Let It Be? The Beatles' new / final song - Now And Then
Unless you have been buried in one of the four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, you will have heard the news...The Beatles have released their final ever song - Now And Then. To show this is the last ever song, its b-side is Love Me Do, their debut single, giving this some sense of a circle being completed, of things being bookended.
Now And Then is a demo John Lennon recorded in 1977, alone at his piano, but never finished. It was considered as a third new single to be released as part of the Beatles' anthologies that came out in 1995/96, but was shelved as the recording wasn't clear enough (they needed to separate the piano recording to improve Lennon's vocals, but the technology just wasn't there). So we had just two new singles then - Free As A Bird and Real Love.
But technology has improved and it's now possible to separate that vocal from the tinny sound of the piano, recorded in the Dakota Building apartment. So Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George, can weave his considerable skills to create a clear vocal, that fits perfectly with McCartney's. But just because you can do something, should you?
I really like Free As A Bird - it sounds great to me, a fantastic song. But I have never thought it was a Beatles song. That Jeff Lynne produced it rather than George Martin, means it sounded more like something George Harrison would have released. That's not to put it down. George was, forgive me, fab. His solo records are vastly underrated, so this is a compliment, not an insult. Real Love sounded weak then, and listening to it today, it still does. Sorry everyone, but ultimately, these are not Beatles songs to me - they are John Lennon solo songs that remaining The Beatles finished.
Now And Then doesn't even have that - George is not here to agree to this and, as reported in The Washington Post, declared it "rubbish" before they gave up trying to remake it back in the 90s. Maybe he was talking about the quality of the recording, rather than the song, but still, this is not a ringing endorsement for its release now.
But who cares what I think? It’s being released with the blessing of the Lennon and Harrison estates, giving it the credibility it needs to be classed as "The Beatles". Sean Ono Lennon says "it's touching to hear them play together...it's the last song my dad and Paul, Ringo and George will make together". And Paul says that if John was here and he asked him would he like them to finish this song for him, he'd give an emphatic "yeah"! And, I guess he'd know. It's all very lovely, and genuinely touching to hear them talk about the song. And the song is very nice, very gentle.
But there are lots of nagging doubts, stoked in part by the complete over reaction of BBC and other media, treating this song's release with a reverence usually reserved for some religious experience.
Paul says that he'd kept George's guitar parts from 1995 and he recreated these in a slide style, as a tribute to George. He recreates (and changes) George's playing, so there are bits of George in there and he definitely helps shape the song structure. But given Paul and George's often fractious relationship, would Harrison like Macca to recreate his guitar? I am not sure...
And if they love this song so much, why on earth have they given it such a truly terrible cover? Did it not deserve a little effort? This reminds me of the sort of thing I did when last studying Art at school when I was 14. My last art teacher, a brusque Scottish gentleman called Mr Kerr (we called him "wang" - still makes me laugh) was brutal in his appraisal of my feeble attempts at art. Christ knows what he would say about this, but my efforts would look a little better by comparison...
Ultimately, this is a precursor to yet another release - they are reissuing the Red (1962 - 1967) and Blue (1967 - 1970) compilation albums, but with enhanced track listings - including more George songs (no bad thing, I guess). But the timing of this release, this opening of The Beatles crypt to resurrect one last song that has a tenuous claim to be "Beatles", is just a marketing ploy to get us to part with more cash for these new records.
But when will it end? Will it ever end? As the wonderfully acerbic David Quantick tweeted "It is November 1, 2097. The human race lives underground in tunnels, hiding from robots and radiation. The sun is shrouded in a cloud of airborne plastic waste. The last Beatles single, synthesised from a cough attributed to Pete Best, is out on Monday". He is spot on.
Ultimately, the last song all four Beatles actually collectively recorded together was The End - the clue's in the name. That's it. No amount of posturing, marketing, discoveries, technology, AI advancements, anything can change that. And nor should this change.
"And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make"
I am sure there are more Lennon demos out there that will surface and as Paul finally slows down (though fairplay, there is no sign of that - he's 81 and currently on tour in Australia), he will tinker away with more "Beatles" songs...
But as George says on the short BBC documentary about Now And Then, "when will we ever get to sleep?". I'll let George sleep and stick with Abbey Road and Revolver, and as the man said, all things must pass...
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