Or, a rose by any other name
So I want to talk about this song, which I called a Beatles song in the title for good old SEO purposes and because everyone is doing it. But I must confess to being somewhat disingenuous. I don’t think of it as a true Beatles song; it’s a Lennon song that features all four Beatles.
At this point, more than ever in the past fifty years, and especially in the past two with the reserves of long-form information to which we’ve been granted access, a lot of people have a pretty good picture of the extraordinary conditions in which the Beatles as a unit made music. I don’t know how much Beatles knowledge the average person is walking around with because I’ve never related to the Beatles in an average way. But I would venture to guess that, certainly in the wake of Get Back, that mean knowledge (‘mean’ being statistical average) has jumped into another percentile. Similar to the way the mean age of marriage has jumped because, as Florence Pugh says in Little Women, marriage is an economic proposition, and as the Beatles themselves say in “You Never Give Me Your Money,” kids today are “out of college, money’s spent / see no future, pay no rent.”
I’m not saying people wouldn’t otherwise have cared about a so-called new Beatles song. But more people cared more than might otherwise have happened. And besides, it was thanks to Peter Jackson’s team and technology that a project that had languished for going on thirty years came to fruition at all.
Despite its foundation being a demo John made in the early ‘70s, the final recording sounds very 2022, which hits my ear most plainly in the production on the piano. All the way through, I get the impression of four contributions, four parts, which do not necessarily make the whole we’re accustomed to. Ringo is as consistent as ever, but his playing doesn’t sound the way it sounds on a Beatles track. The way they managed to recreate a solo George is truly impressive, but it’s just that: a recreation. And even the most emotional aspect for me—past-John and present-Paul singing together—does not represent the Beatles as we know them. If anything, I think the thing the most evokes the Beatles era is Giles Martin’s string arrangement.
It’s a special work, and I’m glad it exists and that they saw it through. I just wouldn’t call it a Beatles song.
The melody isn’t particularly interesting, although it is typical of John’s work in that period. (You know what else isn’t particularly interesting? “Imagine.”) The lyrics, uncannily but perhaps inevitably, give us exactly what we would want from a last statement on (if not from) the Beatles: gratitude, memory, nostalgia. Still, even they didn’t create a strong sense of attachment for me, not to the extent that the story of the genesis of the track did. Seeing the short film and watching it come together (hehe) hit home in a way that several listens, so far, have not. Which only goes to show that, whatever individual listeners believe the song may lack, the whole signifies something greater to us collectively.
I applaud everyone who worked to give us this song. Let’s be honest, I would listen to these four in any combination under any name. And now and then, I want them to be there for me. They’ve never not been.
P.S. In my defense, Google’s predictive text when you type in ‘now and then’ is ‘song by John Lennon.’ Predictive text is known for its limitations and weird logic, but sometimes the logic works in your favor.
Image: released 2 November 2023, Apple