The average music fan of the nineteen-sixties would surely have found it hard to believe that the Rolling Stones would put out a new album in 2023, let alone an album including a performance by Paul McCartney. Here in the twenty-twenties, of course, we’ve long since known that the “rivalry” between the young Stones and Beatles was ginned up by music media. Still, not to be outdone more than half a century after their breakup, the latter have put out the newly completed “Now and Then,” the last song featuring all the Fab Four that will ever be released.
“Now and Then,” or at least its title, will ring a bell in the minds of serious Beatles enthusiasts. For decades, it has been known as one of several promising songs John Lennon recorded without finishing. Others include “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” which McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr built upon in the studio and released in the mid-nineties to accompany the documentary The Beatles Anthology. At that time, Lennon’s home demo of “Now and Then” proved trickier to work with: “the piano was a little hard to hear,” says McCartney in its short making-of film, “and in those days, of course, we didn’t have the technology to do the separation” of one instrument or voice from the others.
Enter Peter Jackson, a Beatlemaniac possessed of uncommon resources and technological know-how. It turns out that the artificial intelligence-based system developed to separate out the audio tracks for the Get Back documentary project, which he directed, could also be used to salvage the muddy “Now and Then.” At last, McCartney says, “we could mix it and make a proper record of it,” a task that also included his laying down a new bass part and Starr doing the same for the drums. Each element led to another: “I’d been vaguely thinking, ‘Strings might be a good thing.’ The Beatles did lots of strings, you know?” This was a job for none other than Giles Martin, son of George. (See the making-of video below.)
As luck would have it, Harrison, who died in 2001, also recorded a guitar part back in 1995, which inspired McCartney to add a slide guitar solo in the same style. The New York Times Jon Pareles also notes “backing vocals from ‘Here, There and Everywhere,’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Because’: ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ in harmony.” The result is a genuine Beatles song as well as a genuine Beatles recording, not just in personnel but also in spirit. No sooner did the band get famous, remember, than they began incorporating into their work every advanced studio device and technique at their command. If high technology was a vital factor in their music then, it’s even more of one now.
Note: The official music video above was directed by Peter Jackson.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.