackson was able to isolate John’s vocal track with the same audio restoration he used on the instant-classic Get Back film. When you hear John’s isolated voice in the 12-minute documentary film about the song that The Beatles released yesterday, it’s eerie, beautiful, and feels like a minor miracle. It allowed Paul and Ringo to finally get back in the studio and finish this song that they’d abandoned nearly 30 years earlier, and they fleshed it out with string arrangements by George Martin’s son Giles Martin, as well as a slide guitar solo by Paul that was done in George Harrison’s style, as a tribute to George, whose ’90s contributions to “Now and Then” remain on this recording as well. It really does feel like a real Beatles song, and there’s no way John could have intended this, but the lyrical content and the longing melancholy in his voice makes it the perfect bookend to The Beatles’ career (“Now and then, I miss you… If we must start again, we will know for sure that I love you”). Somehow The Beatles just keep writing new endings to their story.
Listen to the song and watch the mini documentary below. “Now and Then” is out as a single, paired with the first Beatles song, 1962’s “Love Me Do,” and it will also be included on the new expanded reissues of the classic “Red Album” and “Blue Album” compilations that come out tomorrow.