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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Beatles’ ‘Now and Then’ stirs up plenty of memories in time for holidays

Tony Violanti
Tony Violanti

The holiday season is fraught with memories. Our thoughts are filled with different places, different times and different people.

The turkey for Thanksgiving dinner and the lights on a Christmas tree serve to remind us of a bygone past. Seasonal traditions have a way of kindling emotions for those we knew but are no longer with us.
The holidays can be a somber, nostalgic celebration but this year has brought a joyful, surprising musical journey to yesterday.
The Beatles – yes, the Beatles – are back with a new single called “Now and Then.”

This wondrous and mysterious recording arrives as the gift of the technology known as A.I. That means artificial intelligence and though – as John Lennon once sang – “nothing is real” there’s something about this musical work that is compellingly authentic.

Lennon died in 1980. George Harrison passed away in 2001. Paul McCartney is 81 and Ringo Starr 83. The Beatles split in 1970 in an acrimonious break up. From 1964’s “Meet the Beatles,” until 1970’s “Let It Be,” these four men and this band dominated popular music and culture.

For me, the Beatles and the ‘60s are one. I didn’t measure time on a calendar; I did by Beatles albums. I changed and grew, as did the Beatles music. I was a totally different person when I morphed from a kid hearing “Beatles 65” to an adult listening to “Abbey Road.”

As I look back, I can recapture lost feelings and memories when I hear songs like “Hold Me Tight” or “Here Comes the Sun.” The same is true for dozens of other Beatles’ records.

It was all so long ago, and yet, here we are in 2023 with a new Beatles song. Listening to “Now and Then” is akin to time traveling. Somehow, my old memories are melding with present-day reality. It’s an eerie yet comforting experience.
“Now and Then” is not a great Beatles record. I’m not sure it’s even a good one, but it’s a powerful, emotional song, enhanced by Lennon’s ghostly and melancholy vocal.
The sound falls somewhere between “Eleanor Rigby” and “Strawberry Fields.” The wonder of it all, is that we are able to listen to a new Beatles record today.
I still find it hard to believe.

The abbreviated story of the song begins with a cassette demo tape that Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, turned over to McCartney over three decades ago. McCartney kept it for years, and then, with the remarkable new A.I. technology, he and Ringo got together and turned Lennon’s scratchy vocal into a new, remarkably smooth and pure recording. Here is the video:

“Now and Then,” is Lennon at his most reflective. Like “In My Life,” Lennon – who could be funny, crude and cutting in lyrics—shows his tender side with a wistful, nostalgic mood.

“Now and then I miss you,” Lennon sings in a yearning voice, adding “I want you to be there for me.” He closes with “If I make it through/It’s all because of you.”

The orchestration fits the mood with lilting strings and a soft musical glow. The use of Harrison on acoustic guitar appears on the track, along with new contributions from McCartney and Starr.
Giles Martin, who helped with the record production, told USA Today the song is a “testament” to the other three Beatles.
Peter Jackson was the film director for the 2021 Beatles documentary “Get Back.” He played a major role in getting “Now and Then” made.
“(Peter) is convinced it’s a love letter to Paul,” Martin said. “Paul truly loved John and without question they missed each other…. I think that’s why Paul wanted to finish ‘Now and Then.’ It was seen as the final collaboration of the four of them.”
McCartney poured his talent and heart into the project.
“It’s very special for me to be singing with John again,” McCartney told BBC radio. “When we were in the studio, we had John’s voice in our ears so you could imagine he was just in the next room in a vocal booth or something and we were just working with him again so it was joyful.
“It was really lovely you know, because we hadn’t experienced that for a long time obviously and then suddenly here we were working with ol’ Johnny.”

“Now and Then” debuted at No. 1 on the music charts since it was released last week. This is 60 years after the Beatles first single (“From Me to You”) hit the top in 1963. It’s also the fastest-selling single of the year and most-streamed Beatles track in one week, according to the music publication NME.

I’m not sure what this all means. But I know this much: it’s not just a song and the Beatles are not just a band. This group and their music are the touchstone of my life.
Still, hearing this haunting song may bring back memories but it can’t bring back people no longer here. I wish – like Paul and Ringo –we could use A.I. to interact, and work with those who are gone. But all we have left are the memories and love that remains.

Maybe that’s the real power of music. McCartney described the experience of “Now and Then” this way: “It was kind of magical.”

Tony Violanti covers music and entertainment for Villages-News.com. He was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a music journalist.

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