Adapted from Words Like That S1 Ep. 5: “Christmas Movie Special + End of Year Story Updates," originally released December 19, 2023.
Well, it finally happened. “Now and Then,” the last, final (probably, maybe) ever Beatles song, has been released.
I covered the song on the first episode of Words Like That when it was initially announced back in the summer, and, frankly, the reporting on the announcement was abysmal. Basically, most articles read like Paul McCartney was wielding AI to create some kind of zombie-robot John Lennon, when that was not the case at all.
Instead, Paul and the production gang merely used the AI tool developed by Peter Jackson’s team for the Get Back documentary to separate audio into individual elements so it could be cleaned and mixed. For “Now and Then,” they took a poor quality, old piano/vocal demo that John had recorded on a boom box, pulled the vocal out of it, cleaned it up, and--boom! We now have a pristine Lennon vocal take.
If you're interested in checking out my initial thoughts as I heard the track for the first time, I filmed this live reaction to the song and official video. But if not, in summary: I thought the track was good, and I liked it.
Combining John’s newly clean and clear voice with George’s guitar from the ‘90s anthology sessions and new overdubs by Paul and Ringo produces an unexpected modern marvel that hits all the requisite emotional beats. It's also interesting, albeit a bit weird, to hear a Beatles track with a clear modern soundscape for the newly recorded instrument tracks.
Unfortunately, the song itself is not a “top tier” Beatles song. I mentioned this in the first-time reaction video after I had finished listening to the track, and I received at least one comment that said something along the lines of “Well, it may not be top tier by today’s standards, but had this been released in 1970, it would’ve been a huge hit!” Comments like these, of course, have no validity as a response to an analysis of quality.
First, it is a huge hit. It hit #7 on Billboard, and even though it might have charted higher 50 years ago, in terms of the number of people hearing it, the tune probably struck more ears now than it would have then thanks to the proliferation of global streaming sites like YouTube and Spotify. But beyond that, “a hit” does not automatically equal upper-echelon art.
When I say the song is “not top tier,” I'm referring to the overall songwriting. It’s a song about relationships, loss, and longing, which is all fine. But John wrote songs with much more meat, depth, and interesting lyrics. The music is also fine, but, again, John and the Beatles have produced better.
The story goes that John had written “For Paul” on the original demo tape at some point (although I’ve heard a conflicting report that it was Yoko who wrote that later, but anyway). If that's true, then the lyrics being about John and Paul's relationship elevates the track a bit. But even if it isn't true, because John and George have passed, the tune retroactively becomes a song about them being missed by Paul and Ringo. And that also makes “Now and Then” more special than it would’ve been otherwise.
I also enjoyed the video that used digital technology to insert old footage of John and George into new footage of Paul and Ringo, and young Paul and Ringo with old Paul and Ringo, etc. It felt very much like those wacky experimental films the band produced in the ‘60s, and I think John and George would’ve approved.
As a Beatles fan, I’m ultimately glad “Now and Then” saw the light of day, and, if it is indeed the final Beatles song, I’m happy to have been here for it.
Cole Powell is an award-winning singer/songwriter and Z-list YouTuber. Armed with degrees in computer technology and liberal arts and sciences, Powell seeks to pontificate his pitiful opinions to the masses through any means the internet allows.