Meaning of The Beatles’ Now and Then
To note, The Beatles have officially been disbanded since 1970. But considering that they are by far one of the most-successful acts in music industry history, that reality has not stopped them from releasing a number of live, compilation, mash-up and anthology albums since. Furthermore, a couple of the members of the Fab Four went on to have notable solo careers. One of such individuals, John Lennon (1940-1980), wrote and originally laid down a demo of Now and Then back in 1977, intending it to be one of his solo outings. However, he never got around to finishing the track.
Fast forward to 1994 and Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, handed a couple of his personal tapes, featuring a few songs that John never properly finished or released, to Paul McCartney. This was around the time that the surviving Beatles, i.e. McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison (1943-2001), were assembling the massive multimedia project which came to be known as The Beatles Anthology.
Said project consists of three full-length compilation albums. So amongst the songs that Ono submitted to Macca, The Beatles proceeded to rework and release Free as a Bird on Anthology 1 (1995) and Real Love on Anthology 2 (1996).
Now and Then was scheduled to make its way onto Anthology 3, which also came out in 1996. But according to Olivia Harrison, i.e. George Harrison’s widow, her husband deemed the demo to be in too poor of a state to be rectified for mainstream release. Moreover, The Beatles’ mid-1990s reunion proved to be short-lived. However, Paul kept this song close to his heart throughout the years, and Olivia, somewhat superstitiously, later came to believe that her late husband approved of it from beyond the grave. So it was eventually released, under the production of McCartney and Giles Martin (the son of the late George Martin, who served as The Beatles’ primary producer) on 2 November 2023 through Apple Corps (aka Apple Records), the label the Fab Four founded in 1968.
This track was released alongside a short documentary titled Now and Then – The Last Beatles Song. Apple Records has also designated the track as such, due to this being the final recording in which the entire Fab Four participated. In other words, even though Harrison did not approve while he was alive, his guitar contributions have been included on the track posthumously. Meanwhile, Lennon and McCartney hold down lead vocals, with the latter also playing a number of instruments, as does Ringo who, most notably, holds down the drums. So considering that both John and George are now long gone, coupled with the fact that The Beatles’ recordings have already been exhaustively issued throughout the decades, they aren’t likely to drop yet another single. And to note, the Fab Four’s last single prior to Now and Then was the aforementioned Real Love in 1996.
The Success of “Now and Then”
This track hit most notably in The Beatles’ homeland, where Now and Then topped the UK Singles Chart. Doing so marked the 18th time the Fab Four has achieved that feat, in that regard making them the second-most successful act in the chart’s history behind Elvis Presley.
The last time The Beatles reached the summit of the UK Singles Chart was in 1969 via The Ballad of John and Yoko, which was 54 years ago. As such, they have now broken the record for the act with the longest gap between UK Singles Chart toppers.
This song also proved particularly successful in Japan, where it reached the summit of Oricon’s Rock Singles chart. It also had a sound showing stateside, peaking (and debuting) at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. And overall Now and Then charted in about 30 countries, a feat made even more amazing considering the fact that The Beatles’ heyday was over 50 years ago, and the band’s two surviving members are both concurrently octogenarians.
The completion of this track was ultimately made possible through the utilization of AI.
Peter Jackson directed the music video to Now and Then. He was also the one who spearheaded the aforenoted technological restoration of the song, while directing The Beatles: Get Back, a documentary that came out in 2021.
One way of imagining the premise behind this track is as the vocalist and addressee being in an on-again/off-again relationship. Or in the very least, as far as the chorus goes, the singer comes off as if he is not granted as much time with the person he loves as he would prefer.
In all honesty, the featured narrative isn’t necessarily linear, i.e. a single idea being discernibly relayed throughout. Or let’s say that whereas it is obvious that John and Paul “miss” the person they’re singing to, it is not clear if the addressee is actually absent or if that assertion is a poetic way of saying that they long for her every moment she’s not around. Perhaps we can also imagine that what the vocalist is contending with is the fear of being abandoned by his sweetheart. And based on the first verse, this may once again be because the two of them occasionally have issues which drive them apart.
But all theorizing aside, the thesis sentiment of Now and Then does come across very effectively. This is a love song and, concerning the title, one in which the singer is looking forward to perpetuating his romance with the addressee into the future. And it has been speculated that the lyrics are based on the relationship between John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who had gone through at least one notable breakup during their marriage.