What some of the critics think:
A moody, reflective piano ballad, it’s clearly never going to supplant Strawberry Fields Forever or A Day in the Life in the affections of Beatles fans, but it’s a better song than Free as a Bird or Real Love. And posthumously reworked as a Beatles track, it definitely packs a greater emotional punch. If you want to be moved, the lyrics provide ample space in which do so. It’s doubtful whether Lennon had his fellow Beatles in mind when he wrote the song – although who knows? – but with a new middle eight sung in tandem by Lennon and McCartney, it very much becomes a song about the Beatles, expressing a yearning for their bond: “Now and then I miss you / Now and then I want you to be there for me.”
As much as Lennon was in a confessional mode in the late 1970s, it’s not too fanciful to hear his chorus “Now and then I miss you…” as tapping into the same kind of public display of affection for the young Beatles that McCartney managed in “Two Of Us”. There’s a thoughtful conceptual unity to the entire project, to the extent that the single, in whatever manner it exists, will come with the band’s first single, “Love Me Do” on the flip.
It’s a wistful ballad that takes on even more layers of longing when you think that it’s John Motherf – – king Lennon, sounding — through the miracles of the same technology that allowed director Peter Jackson to isolate vocals and instruments in the 2021 Beatles documentary “Get Out” — like he’s alive and 30-something again.
You feel that kind of chills when Lennon, as pure-voiced as ever, croons, “Now and then, I miss you/Oh now and then, I want you to be there for me.”
Same, John. Same.
...it is more than a little supernaturally wondrous to hear John Lennon’s distinctive high and tender voice rising up above the gentle, melancholy melody etched out on sonorous piano chords.
But just as the band find a sensual groove, the McCartney-led chorus arrives as an anticlimactic plod, dropping where the song needs to lift, awkwardly repurposing some snatches of unfinished Lennon phrases into a form that doesn’t quite fit the song’s plaintive mood. The chords aren’t interesting, and harmonies pasted in from old Beatle recordings (Here There and Everywhere, Eleanor Rigby and Because) don’t really cut through as they should.
It’s not that it is bad, honestly. There are lovely instrumental passages, lustrous strings, and it has all been crafted with love and care, but it doesn’t hit the heights we expect from a great Beatles ballad, ending up sounding like a poor imitation of genius, the kind of soft rock whimsy you’d find on thousands of second-rate Beatle influenced albums in the Seventies. And yes, I’m looking at you Jeff Lynne.
...the song coolly brushes aside the question of whether it should exist, paying for itself in pretty melodies, touchy choruses, and plush sonics. “Now and Then” returns to the well that yielded songs like “The Long and Winding Road,” journeying from darkness to light aided by delicate playing and orchestral flourishes. It imagines what the Beatles might have sounded like settling into the saccharine singer-songwriter ’70s together, bouncing vocal and lyrical ideas off each other in Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels,” Harrison’s “Blow Away,” and McCartney’s “My Love,” or a world where Starr’s 1973 album Ringo managed to get all four members on the same song instead of different ones.
“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.
...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.”
The song’s beginning will be breathtaking for fans: It opens with a familiar Beatles count-in, following by classic Lennonesque piano chords and a strummed acoustic guitar, and then — that voice, pristine, singing “I know it’s true, it’s all because of you,” and following an unmistakably Lennon melody. The rest of the group quickly comes in — Starr’s drums, a definitive McCartney bassline, subtle three-part harmonies on the backing vocals, an orchestra playing a vaguely “Eleanor Rigby”-ish accompaniment. Later in the song, McCartney pays tribute to Harrison by playing a brief slide guitar solo, and bolsters Lennon’s lead vocal in a couple of spots where it presumably faltered or was obscured on the demo. The song is similar to and on a par with “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” and it’s safe to say they’ve made it as good as it probably could be.
A glass-half-empty take would point out it certainly sounds like a rough and incomplete sketch of a song reassembled and elaborately embellished, rather than a complete one. The lyrics in particular bear this out: It’s hard to imagine Lennon being happy with lines like, “I know it’s true, it’s all because of you/ And if I make it through, it’s all because of you,” which recall the dashed-off lyrics of early Beatles songs and the lightweight practices the group, inspired by Bob Dylan and others, railed against in the mid-1960s. Likewise, the song has clearly been reverse-engineered into a conventional structure— as McCartney can be heard in the video arranging individual parts.
But such meh takes are the reason why people hate critics, and there’s not much point in raining on the parade.
The finished track simplifies Lennon’s emotional give-and-take; it edits out his misgivings about himself, where Lennon sang, “I don’t wanna lose you, oh no no no/Abuse you or confuse you, oh no no no.” The concluding vocal of “Now and Then” also feels more optimistic than the tolling chords at the end of Lennon’s demo: “If I make it through, it’s all because of you.”
As in many Beatles songs, “Now and Then” has an unexpected closing flourish: a decisive, syncopated string phrase. And low in the mix, after a final shake of a tambourine, a voice says, “Good one!”