Still from the Peter Jackson-directed video for the Beatles' "Now and Then" showing Paul McCartney listening to playback.

New Beatles: Now And Then

Video: Beatles – “Now And Then”

Directed by Peter Jackson. Single out now.

Like millions of other teenagers in 1964 my mom bought the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” single after she saw them on the Ed Sullivan show. I still have her copy.

I’ve loved the Beatles for as long as I can remember but the weekend after John Lennon was murdered, I went to Pando to learn to ski and as I went up and down the bunny hill the loudspeakers were blaring a local radio station that was playing nonstop Beatles music in memoriam. That’s the first time I heard “I am the Walrus” and that’s when they became my favorite band. I was nine.

Paul McCartney has mourned the loss of John Lennon for over forty years. To see him and Ringo in this new Peter Jackson-directed video interacting with their old friends (and old selves) is touching in a way that surprised me. I’ve gotten old and grumpy. I wasn’t even particularly excited about the idea of a “new” “Beatles” song. I had heard John’s original demo. It was dreary.

And I had already been fooled by “Free as a Bird.” It sucked. And “Real Love” was unnecessary; the version on Imagine: John Lennon (1988) was better. So now Paul has resurrected the third song from those 1995 sessions, the song that they abandoned because George thought it was “fucking rubbish.” How could it possibly be anything but embarrassing?

Well it turns out it’s pretty good.

Through demixing technology they were able to isolate John’s vocal from the piano on his shitty cassette and clean it up with the same A.I. that Peter Jackson’s team used so successfully on the audio footage in Get Back. They released a 12-minute film about how they did it.

None of that would matter if the song was rubbish. And it’s not. Not anymore. Paul ditched John’s terrible, unfocused bridge and an unfinished second verse. And those edits make the song better. Way better. Plus there’s a pretty, George Martin-esque orchestral score and a slide guitar solo that Paul plays in the style of George Harrison, another tribute to an old pal. There’s a lot of love put into this. As Stephen Thomas Erlewine put it, “a way of communing with the departed.”

And the video plays on all of that. It seems like this kind of CGI would be goofy but it works. There’s a scene where 80-year-old Paul is listening to a playback and you can see his emotions in his face, see him playing back memories in his mind. You want so badly for him to be able to hang out and goof off with his young friends again like he can in this video. You can tell that Paul misses those guys so much and misses making music with them. Peter Jackson’s video gives him (and us) the opportunity to visualize it. It takes the past and mixes it up with the present in a way that can only exist in our imagination.

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Video: The Last Beatles Song (Short Film)


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