‘Now and Then’ is one final encore for The Beatles

The last song from the iconic band may seem like a simple love ballad, but it’s also a fond farewell to their many fans

Zareef Daian
Published : 21 Nov 2023, 01:30 PM
Updated : 21 Nov 2023, 01:30 PM

I was nine years old. On the TV was the iconic wedding scene from the 2003 rom-com Love Actually. And Lynden David Hall was singing The Beatles.

At the time I had no idea I was getting my introduction to one of the most influential pop music acts of all time. But I was captivated. After the movie, I turned to Google and found it - 'All You Need is Love'. It became an instant favourite, and kicked off my enduring love affair with The Beatles.

But before they were one of the most beloved and enduring bands of the 20th century, The Beatles were a small skiffle band called The Quarrymen. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison came together in 1956 and underwent several changes in line-up before adding Ringo Starr to become the Fab Four. In 1960, a school friend of Lennon’s recommended a name change – a punny name that paid tribute to Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets.

They broke big in the 1960s with radio hits like ‘Please Please Me’, ‘She Loves You’, and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ leading to the massive cultural phenomenon known as Beatlemania. There was an outpouring of emotion as fans clamoured, screamed, and fainted to catch a glimpse of their idols. Their shaggy haircuts became fashion statements.

And, as time passed and they remained in the spotlight, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison developed their songwriting skills. Their work grew more intricate and complex, both musically and in subject matter. And with the release of albums like Revolver, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The Beatles (The White Album), they dragged Western pop music to more depths and heights.

And with that came more serious cachet and prominent positions in the worlds of art, culture, and even politics.

But, behind the scenes, there was intense friction among the band’s leading personalities. And, on Apr 10, 1970, McCartney announced in a press release that he would no longer be working with The Beatles. Frenzied legal disputes ensued, delaying the official disbandment until the final days of 1974.

Thereafter, rumours persisted of a reunion throughout the ‘70s. But, the Fab Four never came together for another song before the tragic killing of John Lennon in 1980.

Some of their older material, however, has slowly seen the light of day. Two of Lennon’s recorded demos – 'Free as a Bird' and 'Real Love' – were worked on by the supporting Beatles and released as part of the ‘anthology project’ in 1994.

And on Nov 2, 2023 we got their swan song.

McCartney says the melancholy 'Now and Then' is a true Beatles record and the last the band will ever produce. It runs four minutes and eight seconds and features contributions from all four band members.

First recorded by Lennon in his New York apartment on piano, the song was rediscovered in 1993, when Yoko Ono sent the recording to his bandmates. They decided to finish the song and release it as part of the anthology project, but the technology wasn’t right. They couldn’t separate John’s voice from the shaky mix of his home piano.

Then came the devastating blow of George Harrison’s death in 2001. The demo was shelved, perhaps indefinitely.

But then, in 2021, director Peter Jackson developed a new AI tool for Get Back, his immense documentary on the band. This tool made it possible to separate the audio sources and revive Lennon’s voice.

The song begins with McCartney counting in, just as he did on the first track of their debut album 60 years ago in 1963. But instead of the boisterous ‘One, two, three, four…’ of 'I Saw Her Standing There', there is only a ‘One, two…’ and an incomplete whisper for three. Fitting, as the Fab Four have been reduced to only two.

It carries all the classic Lennon themes – romance, longing, and the fear of abandonment that haunted him since the death of his mother at an early age.

“And if you go away,

I know you'll never stay,” he yearns.

But then there is a shift.

“I know it's true

It's all because of you

And If I make it through

It's all because of you.”

In a break from his usual lyrics, Lennon reinforces the trust he feels. It feels like a reiteration of the band’s entire journey.

The delicate piano is reminiscent of their earlier ballads. The production highlights their signature harmonies, emphasising the depth of their musical camaraderie, even under the unconventional circumstances. The strings add layers and complexity to the initial simplicity. And it’s a love song that manages to transcend the genre’s boundaries to say a whole lot more.

It is a bittersweet ending, but a fitting one, reminding us of the irreplaceable losses of the band, while still standing as a testament to their enduring legacy. A perfect note to end on.

This article is part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.