The Beatles have released their last song - Now and Then - 40 years after Lennon recorded it

 (© Apple Corps Ltd)
(© Apple Corps Ltd)

Like Lazarus suddenly appearing in Pepperland, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band are back on the bandstand, their psychedelic Edwardian satin suits dry-cleaned and freshly pressed. Fifty-three years after Let It Be reached number one, the Beatles are finally releasing their final record – Now and Then, an unfinished John Lennon song recorded on a cassette player in his apartment in the Dakota Building in New York in 1979.

2023, then, brings one of the most anticipated releases of the Beatles’ long and endlessly eventful history. Now and Then is the last Beatles song – written and sung by John Lennon, developed and worked on by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, and now finally finished by Paul and Ringo over four decades later.

Now and Then will be unveiled next Thursday at 2pm, with a full release the following day, while a 12-minute Now and Then - The Last Beatles Song documentary film, written and directed by Oliver Murray – will premiere on November 1, hosted on The Beatles’ YouTube channel at 7:30pm. This poignant short film tells the story behind the song, with exclusive footage and commentary from Paul, Ringo, George, Sean Ono Lennon and Peter Jackson.

The story of Now and Then begins in the late 1970s, when Lennon recorded a demo with vocals and piano at his home in New York’s Dakota Building. In 1994, his wife, Yoko Ono Lennon, gave the recording to Paul, George and Ringo, along with John’s demos for Free As A Bird and Real Love, which were both completed as new Beatles songs and respectively released as singles in 1995 and 1996, as part of The Beatles Anthology project. Free As A Bird was a terrific song ruined by ELO’s Jeff Lynne’s leaden production, while Real Love is now acknowledged as something of a mistake.

At the same time, Paul, George and Ringo also recorded new parts of the third song, and completed a rough mix for Now and Then, again with Lynne. At that point, technological limitations prevented John’s vocals and piano from being separated to achieve the clear, unclouded mix needed to finish the song. Now and Then was shelved, with a hope that one day it would be revisited.

Cut to 2021, and the release of The Beatles: Get Back docuseries, directed by Peter Jackson, which astonished viewers with its award-winning film and audio restoration. Using WingNut Films’ MAL audio technology, Jackson’s team had de-mixed the film’s mono soundtrack, managing to isolate instruments and vocals, and all the individual voices within The Beatles conversations.

This achievement opened the way to 2022’s new mix of Revolver, sourced directly from the four-track master tapes. This led on to a question: what could now be done with the Now and Then demo? Peter Jackson and his sound team, led by Emile de la Rey, applied the same technique to John’s original home recording, preserving the clarity and integrity of his original vocal performance by separating it from the piano.

In 2022, Paul and Ringo set about completing the song. Besides John’s vocal, Now and Then includes electric and acoustic guitar recorded in 1995 by George, Ringo’s new drum part, and bass, guitar and piano from Paul, which matches John’s original playing. Paul added a slide guitar solo inspired by George; he and Ringo also contributed backing vocals to the chorus.

In Los Angeles, Paul oversaw a Capitol Studios recording session for the song’s wistful, quintessentially Beatles string arrangement, written by Giles Martin, Paul and Ben Foster. Paul and Giles also added one last, wonderfully subtle touch: backing vocals from the original recordings of Here, There and Everywhere, Eleanor Rigby and Because, woven into the new song using the techniques perfected during the making of the LOVE show and album. The finished track was produced by Paul and Giles and mixed by Spike Stent.

And it is brilliant. Neither a re-tread or an homage, it is something genuinely new, with a reinvigorated vocal, Ringo playing rimshot, and a melody for the ages. It is a classic Beatles single, and worthy of all the fuss.

“There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear," says McCartney. "It’s quite emotional. And we all play on it, it’s a genuine Beatles recording. In 2023 to still be working on Beatles music, and about to release a new song the public haven’t heard, I think it’s an exciting thing.”

“It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room," says Starr, "so it was very emotional for all of us. It was like John was there, you know. It’s far out.”

According to Harrison's widow, Olivia, “Back in 1995, after several days in the studio working on the track, George felt the technical issues with the demo were insurmountable and concluded that it was not possible to finish the track to a high enough standard. If he were here today, [my son] Dhani and I know he would have whole-heartedly joined Paul and Ringo in completing the recording of Now and Then.”

“It was incredibly touching to hear them working together after all the years that Dad had been gone," says Sean Ono Lennon. "It’s the last song my dad, Paul, George and Ringo got to make together. It’s like a time capsule and all feels very meant to be.”

 (© Apple Corps Ltd)
(© Apple Corps Ltd)

This last instalment of The Beatles’ recorded history will be followed by new editions of the two compilation albums always seen as the definitive introduction to their work. Since their 1973 debuts, 1962-1966 (The Red Album) and 1967-1970 (The Blue Album) collections have ushered countless listeners of all ages, from all parts of the world, into lifelong Beatles fandom.

Expanded for their new 2023 Edition releases (out November 10), the collections together span The Beatles’ entire recorded canon with 75 standout tracks, from their first single, Love Me Do, to their last, Now and Then. The collections’ 21 newly-added tracks (twelve on Red, and nine on Blue) showcase even more of The Beatles’ very best songs.

Now and Then is unveiled on November 2 at 2pm, followed by a full release on November 3; preorder/pre-save Now And Then/Love Me Do double A-side single here. The Beatles’ 1962-1966 (The Red Album) and 1967-1970 (The Blue Album) Collections expanded, mixed in stereo & Dolby Atmos for 2023 edition is released on November 10