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.

— JS

18 Comments on “That New, Last Beatles Song”

  1. I loved it. It is so Beatle-ly. Wistful is a great way to describe it. No other band defined my generation and grew with us like they did. If you haven’t watched the video explaining how it was made, watch it.

    This song would make a great James Bond theme. Hell, you could write a whole movie around it.

  2. It’s ok. And no, it’s no more a Beatles song than the 1973 “Ringo” record, where all four appeared, is a Beatles album. It’s a John Lennon song, supported by appearances from the other three.

  3. Excellent review John. If you watched every minute of Get Back (which being a Beatles tragic I did), you can see the creative partnership at work even in the difficult moments. Especially between John and Paul of course – but also with George, and with Ringo ever patient and waiting behind the drums to come up with just the right, tasteful beat. None of that is going on with Now and Then. So you’re right, it’s not really a Beatles song. But it is actually good, and far better than the two Anthology numbers from the 90’s.

  4. Thanks for sharing, John. Mom’s current anthem is Let It Be. We got the call from Arlington Cemetery today. Listening to this was a perfect closure to the day. ❤️

  5. For me it’s a decent song; about on a par with Free as a Bird, a bit better than Real Love. But Free as a Bird is a Beatles song to a somewhat greater extent because McCartney wrote a new bridge for it when they completed the song in the 90s; Lennon, perforce, does not perform that part of the song.

  6. I have never ever considered myself a Beatles fan, and at numerous times I have pondered what it was that made them so important. What was it about them at the time they were making music that made them so wildly popular and important to the modern musical canon? But hearing this today, there is something special about this song. I don’t know what it is, but “it hits different” as I think the kids say, or at least hits me different today. It’s a very Lennony/Beatlesy love song, and I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy about it. I’ve already listened to it twice and watched the mini doc on Youtube. I might need to listen to it some more.

  7. The singer died violently over 40 years ago and his ghost keeps putting out songs, and nobody knows how long he’ll wander the earth until his vengeful spirit can rest.

  8. As someone who saw The Beatles live (February 1964, Carnegie Hall; yes, I’m OLD), I thought it was …well, nice, I guess. Nothing special or exciting but nice to listen to. Will I listen to it along with RUBBER SOUL or REVOLVER or ABBEY ROAD? No, but it’s nice to have.

  9. I’m about the same age as the living Beatles, but was never a fan of their simpering music. For most of my life, I remembered liking “Revolver,” but after going back this past year and listening to that record it just doesn’t hold up well. The rest of their catalog pales compared to rock and, especially, R&B that was coming out of the US during their prime years. I have several friends, my own age, who practically worship the Beatles and we agree-to-disagree to hang on to our friendship.

    George Martin was amazing in his ability to cobble together coherent records from stone, spoiled, extravagant, and lazy children. George Harrison simply got the shaft as the Lennon/McCartney pair refused to put his songs on Beatles’ records because they’d figured out the long term advantage of publishing rights and were greedy, selfish “businessmen” rather than members of a group [aka Robbie Robertson and The Band).

    In the end, like most everything on the pop charts, it’s nothing more sophisticated than “kids’ music” and should be taken exactly that seriously. The strangle-hold old music has on the music business through insanely long copyright laws (The author, or the owner, of the copyright retains property rights for their entire life, plus 70 years after their death.) keeps the 1% earning the bulk of money in the business for long after their music has lost any credibility.

  10. “It’s a John Lennon song, supported by appearances from the other three.”

    That was true (substituting Paul and George for John as necessary) for most of the later songs during their period as a group. It doesn’t make them any less Beatles songs.

  11. I have strong feelings about attributing anything put together after Lennon died to The Beatles without prominent qualifiers, even if every note is performed by them individually.

    I haven’t listened to it yet and may never bother, for the same reason I wouldn’t bother going to a concert with a holograph of a musician performing. Bells and whistles, and not enough cowbell. There’s too much real and really great music out there to bother with this song for so many reasons.

  12. Thank you for sharing. I really agree with your opinion that the song is very wistful.
    I was born a year after John Lennon got murdered, so I only know the Beatles because they were still playing them a lot on the radio during my childhood.
    What makes “Now An Then” special (I’ve now listened to it three or four times) is that it sounds to me (who didnt live during that time) like from a soundtrack of the late sixties or early seventies. But not fully. I seem to hear that it is a modern song that expresses its nostalgia for a bygone era.
    Kinda like a last goodbye.

  13. If the surviving band members, and the estates of the non-surviving band members, are good with this being released, then I can hardly quibble.

    But (and of course there is a “but”) I have a visceral aversion to putting out “new” works by people who are no longer alive. Same as I have to seeing dead actors turn up in new movies/TV shows through the magic of CGI. It will never not seem disrespectful and exploitative to me.

    And to people who can’t understand what the fuss about the Beatles was all about: You had to be there. The music scene was nowhere near as splintered by genre/style/age group as it is now; the “youth culture” was far more homogenous and cohesive than now… and a lot was going on at the time, politically and socially.

    When the Beatles (and other wildly popular groups) put out a new album, it was like they were speaking for an entire generation. i know that sounds like bullshit, but it was real at the time.

  14. I have mixed feelings about the song. It didn’t really engage me. I was hoping it was going to be something so lovely that it would move me in the way the song, Deliverence, by Prince (search Prince and Deliverance in YouTube and listen to the first song) did but it seemed like leftovers.