“All Those Years Ago”: A Bookend to The Beatles

The release of the last Beatles song, “Now and Then,” ranks among the band’s pivotal moments such as their 1964 U.S. television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show and the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The idea of a “final” Beatles song is a milestone; the most successful band in the history of popular music rallied together to give us one final masterpiece.

The Beatles have always captured our imaginations. Seeing the surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, interact with past images of themselves and their former bandmates in Peter Jackson’s “Now and Then” video is worth the price of admission. And hearing Paul harmonizing with John Lennon once again is emotional. It’s right up there with other Beatles reunion tracks from the 1995 Anthology series, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.”

Jackson’s innovative video features footage from the original 1995 sessions of Paul, George, and Ringo working on Lennon’s “Now and Then” demo. For me, seeing “The Threetles” together in the studio brought back the memory of another song featuring the surviving Beatles.

It came in the form of an unexpected #1 hit from George Harrison in 1981, one that served as an elegy of sorts for the recently deceased John Lennon. “All Those Years Ago” was originally intended for a Ringo solo project, but the song had been shelved. In Harrison’s memoir, I Me Mine, he expressed uncertainty about why Ringo’s version of the song was paused. The book also contains a facsimile of George’s reworded lyrics of “All Those Years Ago” dated “12/12/80″ — four days after Lennon’s death.

The lyrics were now rewritten as a fond tribute to John. The time between John’s death and George’s lyrical reworking is noteworthy as it humanizes the grief George must have experienced over the loss of a close friend; one can surmise that George re-wrote the song to provide solace from his loss.

George later retooled the song as an addition to his album Somewhere in England. He invited Paul to add to the track, with McCartney including his wife Linda and Wings bandmate Denny Laine on the background vocals. Ringo’s drum parts were left intact from the initial session and George added lead vocals along with his signature lead guitar to complete this affectionate nod to an old bandmate and friend. Incidentally, “All Those Years Ago,” also features the great keyboardist, producer, and founder of Blood, Sweat & Tears, Al Kooper. The original Abbey Road team of Beatles producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick were in the studio for McCartney’s contribution, and both were thanked in the album’s sleeve notes.

Although Paul, George, and Ringo were not in the studio together during the recording of “All Those Years Ago,” the song was lauded as a Beatles reunion. It was an upbeat yet poignant song that served as a salve for fans still mourning the loss of John Lennon, and became a global hit.

The song must have had some special significance for Harrison because he added it to the setlist for what turned out to be his final tour when he traveled to Japan in 1991. Considering Harrison rarely performed live after The Beatles broke up, the addition of the song made it even more special.

“All Those Years Ago” was a sign of things to come from Paul, George, and Ringo as they revisited their collective history as The Beatles throughout the years following John’s death. The song serves as a giant first step as The Beatles began closing the loop on their legacy; it’s now come full circle. In their own ways, both “All Those Years Ago” and “Now and Then” serve as evocative bookends in this grand finale of The Beatles.

-Sean Gaillard

Photo: George Harrison, John Lennon (Getty Images)

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5 comments on ““All Those Years Ago”: A Bookend to The Beatles

  1. Eric C Gray

    Nice piece, Sean. I read I Mee Mine, but it was All Those Years Ago, so I didn’t recall that Paul and Ringo played on the song. As you well know, all Paul, George and Ringo have their tributes to John, and Ringo has one to George, trying to recall if Paul wrote one for George. Now and Then is an okay song, I imagine it will grow on me, but only Beatles fans understand the importance of a “new” song, regardless of how good it is.

    I am working on a project of folks’ music and concert memories, their stories. If you would like to learn more about it, maybe contribute your own story, please contact me at eric.concertstories@gmail.com Thanks, Sean!

  2. Barry Baddams

    Nice article thank you, despite the jarring use of that horrible expression ‘the Threetles”. What are we left with now- the Tootles?

  3. All Those Years Ago is far superior to Now and Then in my humble opinion. I do need to read I, Me, Mine I just finished the Mal Evans book.

  4. I wish they would isolate John’s vocals on Free as a Bird and Real Love like they did for the new single and remake them. Paul?

  5. Any record of the original lyrics when it was given to Ringo?

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