“Now and Then”: The Beatles, One Last Time

Those four words served as the opening notes for a finale to an epic narrative that started over 60 years ago when John, Paul, George, and Ringo entered EMI Studios carrying the template for their first single, “Love Me Do.”

“The last Beatles song.”

A phrase that carried me back to the summer of 1985. I am watching every single second of “Live Aid.” I had heard one of the MTV VJs share that the surviving Beatles were seen backstage at Wembley tuning up instruments with Julian Lennon, John’s son. It was to be the reunion we had all been waiting for since the band’s formal breakup announcement in 1970. I was a second-generation fan looking for the Beatles flame to be reignited. Even though John Lennon was senselessly killed in 1980, I still held out hope to experience Beatlemania just like I had seen in “A Hard Day’s Night.”

“The last Beatles song”

An image that brings me to a parking lot outside of Borders Books where I am quickly fumbling through an issue of Newsweek. The Beatles were on the cover. This was the pre-hype of the upcoming multi-part documentary, “The Beatles Anthology.” My sight lands on a present-day picture of Paul, George, and Ringo. Paul and George are holding guitars. Ringo brandishes a pair of drumsticks. All three are smiling. I was happy to have a picture of a Beatles reunion. There were so many near misses. All four Beatles post-1970 had various moments of an almost reunion: Ringo playing drums on George’s “All Things Must Pass” album; John and George, playing on Ringo’s “I’m the Greatest;” Paul and Ringo supporting George’s 1981 tribute to John, “All Those Years Ago.”

“The last Beatles song”

Hearing two new Beatles songs in 1995 during the airing of “The Beatles Anthology” is something that defied my definition of the impossible. Not only did we have two songs that could be safely deemed as official Beatles songs, but they also featured John Lennon. Yoko Ono entrusted the surviving Beatles with various demos that John had recorded in his Dakota apartment. These demos were crudely recorded by John. The songs were unfinished rough sketches that John recorded with a boom box on top of a piano. Two of the cassette recordings were finished by Paul, George, and Ringo with Jeff Lynne producing. In my lifetime, I can safely say that I could experience the same level of joy with a new Beatles song orbiting our planet. “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love” were more than just novelties; rather, they were testaments that the impossible becomes possible. A band that had broken up amidst a tumult of lawsuits, bitterness, and resentment proved that they could make the impossible possible in an electronic reunion featuring all four members.

“The last Beatles song”

Each new Beatles song appeared on Volumes 1 and 2 respectively of The Beatles Anthology album series. I remember waiting for the rumored third Beatles song. There were delays to the release of Volume 3. The anticipation grew and I picked up a copy only to find that there was no new Beatles song. There was a period of dejection, but I remained steadfast in my gratitude for having two new Beatles songs. This third song simply couldn’t withstand the technical limitations for the surviving Beatles to make a viable track set at their high standards of excellence.

“The last Beatles song”

I experienced Paul McCartney live in concert a couple of years ago with my family. He was performing in my hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. This was my 10th time seeing my musical hero in concert, and it was special because he was in my neighborhood. I heard the opening chords of a song from my favorite Beatles song, “Let It Be.” It’s the kickoff track from Side 2 of that album, “I’ve Got a Feeling.” The song is a duet between Paul and John. When Paul performs it in concert, his guitarist, Rusty Anderson, takes on singing the John part. But for this performance, it’s not Rusty singing, it’s John. Using the MAL (machine-assisted learning) technology, thanks to director Peter Jackson, John’s performance from the final Beatles show on the rooftop was miraculously flown in. I was hearing Paul and John singing together in real time. I was hearing their harmonies with my twin daughters. It was as close as I will ever get to Shea Stadium and the Saville Row rooftop. It was Beatlemania in real digital time and I am grateful.

With George’s passing in 2001, I believed that I had heard the last Beatles song. I was saddened by that fact. I remained grateful for a final chapter to the universal love story of The Beatles.

“The last Beatles song”

These words are attached to an epilogue of the story of four brothers. These four brothers loved each other so much. Lingering in the vaults were the notes for one last gig. The legacy of these brothers was too powerful to keep this song hidden from view. Two brothers decide to dust off their first attempt at finishing a song started all those years ago. This was going to be the final page for a narrative that has transcended the bonds of time.

Paul and Ringo returned to John’s “Now and Then.” During their brief Beatles reunion in 1995, Paul, George, and Ringo spent a day adding instrumentation to a very rough demo recorded by Lennon before his death. Ringo has stated that this is the final time we will hear all four Beatles playing and singing together. That is good enough for me and I welcome the experience as an unabashed fan.

The remaining two members of The Beatles have decided to bring their legacy full circle with their work on finishing what they started.

We have one more chance to say that we have experienced a new Beatles song. After November 2nd when the song debuts, we will be able to answer the question: “Have you heard ‘Now and Then’ yet?”

The Beatles have given us so much in their enduring story of love, creativity, and collaboration. I look forward to turning the page to land on this epilogue of one more song being left us. As we reach the concluding pages on the story of The Beatles – these four brothers who have given us so much love – I know that we can all flip the book back to the beginning and re-read the tale.

“The last Beatles song” are four words that seemingly denote sadness from a band that has given so much for generations. I like to shift the paradigm here. The last Beatles song is a reminder that we don’t have to settle for the impossible. A band reunites twice through the marvel of technology to finish a rough demo recorded by a member in the late 1970s. The growth mindset, the commitment to collaboration, and the focus on artistic excellence are enduring emblems of The Beatles.

Listening to the last Beatles song is the ignition that will launch the inspiration for past, present, and future fans of The Beatles. Landing on the last page of the story is not the ultimate end. The story of The Beatles is one that will be revisited many times for the ages. “Now and Then” is a fitting testament and poignant farewell from the band. It is an inspiring echo that will endure many years from now.

-Sean Gaillard

Photo: Fair Use Image of the “Now and Then” single

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4 comments on ““Now and Then”: The Beatles, One Last Time

  1. Sue Morgan

    Can’t wait to hear it! I was around for their first release and I am glad I can hear their last.

  2. “Across the Universe,” “Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” “Imagine,” timeless Beatles songs continue to captivate hearts with iconic melodies and profound lyrics.

  3. Pam Van Allen

    You touched all the right notes for this Beatles fan who was there at the beginning. It’s sad to see it end, but we’d thought it was over so many times before. Thank you, Beatles, for making our lives better with your music.

  4. Kevin Chorusey

    Well said, Sean. You captured the special magic in the phrase, “Have you heard the new Beatles record?”

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