Now And Then: The last Beatles song is unveiled

2 November 2023, 14:16 | Updated: 2 November 2023, 17:17

The Beatles - Now And Then (Official Audio)

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have premiered the final track to be completed with their bandmates John Lennon and George Harrison. Listen here.

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By Martin O'Gorman

The "final" Beatles song has been unveiled after a week of promotion. Titled Now And Then, it's being called "probably the last Beatles song" by Paul McCartney.

The track is available to stream and download now.

Written and sung by John Lennon in the late 70s, developed and worked on by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in the mid 90s, the track is now finally finished by Paul and Ringo over four decades later.

McCartney says of the song: “There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear. It’s quite emotional. And we all play on it, it’s a genuine Beatles recording. In 2023 to still be working on Beatles music, and about to release a new song the public haven’t heard, I think it’s an exciting thing.”

Ringo says: “It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room so it was very emotional for all of us. It was like John was there, you know. It’s far out.”

The track was released worldwide at 2pm GMT on Thursday 2nd November as a double A-side with the band's very first single, Love Me Do and there are a number of limited edition formats to pre-order at the official Beatles Store.

A music video for Now And Then will debut on Friday, 3rd November, directed by Peter Jackson, who was asked by the band's label Apple to visualise the song. He explained: "I told Apple how the lack of suitable footage worried me. We’d need to use a lot of rare and unseen film. Nothing at all seemed to exist showing Paul, George and Ringo working on Now And Then in 1995 … There’s not much footage of John in the mid-seventies when he wrote the demo … And they didn’t even shoot any footage showing Paul and Ringo working on the song last year.

The Beatles in July 1968: John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison
The Beatles in July 1968: John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Picture: Apple Corps/Universal/Press

"Paul and Ringo shot footage of themselves performing and sent that to me. Apple unearthed over 14 hours of long forgotten film shot during the 1995 recording sessions, including several hours of Paul, George and Ringo working on Now And Then, and gave all that to me.

"To cap things off, a few precious seconds of The Beatles performing in their leather suits, the earliest known film of The Beatles and never seen before, was kindly supplied by Pete Best."

A 12-minute film Now And Then - The Last Beatles Song premiered on 1st November. Written and directed by Oliver Murray, the clip tells the story of the making of the song, with exclusive footage and commentary from Paul, Ringo, George, Sean Ono Lennon and Peter Jackson. You can watch the film below.

The Beatles - Now And Then - The Last Beatles Song (Short Film)

McCartney caused some worry back in June of this year, when he claimed that he and Starr "were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI", leading to fears they'd created some kind of fake new Lennon vocal.

However, Macca had to clarify that the AI process was used to isolate an existing Lennon vocal track from an old cassette demo, saying "nothing has been artificially or synthetically created. It’s all real and we all play on it. We cleaned up some existing recordings – a process which has gone on for years."

In the film, McCartney says: "We were actually messing around with state of the art technology - which is something The Beatles would have been very interested in. Now And Then is probably like the last Beatles song. And we've all played on it, so it is a genuine Beatle recording."

The Beatles - Now & Then cover art
The Beatles - Now & Then cover art. Picture: Apple Corps/Universal/Press

Peter Jackson's Get Back TV series had pioneered the use of audio restoration to isolate instruments and voices from 1969 documentary footage back, which allowed Sir George Martin's son Giles to effectively remix the classic album Revolver last year.

This work led to the Now And Then demo being revisited, with Peter Jackson and his sound team, led by Emile de la Rey, applied the same technique to John’s original home recording separating the vocal performance from the piano.

McCartney says in the short film: ""We did Free As A Bird and Real Love and we'd got a little bit of time left to do Now And Then. On John's demo tape, the piano was a little hard to hear. In those days, of course, we didn't have the technology to do the separation. Every time we wanted a little bit more of John's voice, this piano came through and clouded the picture.

"Now And Then just kind of languished in a cupboard. It took almost a quarter of a century for the right moment to tackle Now And Then again.

Besides John’s vocal, the new version of Now And Then includes electric and acoustic guitar recorded in 1995 by George, Ringo’s new drum part, and bass, guitar and piano from Paul. McCartney added a slide guitar solo inspired by Harrison; he and Starr also contributed backing vocals to the chorus.

The Beatles in 1965
The Beatles in 1965. Picture: Apple Corps/Universal/Press

What is the history of Now And Then by The Beatles?

Now And Then is the final "Threetles" recording, which sees Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr complete a song that was originally demoed by John Lennon, but remained unfinished and unreleased at the time of his death in December 1980.

Recorded in 1979 at his apartment in the Dakota Building in New York City, a cassette of the demo was given to McCartney by Ono in 1994. When visiting Ono and Lennon's son Sean in New York to receive the tapes, McCartney had agreed to "complete" the songs with his fellow surviving Beatles as part of their Anthology project.

He told Yoko and Sean: "If it doesn't work out, you can veto it."

He later told Q magazine that he told Ono: ""on't impose too many conditions on us, it's really difficult to do this, spiritually. We don't know, we may hate each other after two hours in the studio and just walk out. So don't put any conditions, it's tough enough."

Included on a pair cassettes were demos of the songs Free As A Bird and Real Love, recorded by Lennon as working demos. One of the tapes was labelled "For Paul" and included demo versions of Grow Old With Me and Now And Then.

Luckily, the "Threetles" recording of Free As A Bird was successful, and it was the first to see the light of day in December 1995, as a trailer for the mammoth Anthology TV series and collection of albums.

Real Love followed with the release of Anthology II in March 1996, but the song had already seen daylight back in 1988, when it led off the Imagine: John Lennon documentary soundtrack album. (Grow Old With Me had also been previously issued, four years after Lennon's death on the album Milk And Honey, so that was put to one side.)

The release of Anthology 3 in October 1996 was notable because it didn't include a "new" Beatles recording. The reason was that Now And Then had been worked on by McCartney, Harrison and Starr, but the track remained unfinished.

The trio had reconvened in March 1995 to work on Now And Then, however, according to McCartney "George didn't like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn't do it." He says in 2023: "We kind of ran out of steam a bit - and time. And it was like, well, maybe we'll leave this one."

ELO man Jeff Lynne was producer for the reunion tracks and said of Now And Then: "The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track, a rough go that we really didn't finish." There was also the problem of a "mains hum" - an annoying buzz that is the curse of home-recorded tapes.

Luckily, this is where AI comes in. McCartney has been promising to finish Now And Then since 2012 at least, but the technical issues prevented it. With AI trickery, the buzz - and any other extraneous sounds - has been removed, leaving a reasonably "clear" Lennon performance.

The new triple vinyl editions of the classic 1973 Beatles "red" and "blue" compilations.
The new triple vinyl editions of the classic 1973 Beatles "red" and "blue" compilations. Picture: Apple Corps/Universal/Press

It's not the only Beatles release for November: there will also be expanded versions of the classic compilations The Beatles 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 aka the "Red" and the "Blue", with additional tracks, plus new stereo and Dolby Atmos mixes.

Originally issued in 1973 as an attempt to combat a number of bootleg releases that were flooding the market, the two volumes have been a gateway for many a lifelong Beatles fan. The expanded versions will feature tracks not included on the original editions, such as I Saw Her Standing There, Twist & Shout, Tomorrow Never Knows, Blackbird and, of course, the new track Now & Then.

Released on 10th November. the albums will be issued as 4CD and 180-gram 6LP vinyl editions, again available from the Beatles Store

Read more: What are the differences in the track listing on the new Beatles Red and Blue albums?

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