While The Beatles’ new single release “Now And Then” is awe-inspiring to many long time fans, there are also many skeptics of the collaboration.
For those who aren’t familiar with the history of the famous English rock band from Liverpool, The Beatles were famous from their inception in 1960 to their break-up in 1970 and legal disbanding in 1974. Band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr all felt the strain of being in the spotlight during their rise to fame and prolific writing that followed. So, due to creative and artistic differences, the death of their manager Brian Epstein, and Lennon’s relationships outside of the band, The Beatles stopped regularly producing music together over 50 years ago.
However, in 1995 and 1996, The Beatles released three compilation albums, which they called “Anthologies”. The contributions of all four Beatles are seen in these releases, even after Lennon’s tragic assassination in 1980. Through vocal tracks and pre-recorded demos, as well as the collaboration of the surviving three members, the singles “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” were released with the Anthology albums.
When Harrison passed in 2001, many Beatles fans accepted that they would likely not have the chance to hear the final song that these artists collaborated on together.
But, on November 2, “the last Beatles song,” “Now And Then,” was released to global audiences.
Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technology were used to separate Lennon’s vocal recording of “Now And Then”. With Peter Jackson’s direction of the 2021 docuseries “The Beatles: Get Back,” an AI program was developed that had the ability to separate out Lennon’s vocal line from the piano accompaniment that he is playing in the original 1977 recording.
With this support from modern technology, the musicians were able to work together to create a beautiful piece that holds some of the trademarks of Lennon’s solo career, while still incorporating iconic elements found in the classic Beatles sound.
The renowned last words that Lennon shared with McCartney were: “think about me every now and then, old friend.” With the release of this third single in The Beatles Anthology, this song can be interpreted in many ways. I would argue that the lyricism, stylistic choices, and manner of production tend to lead listeners to view this song as the final goodbye from The Beatles to their fans, but with more insight into the circumstances of its release, I think this song symbolizes a last sentiment that passed between all four members of the band, who were ready to share this message at different times in their life.
From a sentimental standpoint, and as a Beatles fan, I find that the closure and artistic expression portrayed in “Now And Then” transcends the roles we most often ascribe to pieces of music.
In my opinion, this song has the ability to remind people how to accept forgiveness. The social commentary that we can dissect as we evaluate the lyrics, melodic themes and simple Beatles harmonies of “Now And Then” are powerful in our political climate – now more than ever.
The haunting melody and minor key progressions introduced in this piece are reminiscent of Lennon’s single releases as a solo artist.
With Starr adding the drum line and McCartney replaying the original piano part, as well as Harrison’s guitar demo from the 90’s and Lennon’s original vocals from the 70’s, the influences of all The Beatles are prevalent in this new release. An orchestral composition was also added to this piece, which brings the familiarity of many old Beatles songs. With the orchestra, the bridge takes on a similar feel to the strings heard in “Eleanor Rigby”, and this song fills out in the same ways that a Beatles fan would predict.
While this song is meaningful for many symbolic reasons, the recording process brought some artistic faults to light. Due to the fact that different facets of the song were recorded in different ways and with different technologies, they do not all blend in a way that feels natural.
So much of the magic of listening to The Beatles is the way the audio of the recording can make you feel. Whether it is the feedback before “I Feel Fine”, or the chatting in the background of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” the movement behind the recordings almost allows us to imagine the artists in the studio together.
However, with a recording that is separated by decades in the recording and production of different aspects of the piece, the substance behind the instruments feels almost shallow. It’s almost as if we, as listeners, crave the sound of such a beautiful song, but only if it had been somehow recorded and produced in a way that was reminiscent of that old sound, or somehow paid respects to the old record sound quality of the 60’s.
The use of AI, which many fans were skeptical of, adds to the artificial feeling behind the song. Not only is it hard to grasp that this piece was truly worked on by all members, considering that only two survive, but also this song is a challenge to listen to critically. It can be confusing when you try to separate the instruments within the audio because you can hear the modern recording techniques used alongside the vintage voice and guitar parts.
While the sound quality doesn’t quite mesh, the lyrics are deeply touching when reflecting on the history and the impact that the Beatles left.
My first time hearing Lennon sing the touching lyrics: “Now and then / I miss you,” was simply magical. There are some songs that you learn to love, and there are some songs that your soul simply knows. I think that “Now And Then” is the epitome of a final goodbye for the members of the band, and for the fans.
“Now And Then” is nostalgic and reflective in a way that is nearly impossible to attain successfully on such a widespread scale, and I find that the imperfections in the recording and blending of the parts helps remind us of where The Beatles came from, as well as the scope of their influence.