When The Beatles’ Anthology albums were released in the mid-1990s, there was a palpable sense of surprise and excitement that two songs featuring the entire group had been completed for inclusion. Twenty-eight years on, “Now And Then,” the other track they worked on but abandoned, has come to life as the final Beatles single, summoning the best elements of modern technology to create an even more momentous closing chapter in pop’s greatest story.
The song is accompanied by a documentary film written and directed by Oliver Murray, and a music video overseen by Get Back docuseries director Peter Jackson. It will also take its place on the newly-expanded editions of The Beatles’ famous “Red” (1962-1966) and “Blue” (1967-1970) compilations.
Giles Martin, who co-produced “Now And Then” with Paul McCartney, is fully aware of the emotional and cultural significance surrounding the release. As Beatles aficionados have long known, John Lennon made a piano-and-vocal demo recording of the song in the mid-to-late 1970s on cassette, labeled “For Paul.”
Yoko Ono found the tape and gave it to McCartney before the Anthology project, but much as Paul, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and producer Jeff Lynne tried to finish the song for presentation as a third single to follow “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love,” the demo’s sonic limitations made that impossible.
The extraordinary technological advancements of recent years brought a new opportunity that was taken up by Paul, who worked with Martin on the new “Now And Then,” with his and Ringo’s new instrumental contributions augmenting their earlier parts with George, and their vocals adding to John’s now dramatically improved original.
“This was the other track they were working on at the time,” says Martin, “and I think they just got frustrated. I know George did, because the source material was so bad. Now, it sounds better than they had for ‘Free As A Bird.’ George probably thought, ‘We’ve done two, and this one’s really hard to do,’ so I think he said, ‘Let’s call it a day on this one.’
“[That’s] Not because the song isn’t good,” he continues. “The song is lovely, the tune is great, and very memorable as well. And just the subject matter – I spoke to Peter Jackson about it, [that] it’s kind of a love letter to Paul, in a way. That’s what’s so sweet about it, in the way that Paul wrote ‘Here Today’ [about John, on his 1982 album Tug Of War]. There’s a massive poignancy about it, obviously.”
The new version was the beneficiary of the miraculous studio advancements made on recent Beatles releases. “Paul was obviously aware of the De-mix stuff we did with Revolver, and in the making of Get Back,” notes Martin. “He had ‘Now And Then’ in his vault anyway because they did the original recording with Jeff in Paul’s studio in Rye [in Sussex]. Paul played me what he was doing and asked me about it. I had an opinion about the direction, and we just started working on it together. So Paul had done quite a bit of work before I came to the table.”
He goes on: “Paul was wary, as he should be. He didn’t want to be corny in any way. He had been ‘vaguely thinking strings might be a good thing,’ so we did a string arrangement. Then I went over to L.A. to Capitol, and we changed the arrangement to fit in with what Paul thought was the best thing to do. Then we recorded it, and I put the backing vocals on at the same time.”
The De-Mix technology, as explained by Abbey Road Studios, uses algorithms trained on target instruments to extract those components, making vocal isolation or removal possible for the first time. In this case, says Martin, “Once we’d got John’s voice sounding really good, it became more powerful, as John’s voice is, and more poignant, in a way. We had more instrumentation originally, and we changed that. It was a nice organic process.”
He is also happy to allay any fears that Beatles diehards may have about the new techniques. “With this De-mix thing, one of the golden rules we have is that nothing is changed or taken away. That it remains pure, if you like. That there’s no digital transience going on, there’s no sampling or anything like that. That’s really important, because you’ve got to hear the sound of The Beatles, their heart and soul. ‘An A.I. track’ sounds like someone’s typed ‘Beatles’ into a computer, and A.I.’s come up with this. This is so far from the truth.”
Further using his new tools, Martin was able to expand the new voices with backing vocals woven in from the Beatles classics “Here, There And Everywhere,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and “Because.” He knew which ones he wanted. “I know what key we’re in,” he says. “I’m pretty good on keys and remembering that sort of stuff. Then you hope it’s going to work, and quite often it doesn’t, so you do it again. I wanted to hear the sound of The Beatles’ harmonies on it.”
For Giles, this was almost back to where he came in with his first Beatles assignment, when he created a new and elaborate mix for the Love album and live show, unveiled in 2006. “This is quite future-leaning in the same way as the Love show,” he agrees, adding with a laugh that, at the time, he fully expected to incur the wrath of purists. “When we opened that,” he reveals, “I genuinely thought that my house would probably get firebombed.”
The release of “Now and Then” seizes upon its title by presenting the first and last Beatles singles as a double A-side, also featuring the new mix of 1962’s “Love Me Do.” “With this new technology,” says Martin, “we can mix something like ‘Love Me Do,’ which, for the version with Ringo on it, we only have as the vinyl. So we’re creating a multi-track of a vinyl [disc], and it does sound good; it makes a difference. Wait until you hear ‘Twist And Shout’ or ‘I Saw Her Standing There.’ It’s really bonkers. It’s like the band are in the room. I think for me, it’s the most interesting mix stuff I’ve done.”
The “Red” and “Blue” collections, now mixed in stereo and Dolby Atmos, also take Martin back to his earliest awareness of the towering catalog that the group created with his father, George, as their producer. “For a lot of people of my generation, I know it sounds heresy to say it, but these are their favorite Beatles albums,” he laughs. “It’s been really interesting doing them, because I’m of that generation where I know the running order; I know what’s coming next because we listened to them so much.
“The thing I’ve been surprised about is that I always have this massive reticence to touch any of the early material,” he concludes. “There’s no way I’d have been able to touch it, I don’t know, a year ago, maybe. Now, I genuinely think this early material is completely groundbreaking in the way it sounds.”