By Mayank Chhaya –
What mitigates the charming averageness of the much-anticipated last official Beatles song ‘Now and Then’ released today is that it follows some of the most astoundingly memorable music in world history created by the iconic four.
If John Lenon’s tentative composition was released around the time it was composed in 1978, it may not have been celebrated as a truly great number in the context of so many other masterful Beatles creations. But because it is officially the last of their songs to which all four have contributed, albeit decades apart, it acquires a little extra poignancy.
Don’t get me wrong. It is a charming song. As an admirer of the Beatles since my mid-teens, I should be allowed to be only tepidly enthusiastic about some of their work. ‘Now and Then’ falls in that category. One celebrates it for the historic trimmings around it as being the final Beatles song. The quality of the composition is almost secondary to that celebration.
The first Beatles song that I heard was ‘Come Together’ in 1973 on a purple cassette tape brought to Ahmedabad by my brother from America along with a Sanyo stereo. After that first one, there was no stopping listening to the Beatles. Us siblings became minor celebrities in Ahmedabad’s Sharda Kunj society because we were the only family then playing the Beatles, whom our immediate neighbors deferentially referred to as “Beatle Brothers’. My point is my engagement with the band is now 50 years old and that gives me a right to make a couple of less than sanguine observations about the greatest rock band in history.
‘Now and Then’ had been in the making for 45 years. Some 15 years after John Lennon’s murder in New York on December 8, 1980, the remaining three, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr tried to release the song after polishing it up but did not release it then. Harrison even recorded the guitar piece for it 1995. However, he passed away in 2001 once again pushing it back to cupboard. One of the main challenges was the quality of Lennon’s demo tape with its irritating ambient sound, including a hiss as well as television playing in the backdrop.
It was not until 2021 when the filmmaker Peter Jackson used artificial intelligence for his acclaimed documentary about the band ‘The Beatles: Get Back’. It was during the documentary’s making that Jackson managed to isolate Lennon’s vocal and remove the hissing and scratching. Eventually, the two surviving Beatles, McCartney and Starr who finished it last year.
The song’s lyrics are not particularly remarkable. They go “Now and then / I miss you / Oh, now and then / I want you to be there for me / Always to return to me.” However, with a historic legacy of 45 years since composition and the journey it went through Lennon’s murder and Harrison’s passing, not to mention the breakup of the band, the song will naturally acquire gravitas beyond its intrinsic merit.
Listening to it for the first time this afternoon, it instantly revived many of my Beatles’ memories of the last 50 years. It was unusual because for someone growing up in the Ahmedabad of the 1960s and 70s becoming so familiar with them was far from common among those around me. It was my late brother Trilochan who introduced us to the Beatles without really overtly doing so. He just played their songs and the three of us, sister Pallavi, brother Manoj and I naturally took to them as if we were always meant to do so.
Every now and then I randomly say, “Strange days, indeed” and “Most peculiar, mama” from John Lennon’s wonderful 1984 hit ‘Nobody told me’, even though it is not a Beatles song in the strictest sense of the word.
‘Now and Then’ is as good a dénouement as any to a splendidly peerless legacy in rock music.
[Photo: John Lennon, painted by Mayank Chhaya ]