In the early hours of Friday morning, fans crowded into a Liverpool record shop to purchase a new Beatles single that was released at midnight. Surprisingly, the first person in line at HMV to buy the 7-inch and 12-inch versions of “Now and Then” is John Lennon himself, using his real name and providing his passport as proof. He proudly states, “I’ve been waiting in line since 8am on Thursday. I was determined to be the first one to purchase it.”
Behind Brian Jackson, 62, who operates the record and memorabilia store Allkinds in Liverpool, is a lifelong fan since the age of four. He recalls his family playing Beatles records on a Dansette and the impact it has had on him. Other fans are also aware of the significance of the release. For example, 19-year-old student Ved Desai from Dubai hopes to tell his future children and grandchildren that he purchased a Beatles record on its release day. Singer Pixey, also known as Lizzie Hillesdon, shares that the single brings to mind memories of the White Album. Further down in the line, 22-year-old student Jackie Oien was one of the first to hear the song “Now and Then” at a listening party at the Cavern club. She notes that some attendees were emotional, as it was a special day for Liverpool.
The song was first created as a demo by John Lennon in his home at the Dakota building in New York, two years prior to his death there in 1980. In 1994, Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono gave the tape, along with demos for Real Love and Free As a Bird, to the other members of The Beatles. However, due to technical difficulties, Now and Then was not completed and remained unreleased. After George Harrison’s passing in 2001, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the song by calling it “terrible”.
However, the AI technology utilized by Peter Jackson in the 2021 Beatles documentary Get Back has made it possible to isolate Lennon’s vocals, enabling McCartney and Starr to complete the song. Additionally, with the approval of his widow Olivia, Harrison’s guitar parts from 1995 were also included. McCartney also plays a slide guitar solo in tribute to his late bandmate, and Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer Sir George) created a string arrangement reminiscent of those from the 1960s, just as his father would have done.
According to Dr. Holly Tessler, who oversees a master’s program on the Beatles at the University of Liverpool, this song has a similar sound to something John Lennon could have written for his final albums. However, it is a John song that has been enhanced by the other members of the Beatles. Some may argue that it does not fit the traditional definition of a Beatles song, but considering that it features all four members (John, Paul, George, and Ringo) singing and playing, it is undeniably a piece by the Beatles.
A documentary film, which aired the day before the release, features behind-the-scenes footage of the surviving members of The Beatles working on their last song “Now and Then” in 1995 and more recently. Director Oliver Murray expressed his feelings about being told by Paul that this would be the last Beatles song, calling it a significant moment. He also acknowledged the emotional aspect of the film, particularly when John Lennon’s isolated vocal was heard, leading Ringo Starr to comment on the feeling of having him back in the room. The film serves as a conclusion to The Beatles’ catalogue, but their legacy will continue to live on.
Murray stated that the experience was highly emotional for both Paul and Ringo. It allowed Paul to collaborate with his friend once more, rekindling the brotherly bond shared between the four of them. The use of technology made this possible. According to Paul, the last words John spoke to him were “Think of me now and then, old friend.” This added a poignant touch to the song, which felt fitting in some way.
Tessler believes that the somber mood of the song reflects Lennon’s state of mind during that period of his life.
“He had recently reunited with Yoko, and upon examining the lyrics, it is clear that they are primarily about her. However, there are a few lines in the second verse that could also be interpreted as referencing his relationship with Paul McCartney. This adds an additional layer of sadness to the song: was there a possibility of them reconciling?”
“This song is now being worked on by two men in their 80s, both nearing the end of their lives. They are joined by two companions, one of whom was tragically killed and the other [Harrison] who passed away from cancer. This gives everyone a chance to bid them farewell in a peaceful manner, without the bitterness of their breakup in 1970. It brings the Beatles back together as a group, in a more tender, beautiful, and emotional way.”
While standing in line at HMV, Xander Steel, an 18-year-old student from the University of Liverpool, concurred, “I’ve listened to the song 10 times already and it’s a fantastic farewell.”