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The Mysterious Last Lennon - McCartney Beatle Song: Now and Then
I suppose many Beatle fans like myself have never heard of "Now and Then". I initially thought it was from some BBC recording from the sixties. Lennon and McCartney created many songs they wrote for others and those that they were never recorded for whatever reason.
Now and Then
The mystery about "Now and Then" is that it was part of the Beatle Anthology series in 1994-5 that did produce John's 1978 songs, Free as a Bird and Real Love. When the remaining Beatles arranged them and recorded them with John's cassette recording demo, both went to the #1 spot on Billboard. It was a bit weird as Ringo noted while sitting in the recording studio adding tracks to John's recordings before he was killed in 1980. Emotions ran high once they were controlled, Paul, George and Ringo, went to work. As Ringo noted, "We just decided that John was on holiday and left us these tracks to complete. He did this on the Revolver LP when he was filming, "How I Won the War".
The difference was John had used a cheapo cassette player and this created a hum noise on the recordings and John's vocals were very tinny. John's wife, Yoko, in 1994, gave Paul two cassettes full of John's demos- some completed, some not. One cassette contained Free as a Bird and Real Love. The second cassette contained Now and Then and Grow Old With Me. After Free as a Bird and Real Love were done and released, the boys began working on the hauntingly beautiful, Now and Then, a song John wrote to Paul (years after the bitterness of the breakup in 1970). It March 20-21, 1995. By the second day, George walked away, said the hum on the tape ruined it. In Paul's interview at the time, he just shrugged it off saying George was always like that. According the recording engineer, Jeff Lynn, they laid down some backing tracks and vocals. The song was suppose to be on Anthology 3, but was removed for no reason.
The Now and Then Saga Continues
That was the end of it until 2010 or so when rumors began to appear in the press and on the Internet. Paul to this day, continues to dismiss the song only admitting that some work was done back then but shelved. But McCartney was not telling the truth because between 2007-10, Paul and Ringo continued to work on it. Former Beatle engineers Ken Scott and Eddie Klein have both said in no uncertain terms the song is finished and sounds very Beatlish. All four Beatles are on the track according to Klein and Scott. Klein actually engineered the sessions when McCartney embellished and finished the song. Although George had died of cancer, Paul used guitar licks of his (or tried to use them). There were other songs of the Beatles still unfinished like "Carnival of Light" and a 27 min. version of their Led Zepplin sounding Helter Skelter (1968). This sound predates the first Zepplin LP in 1969.
In a BBC documentary in 2014, Paul mentions "Now and Then" among other Beatle projects but states nothing about its release. It’s one of the most beautiful songs John has ever written. Also, painful for he sings as if he was really missing someone. At first, you wonder if he is talking about Yoko, but in 1978, they were happily married and the lyrics are all about longing and missing someone "now and then". The chord progression is striking like John's " I Want You (she's so heavy)" from 1969. It is John's most sad song about a lost love and friend that made the incredible Lennon-McCartney duo. I am sure John was a bit embarrassed admitting how much he and Paul were still together at times. It is a very poignant and heartfelt song that is so sentimental about days past. Clearly, John in 1978, was missing how it was to some degree.
Adding to the mystery is that when Yoko gave the cassette to Paul, John had written on it, "For Paul". This was perhaps as close as John would admit that "Now and Then" was a love song to Paul. For this reason, it explains why McCartney continued to work on it from 2007-10. For Paul, it was the least thing he could do and in his own way, let John know he feels the same. Maybe, too, Paul is a bit embarrassed also, because anyone who listens to it knows who John is singing about. One could say that George walked out because of historic riff and jealousy between himself and the Lennon-McCartney team. George was only allowed 1-2 songs per LP. Human nature what it is, when George heard the recording, he just couldn't handle it after all, he was Beatle also but always considered the "lesser" talent.