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The Beatles Return for One More Masterpiece With New Song ‘Now and Then’

Hear a brand new Beatles song ‘Now and Then’

The Beatles

© Apple Corps Ltd

The Beatles have released their new single, the long-awaited “Now and Then.” It’s an emotionally powerful song written by John Lennon as a home demo in the 1970s. But it’s also a true Beatles collaboration, with Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr playing and singing together. Nothing like “Now and Then” has ever happened before. It’s a totally unique music story: John Lennon leaves a song unfinished, but years later, his friends come together to complete it for him, simply out of love and musical brotherhood. It’s the final masterpiece that the Beatles—and their fans—deserve.

This song is a dream that Paul McCartney spent years bringing into the world, a John demo he was determined to preserve even when nobody else could tell what he heard in it. He produced “Now and Then” with Giles Martin, with John’s original 1977 piano and vocal, George’s guitar from the 1995 Anthology sessions, and Ringo singing and drumming in 2022.

“Now and Then” could have been cheap or cloying or overblown, but instead, it’s a pained, intimate adult confession. You can hear why Paul never forgot this song over the years, and why he couldn’t let it go. You can also hear why he knew this needed to be a Beatles song, and how right he was to pursue his mad quest to the end. In other words, it’s a real Beatles song, adding one more classic to the world’s greatest musical love story.

“Now and Then” drops on Thursday, Nov. 2, at 2 pm GMT / 10 am ET / 7 am PT. The physical release drops on Friday, in vinyl on 7-inch and 12-inch, with both black and colored vinyl. There’s also a limited-edition cassette single. It’s a double A-side with “Love Me Do,” their first single from 1962, bringing the whole story full circle. Peter Jackson’s excellent video (oh, that final scene) also premieres on Friday. “Now and Then” will complete the new expanded version of the legendary Red and Blue Albums, out on Nov. 10.

But the real marvel of “Now and Then” is the massive emotional impact of the song itself. If you have any affection for these two men, it’s powerful to hear John and Paul join voices to sing the chorus, “Now and then I miss you.” John’s song is nakedly emotional: “I know it’s true/It’s all because of you / And if I make it through / It’s all because of you.”

When you hear John sing these lines, you hear the tight connection between these two friends. “Obviously, it hasn’t been, but it sounds like John’s written it for Paul now, in a very emotional way,” Martin tells Rolling Stone. “It’s a bittersweet song, which is very John. But with a combination of happiness and regret. It’s like ‘In My Life’ in that respect.”

The song began in the 1970s, after John stepped back from rock stardom to be a househusband in the Dakota with Yoko Ono, raising their son Sean. “Now and Then” was John at the piano, on a home-demo cassette. Yoko gave the tape to Paul, George, and Ringo when they played together for the 1995 Anthology documentary. The lads finished off two songs from the tape—“Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” both hit singles produced by Jeff Lynne, despite the murky, muffled sound of John’s voice.

The Threatles played “Now and Then” together at the Anthology sessions, but left it undone. Nobody heard much potential in it except McCartney. But something in this song struck him deep. For him, it was a John artifact he always heard as a Beatles song. Over the years, he never stopped talking about it in interviews. In a 2012 documentary on Jeff Lynne, Mr. Blue Sky, McCartney raves about “Now and Then.” “That one’s still lingering around,” Paul says. “So I’m going to nick in with Jeff and do it, finish it, one of these days.”

In “Now and Then,” you can hear why McCartney refused to let go of this tune. He clearly heard himself in it, with John singing such a plaintive, aching melody for an old friend far away. Paul knew what he was singing about. And it’s poignant to think of McCartney carrying this unfinished song with him over the decades, unable to give it up, when a less headstrong man would have just let it vanish into the past. But Paul was determined not just to preserve his friend’s song, but to make it a summary of all four Beatles and the history they shared. It’s a tribute to his obsession that he spent so many years making this happen.

Paul finished “Now and Then” with producer Giles Martin, son and heir to George Martin, and flame-keeper of their catalog. Giles is the best friend this recorded legacy has ever had, doing the astounding series of Special Editions since 2017 that’s transformed the Beatles story. Martin says, “This is Paul’s project, really, and he involved me in it.”

The song is possible because of the sound-separation technology that Peter Jackson and his audio team used for the Get Back documentary in 2021. Just as the movie did with the murkily recorded dialogue, “Now and Then” separates John’s voice from the tape hiss and background noise. “There’s no A.I. recreating the vocals,” Martin says. “It’s the old-school approach for us. I think it’s about deliberately trying not to try—it’s much easier to just let people be themselves. That’s what gives the song its heart, in a way.”

The 12-minute documentary “Now and Then — The Last Beatles Song,” written and directed by Oliver Murray, tells the story in the words of Paul, Ringo, Sean Ono Lennon, and Peter Jackson. As Paul says, “We listened to the track. There’s John in his apartment in New York City, banging away at his piano, doing a little demo. Is it something we shouldn’t do? Every time I thought like that, I thought, wait a minute. Let’s say I had a chance to ask John, ‘Hey John, would you like us to finish this last song of yours?’ I’m telling you—I know the answer would have been ‘yeah!’ He would have loved that.”

But the three surviving Fabs couldn’t nail it for Anthology, frustrated by the shabby tape sound of John’s voice. “Very difficult,” Ringo recalls in the doc. “Because John was sort of hidden in a way.” As Paul says, “I think we kind of ran out of steam a bit, and time. And it was like, ‘Well, I don’t know—maybe we’ll leave this one.’ ‘Now and Then’ just kind of languished in a cupboard.” But you know McCartney—he’s not so great at letting things languish. Only Paul could have the daft stamina to keep chasing his vision of bringing this song to life, just as only John could have lighted this fire in him.

In “Now and Then,” all four Beatles are loud and clear, even in different decades, playing the same song with a vivid sonic presence. It doesn’t sound dim like the Anthology tracks did. “I think that’s just purely down to the luck we have with technology these days,” Martin says. “The technology improved as we were making the track, which is interesting. It suddenly became, ‘Oh my God, okay, we can do this now.’ We could strip back the opening of the song and have John on his own, separated from the piano. And it’s unmistakably John Lennon.”

So much of it comes down to the power of that voice. As Giles tells Rolling Stone, “When I was making the Love show [in 2006], I was with Yoko and she was listening. Yoko principally looked at the ceiling and said, ‘John is just a voice now.’ I felt the same way, when we remixed Sgt Pepper—the first voice I heard, the first day I went to work on it, was my dad’s. So I completely understand what she means. And with the technology and talent we have now, we can now have John. And it’s NOT ‘A.I.’—it’s him being restored, if you like. It’s his voice in the room. And that’s the powerful thing about the song. That’s what I think resonates with people—that voice.”

But part of the presence of “Now and Then” is the tangible emotional commitment of the Beatles, especially Paul. That obsessive and slightly mad Paul quality is what makes this feel like the authentic Beatles collaboration it is. It’s clear now why he heard the band’s whole story in this song, a scrap everyone else was willing to forget. And you can savor the loving details of how he brought it to life. The idea that this wasn’t worth doing never would have occurred to him. And if it took decades for technology to finally catch up with his dream—well, Paul was willing to put in the time. It’s a tribute to his stubbornly loyal belief in his oldest friend, as well as the unique four-way musical connection the Beatles always had.

“Now and Then” might have the aura of the Beatles’ final song. As Sean Ono Lennon says, “It’s the last song that my dad and Paul and George and Ringo will get to make together.” But the whole point is that there is no end to the Beatles story, any more than there’s any end to their music. The power of “Now and Then” shows exactly why the Beatles have never belonged to the past—and why this music sounds so defiantly, passionately, unmistakably alive today.

From Rolling Stone US