First thoughts on 'Now and Then': The Beatles' New Song is a Message of Support and Reassurance to a Hurting World
Waking up to a day highlighted by the release of a newly recorded, never-before-heard Beatles song is something nobody imagined might happen again and, from what the surviving members of the band tell us, will never happen again.
We've been anticipating "Now and Then" for months now, ever since Paul McCartney mentioned in a BCC Radio interview that the Beatles' camp had used artificial intelligence to create a "new" tune using John Lennon's voice.
What Paul meant was that new technology — the same one created and used by film director Peter Jackson's team to isolate obscured audio in "The Beatles: Get Back" documentary and soon after by producer Gile Martin in the remixing of last year's Revolver reissue package — had been deployed to isolate and clean up Lennon's vocal performance on an old demo.
While many in the media and on social media went crazy misinforming anyone within clicking range of a hyperlink that "A.I." had been used to create a "fake" Lennon vocal, most fans knew what Paul meant. And we also knew that he was talking about "Now and Then," a Lennon track that he, George Harrison and Ringo Starr had all worked on during their "Anthology" sessions in the early 1990s, but gave up on because the sound quality of Lennon's cassette was so bad.
Likely, many people today and in the coming days who hear the new track will wrongly believe that the John voice they hear is computer generated, but we shouldn't let that distract or prevent us from enjoying this new Beatles song, because it is enjoyable and also moving, tender, surprising, melodic, vital, and many more adjectives, and also because it is a Beatles song.
All four members of the band are heard on the tune: John's vocal, George's acoustic rhythm guitar, Ringo's drums, and a number of instruments played by Paul, including, of course, bass, keyboards and a slide guitar solo that pays tribute to Harrison.
The tune opens with a count-in ala "I Saw Her Standing There" and a few other songs from the Beatles' catalog which is followed by a stately, minor key piano melody and Lennon's voice, clear as day. Hearing Lennon here is haunting, yet welcome, like the voice of a dear friend you thought you'd never hear from again, speaking to you anew. Everything else on the track, the new instrumental parts, backing vocals and strings (arranged by Martin) supports and pays tribute to that voice, as if to say, "We hear you, John. We're listening to you. And we are here for you."
As such, the song arrives as a comforting message of support to the listener, telling us that the Beatles' music is still present and here for us, offering solace, wisdom, peace and respite from all of the madness at hand. The band did this throughout their career, providing us with positive, affirmative messages that made us feel better about things, including ourselves: "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and "The Word" on through "Here Comes the Sun" and "The End," on Abbey Road, which repeats "Love You, Love You" before landing on the prayer-like sentiment, "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
Lennon's song acknowledges the obstacles to love and the need to overcome them and preserve what's important, what's sacred, which is friendship and commitment to a relationship. It's a message that we need to take to heart now more than ever.
Only the most dark-hearted cynic would see this as a money grab or a last bid for more attention. It's a gift, and one I receive with deep appreciation and gratitude. The world today is a sad song and the Beatles (yes the Beatles) today made it a little bit better.