Is It Really Fair to Call “Now and Then” the Last Beatles Song?

Does a song that's been pieced together with AI really count?

George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, circa 1965.
George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, circa 1965.
Bettmann Archive

Fab Four fans have been clamoring for “Now and Then,” what’s being described as “the final Beatles song” for decades now. Work on the track began back in 1994, when Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison reunited to flesh out some old John Lennon demos that Yoko Ono unearthed for their Anthology project. Those sessions produced “Real Love” and “Free as a Bird,” but “Now and Then” was ultimately scrapped at the time due to poor audio quality on Lennon’s original demo.

Now, however, thanks to new AI technology that director Peter Jackson introduced to McCartney, Lennon’s vocals were able to be isolated from the fuzz and the piano of the original demo recording, allowing his surviving bandmates to lay down some new drum, bass, guitar and vocal tracks and add in the guitar tracks that Harrison recorded for the song back in the ’90s. Voila, the last Beatles song ever! But is it really that simple?

Is there a difference between “a song that has recordings of all four Beatles on it” and “a Beatles song”? It doesn’t feel entirely fair to call a song that has been Frankenstein-ed together from a demo that Lennon recorded years after the Beatles broke up — in 1978, to be exact — a Beatles song. Lennon likely had no intention of it being a Beatles song, and while McCartney and Starr can speculate as to whether or not he’d be into the idea of them reworking what was likely the beginning of a Lennon solo track, there’s obviously no way of knowing for certain.

“Is it something we shouldn’t do? Every time I thought like that I thought, wait a minute, let’s say I had a chance to ask John: ‘Hey John, would you like us to finish this last song of yours?’ I’m telling you, I know the answer would have been: ‘Yeah!’” McCartney insists on the making-of short film accompanying “Now and Then.” That sounds nice enough, but there’s no changing the fact that Lennon clearly never initially intended for this to be a Beatles song. Would it be fairer to call it a John Lennon song featuring contributions from his former bandmates?

Whatever you want to call it, “Now and Then” is still admittedly a significant piece of musical history in that it marks the last time we’ll hear Lennon, McCartney, Starr and Harrison all together on the same track. You can listen to it below.

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