Last Beatles Song?
"We all play on it, it’s a genuine Beatles recording. ” Paul McCartney
Is Now and Then a 'genuine Beatles recording'?
|via Henry Grossman/Wikimedia Commons and Apple Corps|
For Paul McCartney the defining component is the presence of all four Beatles in the final mix. This may be stretching a point in that only John Lennon recorded the de facto master tape, namely the demo cassette recorded in his apartment.
It is true that The Beatles recording process was often fragmented. Though they largely recorded early tracks ‘as live’, improvements in multi-tracking meant that they later relied heavily of recording segments which were later assembled in collaboration with the Abbey Road engineers.
Frequently, two or three band members would work on a particular track. Some recordings, like Yesterday (Paul) and Love You Too (George) had only one of the four on the final recording, while three contributed to Free as a Bird during the Anthology sessions.
Few, however, would claim that Yesterday is a more genuine Beatles record than any of the three songsreleased after the breakup. The central problem is consent but there is also a question mark over the authenticity of the later recordings.
Mixing and matching different recorded segments became central to The Beatles approach to studio recording. This allowed flexibility but relied on trust and consent.
Lennon was always suspicious of what he used to call 'George Martin jiggery pokery'. Assembling segments from various sound sources across decades might fit this description.
Of course it is George Martin's son at the sound desk in 2022 - and he does a remarkable job. Lennon's reedy vocal from 1978 now rings out like we are in the room. Behind it are a patchwork of soundscapes, including harmonies from the early Sixties, George's guitar from 1994 and bass and drums added last year.
Does this alchemy produce a Beatles track? What I hear in Now and Then is an intriguing outtake from the post-Beatles solo period. More like an extra track for Plastic Ono Band or Imagine than anything before 1970
Consent from absent friends?
With Anthology - the consent question was blurred for the 'new' tracks. Yoko gave the others access to the unfinished songs - the legal and (arguably) the moral right to use them.
George Harrison publicly signed off on “Real Love” and “Free As A Bird” but was reputedly skeptical about "Now and Then" ("fucking rubbish").
Legal permission was of course given by his wife Olivia. She seems confident this what he would have wanted. Perhaps - but doubts remain. The unwritten rule was that all releases had to be agreed by all of the band members.
Trust over such musical matters had broken down. Would John have approved of Paul finishing his track? In 1962 - quite possibly. But in 2023?
And in the End
A final quibble is over labelling Now and Then the 'last Beatles song'. Surely this should bitter-sweet distinction should be awarded to a track from Abbey Road — the album all four Beatles strived to make a worthy farewell. And what better swan-song than the Medley?
Disqualifying Her Majesty on a technicality (hidden track not listed on first pressing) we arrive at the perfect sendoff:
And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make
Extended discussion of this topic here - 4 min free read