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Can't Let It Be

A group’s break-up is no longer an impediment to the band’s – or, more to the point, the brand’s – ability to continue. KISS played what they claim was their final show on December 2 at Madison Square Garden, only to reveal at the end that avatars of the face-painted four will continue to tour, presumably until asteroids destroy the earth – but, knowing the longevity and marketing savvy of Gene Simmons, possibly long after that too. 

This follows ABBA’s use of ‘ABBAtars’ in the hugely successful ABBA Voyage virtual concert, which premiered last year. Crowds suspended disbelief, choosing to prefer a world where Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Frida were not rich retirees in their seventies, but still the smiley satin-clad, fresh-faced foursome from the ’70s we all remember.

And, most significantly, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones recently released two of the most talked-about records of the year. No, you have not just stepped out of a DeLorean to find it’s 1967. Yes, Mick and Keith are the last original Stones still standing ­– or, in the case of Keith, leaning. And yes, John Lennon and George Harrison are still dead. But when did little obstacles like these stop a franchise?

The release of Now And Then was one of the biggest music events of 2023, a foregone conclusion when something is billed as ‘the final Beatles song’. And, look, I got as teary-eyed and wistful as the next ageing man-fan when the Peter Jackson-directed mini-documentary about the making of the song was released in November.

Most die-hard Beatles fans knew the bones of the song already, a recording John Lennon made in the late ’70s with just piano, voice and a cassette recorder. Paul, George and Ringo tried to do something with it in the mid-’90s but nothing came of it, while two other exhumed recordings of Lennon’s – Free As A Bird and Real Love – were recorded and released.

The problem with Now And Then – apart from the fact that George reportedly didn’t like the song much in the first place – appeared to be trying to extract Lennon’s vocal from the demo and lift it away from the piano and tape hiss. Enter Peter Jackson, whose eight-hour Get Back documentary revealed him to be the most obsessive Beatles fan on God’s green Earth, and possibly Middle Earth too.

Using AI technology, he managed to isolate that vocal. Harrison died in 2001, but Paul and Ringo set to work, alongside producer Giles Martin, son of the late Beatles’ producer George Martin.


'I wondered if it might have been a better idea to offer the Lennon vocal to artists who were influenced by the Beatles and let them loose with it to see what they could come up with.'


And the result? Well, that’s where the arguments start, don’t they? People – and when I say people, of course I mean men of a certain age with an internet connection and too much time on their hands – started arguing about its merits or flaws.

Look, a) I’m a man of a certain age with an internet connection and too much time on my hands; b) I’m a very big Beatles fan; and c) I’m a nostalgic fool. But with that said, while Now And Then has a certain haunting quality that’s almost solely due to hearing John Lennon’s voice, I found the song a bit wet, maudlin and static.

It also comes from a period when, in my opinion, Lennon wasn’t at his creative peak. It’s worth noting that Double Fantasy, his final album that came from writing sessions around the time he wrote Now And Then, was largely panned when it was first released in November 1980. Many reviews were, in fact, scathing. It was only after his tragic death three weeks later that other negative reviews that were due to run were pulled, and posthumous reviews became overwhelmingly positive.

On top of this, although Now And Then is touted as a Beatles recording, with contributions from all of the fab four (including Harrison, who played guitar on an attempt to record the song in 1994), it’s all so gloopy in the mix that it’s difficult to tell who’s doing what.

I wondered if it might have been a better idea to offer the Lennon vocal to artists who were influenced by the Beatles and let them loose with it to see what they could come up with. I’d love to hear what US wunderkinds Lemon Twigs could have done with it. Or Andy Partridge of XTC. Or Canadian power pop veterans Sloan. Or Australia’s own Tame Impala. The list goes on and on.

One great thing that did happen in the wake of the song’s release was that cover versions started mushrooming on the internet. And, as is the nature of the world now, they began appearing within 24 hours of the song’s official release.

The pick of the bunch was by an LA cult musician named Timmy Sean. This is a man who recreated Wings’ Live And Let Die by playing and singing everything himself, and wrote and recorded an ’80s-styled rock opera called Tale From The Other Side, inspired by Stranger Things.  

His take on Now And Then reimagines the song as if it’s 1965, and The Beatles are in the Help! era. It’s vibrant, vital, sparky, and a hell of a lot more of a good time than the official version. It does something that McCartney and co tried to do with Now And Then, but fell short. It makes the Beatles sound alive again.




Barry Divola is an author, musician and journalist who writes regularly for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. His latest book is the novel Driving Stevie Fracasso. Follow his writing at: authory.com/BarryDivola

Main image: John Lennon and Paul McCartney (Disney)

Topic tags: Barry Divola, Beatles, Paul MCCartney, John Lennon, Now and Then, AI



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