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The Student News Site of The American School in Japan

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The Student News Site of The American School in Japan

HANABI

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“The End” of the Beatles

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Fifty-three years after their breakup, the last Beatles song, “Now and Then,” was released on November 3rd, 2023. Originally a never-to-be-finished rough draft written by John Lennon, the song has bridged both old and new fans together. From four boys in Liverpool to a global sensation, the Beatles made a mark on history throughout the 1960s, revolutionizing rock and inspiring musicians, even after their end.

The Beatles first formed in 1960 with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best. Ringo Starr would replace Best in 1962, forming the classic and last lineup of the band. The group began their career writing silly love songs like “Please Please Me” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” reflecting their young innocence.

Building off the foundations of American rock, the Beatles quickly rose to popularity in England and once broadcasted on American television, spread to the US. Beatlemania—a term used to describe the band’s euphoric fan devotion—catapulted them into household name status. 

Across the 1960s, the Beatles went through numerous changes as the four members blossomed into their own individual artists, each possessing a unique flair. As all things must pass, the chemistry of the band eventually faded as it was no longer the brotherhood it once was before. It became a group of independent musicians simply collaborating on each other’s songs. Their era as the Beatles came to an end, and the once tight-knit group of boys went on to pursue their separate solo careers.

Lennon left behind an unfinished demo version of “Now and Then,” recorded in the late 70s, just before his death in 1980. Given to McCartney in 1994, the plan was for the band to release it after some modifications, much like they did with Lennon’s other posthumous works, “Free As A Bird,” and “Real Love.” However, this plan never materialized because Harrison deemed the work “rubbish” for the public. Despite their best efforts, the three remaining Beatles, along with producer Jeff Lyne, found it difficult to salvage the disjointed “Now and Then.” The vocals and piano tracks were lodged together and proved nearly impossible to use. The song was shelved shortly after, remaining a bittersweet memory of Lennon. 

Nearly three decades after Harrison’s death in 2001, McCartney and Starr revisited the forgotten song. Leveraging new technology, the pair successfully separated Lennon’s previously fused vocals and piano tracks. They then added their own bass and drums, accompanied by Harrison’s guitar lines from the 1990s. The song was also produced by Giles Martin, the son of George Martin, who was not only the Beatles’ sole producer, but often considered the fifth member of the band. Working on the song turned out to be a long-awaited reunion for all members of the band. It was a reunion that allowed for the flame of friendship within the Beatles and their beloved colleagues to be relit.

“It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room,” Starr said in 2023, referring to the collaborative effort to build on Lennon’s unfinished work. The song provided an opportunity for reconciliation, addressing past tensions that marred the recording of the Let it Be album and the “Get Back” documentary, ultimately prompting the band’s break up. Although not all members were physically present, the song offered the closure needed to acknowledge the end of their time together and the future of the band, replacing the previous disbandment that left all members with a strained relationship.

“My god, how lucky was I to have those men in my life,” said McCartney in a 2023 interview, reminiscing on his time with the Beatles and reflecting on writing with the band once again.

Teased only a few weeks prior to its release, “Now and Then” was released as a single alongside a remastered version of their debut single, “Love Me Do,” on November 3rd, 2023. The song immediately captured public attention, with streaming services like Spotify creating special promotional features for the Beatles. It garnered fairly positive reactions from fans, both old and new, providing a space for unity under the Beatles’ title rather than remaining divided into separate subgroups of fandom.

The song starts with a “One, two, three four…” by McCartney, similar to how he began, “I Saw Her Standing There,” the band’s starting track on their debut album, Please Please Me, in 1963. Lennon’s vocals and piano track follow shortly after. Despite Lennon and Harrison’s absence, the song pays tribute to the Beatles’ legacy, incorporating each member’s distinct element.

Like a standard Beatles song, there is a classic Beatles vocal harmonization accompanied by McCartney’s signature bass lines and Starr’s drums. Lennon’s influence lives on as the song retains a Lennon-like song melody even with the add-ons and his missing physical presence. And because Harrison was part of the 1990s attempt to salvage the song, McCartney honors him with a Harrison-like slide guitar solo. A strings arrangement, reminiscent of iconic Beatles songs like “A Day in the Life,” was also added.

The song’s wistful and bittersweet lyrics illustrate Lennon’s simple yet vast and everlasting love for his former bandmates. “And now and then if we must start again / Well we will know for sure that I will love you,” sings Lennon in a chilling yet comforting tone, expressing that, no matter the timeline, fate binds the Beatles together—a message that highlights the inseparable bond amongst the bandmates that only they can truly understand. As a whole, the song speaks to the enduring strength of love, highlighting how it can persist even after separation. 

“Now and Then” serves as a final goodbye to the Beatles’ era but also as a modern beginning, uniting listeners as one. Though there may not be upcoming Beatles songs, the band lives on through their influence on past and future artists. “Now and Then” stands as the Beatles’ last effort to spread their original message: “In the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”

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Hi, my name is Elizabeth and I am a sophomore. I’m interested in rock music, philosophy and reading!

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