There has been much hype about what is being called “The Last Beatles Song.”
You can watch the 12-minute documentary on YouTube to learn its history, which includes some amazing technology to isolate John Lennon’s vocal and piano from the original cassette tape he recorded his demo on in the late 1970s. That wizardry was accomplished by director Peter Jackson and his team, who crafted the “Get Back” documentary released in 2021.
Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr added bass and drums while Giles Martin brought in some strings, but I don’t think there’s any George Harrison on the finished product. In the doc, Paul says:
We had kept George’s guitar parts from ‘95. and I thought, what I’d like to do is a slide guitar solo in George’s style. it was really a tribute to George.
If George isn’t on it, is it still a Beatles song? You could easily argue yes because “Yesterday” only had Paul’s voice and guitar backed by a string quartet, yet we all consider that a Beatles song, don’t we?
But that’s not what I object to about “Now and Then” as a lifelong fan.
Sadly, the song is nothing special, nowhere near the best work the Fab Four did together or in their solo careers. To me, it’s merely okay — just like a couple of other old Lennon songs remade by Paul, Ringo, and George in 1994, “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love.” Three decades later, nobody remembers those, nor do they get any airplay, unlike some true Beatles classics that are sixty years old.
“Now and Then” reminds me of most of John’s songs on “Milk and Honey,” the 1984 album Yoko released four years after his death — pleasant but not memorable, with the exception of “Nobody Told Me,” which was a hit.
What we’ve learned again from “Now and Then” is that the Beatles released all their good songs when they were together as a band — and still alive. Nostalgia projects like this keep the band’s legacy (and income, as if they need it) thriving, but don’t provide anything musically extraordinary. Or even very good.