Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr seemed utterly ecstatic to work on Now and Then. George Harrison too, before his passing in 2001. The Beatles’ final track, a song recorded in isolation by John Lennon in 1978 for McCartney. Is it truly a song from The Beatles? Let us not burst the bubble. Regardless, it is here. One last go around for The Beatles and decades in the making. It would either be so good it would galvanise the well-regarded truth of The Beatles and their impact as the greatest UK band in history, or look like prattling elderly musicians with more time on their hands than they know what to do with. Thankfully, and possibly surprisingly, Now and Then is the former. A genuinely tender and well-structured track which has taken generations of technological development to piece together.
Counted in by McCartney and trailed off by Lennon, there will be plenty of comparisons to their heyday of working together – never a dry spell as McCartney revealed in an interview a few years ago. Now and Then feels as back-and-forth as it possibly could considering the lead Lennon vocals. Peter Jackson and the technology at hand have done a fine job of scrubbing the grain. Beyond this though, it is expectedly talented writing from the Lennon and McCartney duo. Harrison is given his place too, the late and great guitarist winding out the closing moments with an exceptional, firm piece of instrumental work. His relegation in The Beatles’ pecking order does not factor in here.
Make no mistake, Now and Then is a watershed moment far wider than The Beatles. Artificial intelligence has, successfully, been planted in a song and used for good. It galvanises McCartney and Starr, who are relegated to instrumentals and are in fine fettle for them after decades of continuing their craft. McCartney with headline slots, Starr with a series of Soviet Union-era EPs which demand his listeners remember his name. Fears of AI and its use elsewhere are understandable, when replicating the dead for new tracks comes around, but Now and Then is one of the few to have a sample of a fully recorded piece. There is a difference in creation and adaptation – Now and Then adapts the already-recorded Lennon to listenable qualities.
Fitting it is to pair the final single from The Beatles with their first-ever, Love Me Do, the release of Now and Then is a chilling reminder of finality in an era where bands of old continue to return. The Rolling Stones and John Cale are still kicking around. Even remnants of The Beach Boys remain. Now and Then is an emotional track, and that is what helps it linger a little longer. Of course, it is emotive for music fans, regardless of how big they are on The Beatles, to listen in real-time, for the first time, to the end of an era which has lasted a long while. Remasters will still come and go, and new material will be unearthed and scrubbed together on bootlegs for Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and beyond, but the final recordings of the Fab Four are now done and dusted. Even they hate the Friday music releases.