Editorial Notebook

The Beatles release a final song 46 years in the making

There is no clickbait here. The Beatles—the biggest, most successful, and most influential band in the history of recorded music—released one final track, dubbed the last Beatles song. Releasing a new song would seem impossible since two of the band’s four members are long deceased. John Lennon was assassinated by a deranged sociopath in 1980 and George Harrison died of lung cancer in 2001. How they created a song with all four members to release in 2023 is quite a remarkable tale.

In 1977, John Lennon recorded a demo with vocals and piano titled “Now And Then.” In February 1995, his widow, Yoko Ono, gave Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison three of John’s demos, including “Now And Then.” The demos were each gifted for a studio version for their multimedia project Beatles Anthology. Two were successfully released, but “Now And Then” was not. Although Paul, Ringo, and George recorded the bass, drums, and a slide guitar solo (which completed a rough mix), John’s vocals could not be isolated from the piano or the hissing of the cassette on which it was recorded due to technological limitations. George labeled it “rubbish” so the song was shelved indefinitely.

After George’s death, Paul and Ringo lost hope that the song would ever move forward. But in 2021, acclaimed director Peter Jackson and his team worked on The Beatles: Get Back docuseries. Paul presented the song to Jackson, hoping he could use the same restorative audio technology from Get Back on “Now And Then,” and Jackson agreed. Paul and Ringo described it as magical hearing John’s voice so clearly when Jackson played them the isolated audio. The surviving members returned to the recording booth, adding backing vocals to the chorus, an imitation of George’s slide solo by Paul, and a full orchestra to accompany the melodies.

Along with a mini-documentary, “Now And Then” was released worldwide on November 2, 2023, followed by an unbelievably stunning music video directed by Jackson the next day. The single was released with a B-side 2023 remaster of their debut single “Love Me Do.” So now the question can finally be answered: is it any good?

Upon many listens, I can confidently say this is the first new song I’ve heard in a long time that I thought was sincerely beautiful. What we have here is a psychedelic rock ballad with a piano riff that is similar to John’s solo hit “Imagine.” With that similarity, it should please the majority—though while evaluating the lyrical content of “Imagine,” it may be deemed one of the least intellectually engaging songs I’ve had the displeasure of encountering.

The audio quality of John’s voice on this new track is something some may criticize. His voice still sounds like it was recorded on cassette in the 1970s, not by a high-quality microphone from 2023. Some may still enjoy the murky audio clarity as an aesthetic akin to how The Beatles' songs sounded before their countless remasters. AI was used on this track as part of the technology utilized by Jackson’s crew for the project, but only to clear John’s voice. Reports online may imply otherwise, but no part of the song was AI-generated.

Music is subjective; while some may like The Beatles, others may not. Undoubtedly, there is an undeniable universal respect for their legacy and impact, regardless of their listener status. Being a part of Generation Z, it feels fanciful to have a new Beatles song in my lifetime that I can appreciate in the moment since one in three Gen Z members have never even heard of them (according to Digital Music News.) “Now And Then” is not only a song, but also a tiny moment for people of all generations to come together, right now.