That New, Last Beatles Song
As I noted on Bluesky just after it debuted: It’s a sketch. But a lovely sketch.
There’s some discussion of how much this song should be considered an actual Beatles tune, inasmuch as John Lennon and George Harrison are no longer with us, and the originating document of this is a tape recording of Lennon playing about at piano, framing out a song, well after the breakup of the Beatles, rather than anything that was created within the rubric of the band while it was an ongoing concern. On one hand, anyone’s opinion on this but Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the Lennon and Harrison estates’ is irrelevant; if they say it’s a Beatles tune, it’s a Beatles tune. All four of the Beatles are here on the track (in addition to Lennon’s vocals, there’s a Harrison guitar track on it, from a shelved attempt at recording the song in the 1990s), which is more than some Beatles tracks from their actual tenure can say.
With that said, the way I think of it, as with “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” the two latter-day tracks released in with the Beatles Anthology project in the 1990s: It’s not a song by the Beatles, but a song from the members of the Beatles: outside of the purview of the official canon and a melancholic coda to it instead. These three songs aren’t the members of the Beatles in a creative ferment, it’s the (then) remaining members making do with what they have to work with, which in this case were the songs, or fragments of songs, Lennon had recorded onto tapes in the 70s. None of these three songs will ever be considered top shelf Beatles, either in composition or performance. But they’re sure nice to have, and certainly no worse than some of the songs the Beatles recorded while they were an ongoing concern. As a three-song coda to arguably the most remarkable decade in pop songwriting, they’re lovely. Essential? Not really. But lovely.
And wistful. Much of the wistfulness of “Now and Then” comes from the knowledge that Lennon and Harrison are gone and that McCartney and Starr are, whether we all want to acknowledge it or not, nearing the end of their own journeys on this planet. McCartney, singing harmony here, sounds older and more weathered than Lennon, because, well, he is – McCartney has now lived more years on this planet without Lennon than he did with him here. We are truly in the twilight of this moment of musical history, and if nothing else, this song matches that moment.
The last “new” Beatles song we’re likely ever to get has the weight of time on it. It’s okay to be wistful about that fact.