(November 4, 2023). Now is the time for Beatles’ and their fans’ redemption.
No matter how you might feel about Sir Paul McCartney’s decision to pull one more long-lost tape out of the John Lennon vault and convert it—with the use of AI—to the “final song” by the Fab Four.
Or how you might process the fact that when that song, called “Now and Then,” was released earlier this week, half of the Beatles had been deceased for more than two decades (in Lennon’s case, four) and one of those—George Harrison—had expressed his displeasure with the original demo of “Now and Then” when the surviving Beatles first contemplated resurrecting it nearly three decades ago.
No matter how much you might have been hoping that, instead of another wistful, plodding ballad like “Free As a Bird” or “Real Love,” we’d get something a little closer to Lennon’s festive material (á la his two No. 1 solo hits, “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” or “Starting Over”).
It doesn’t even matter if you’re not one of several men or women who’ve been reduced to tears upon first seeing the song’s video (I won’t say whether and when I fell into that category).
If you’re a true fan of the former mop-topped lads from Liverpool, whose surviving members—McCartney and Ringo Star—are both now in their 80s, or if you’re simply a lover of history and tradition, then you must purchase, stream or download “Now and Then,” you must do it in droves, and you must do it now!
No, this isn’t a plug to support a money grab by Apple Records or Universal Music Group, the Beatles’ label and its current distributor, respectively. Neither those labels nor any of the Beatles or their estates really need the cash (and this blogger certainly doesn’t have any personal ties to them).
This also isn’t about whether the song actually belongs in the repertoire of countless Beatles classics John, Paul, George and Ringo delivered when they actually were the Beatles more than half a century ago.
This is about something else.
This is about twenty-one.
For more than 53 years, the Beatles have been stuck at 20. That’s 20 No. 1 singles in America beginning with 1964’s “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and ending with “The Long and Winding Road” in June 1970.
It’s time to get them that 21st No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, and this is our last chance to do it!
As much as fans didn’t want to admit it in 1970 (actually, I was a four-year-old boy who was oblivious to it all at the time), “The Long and Winding Road” was a fitting end to the Beatles. It was the poignant, if not paradoxical, finish to what had actually been a very short and bumpy road for the Fab Four, though it may have seemed long to them.
Still, it was the sendoff that felt right at the time and for many years afterwards. The lushly produced ballad was their goodbye not only to themselves but to their millions of fans who spent the next ten years praying to whatever gods they believed in for a Beatles reunion, resigning themselves to that road’s dead-end when John’s life was snuffed from us in December 1980.
Plus it was that 20th No. 1 single that, in 1970, seemed insurmountable (only Elvis and the Supremes had even come close with 17 and 12, respectively, with neither of them adding to those totals since).
Then came several events and milestones that changed the course of history.
First, the Beatles themselves went and gave us those first posthumous Lennon do-overs, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” in 1995-96.
While both were passable songs, do Beatles fans and historians actually count them among the band’s greats?
More pointedly, how many of you even remember how those two songs sound?
“Free” (No. 6 peak) and “Real” (No. 11) both charted respectably here, with the former giving the Beatles their first top-10 hit in nearly 20 years (since a retrospective release of 1966’s “Got to Get You Into My Life” reached No. 6 in 1976).
But they also changed the arc of Beatles history.
No longer was “The Long and Winding Road” that poignant capper to a career that should’ve ended with its release in 1970.
Now that finish was “Real Love,” a tune that wasn’t a goodbye song. A tune that Lennon never intended the Beatles to do…one that didn’t even make the top ten, at a time when there were arguably still enough diehard fans around to make that happen.
In the decades since, we’ve watched many Beatles chart accomplishments be toppled by younger superstars like Drake and Taylor Swift in the download and streaming era, clearly technologies the Fab Four never benefited from (even with the two singles in the ‘90s).
Both Drake and Swift have obliterated a mark that was once thought to be unfathomable: the Beatles’ occupation of the entire top five of the Hot 100 during a single week (with Taylor having owned the entire top ten a year ago with the blast of songs from her Midnights album). Each new album’s release further pads those millenials’ totals and garners Beatle-esque headlines and more unfair chart comparisons.
Even the Fab Four’s once otherworldly total of 20 No. 1 tunes has been under a serious threat by the Queen of Christmas herself, Mariah Carey who, with 19 chart-toppers under her belt, remains just one prominent featured guest spot away from another No. 1 tying the Beatles’ record. (Her 19th, btw, the perennial “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” also owes its chart-topping status to streaming.)
For all those fans of the pre-streaming era who dismiss any comparison between the Beatles and today’s artists as an apples-and-oranges scenario, you’re absolutely right… and this is your chance at redemption.
This is the chance to make the Beatles’ new record the event of the year, to get them that 21st No. 1 single that no one thought would ever happen, especially in 2023.
Especially in the streaming era!
This is your chance to make today’s technology work in favor of Beatles’ history, and with a song that is more befitting of reaping those benefits than either of the two earlier from-the-vault singles, both because of its own use of technology and because the song is just better, IMHO.
“Now and Then” has been touted as the last letter from John to Paul. Whether that’s true or not, it certainly has the feel of one. And the song’s post production gives it that same psychedelic pop ballad feel that the band’s true last single, “The Long and Winding Road” had 53 years ago.
Number one for “Now and Then” is not outside the realm of possibility.
As of this typing, the track has been No. 1 on the iTunes chart since its Nov. 2 release (even surpassing the blitz of new songs by former BTS member Jungkook). Those downloads will count toward the Hot 100 calculations with the Beatles likely debuting early on the chart dated November 11 (due to its off-cycle Thursday release) with its first full week’s impact reflecting on the Nov. 18 list.
Also, the two official videos for “Now and Then” have been streamed more than 17 million times worldwide in just two days, with the U.S. fraction of that also counting towards the Hot 100.
The sales of the song’s vinyl single (via the Beatles website), plus radio play and streaming through platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and others, will also be factored into the chart placement of “Now and Then.”
Even Beatles fans who believe the band’s legacy is secure and who don’t care about today’s charts might appreciate that the vinyl “Now and Then” release is an actual bookend of the band’s career, a double A-sided single with the stereo-ized remastering of their very first song, 1962’s “Love Me Do.”
With all of that said, there will be many more Taylor Swift and Drake moments. Swift’s are happening too fast to even keep up with at this point. Drake, with 13 No. 1 singles and 13 No. 1 albums, looks like a sure bet to eventually match and surpass the Beatles’ marks in both categories (20 and 19, respectively).
Sending “Now and Then” to No. 1 will put at least a little more distance between the Beatles and their chart chasers (Mariah included).
It would also do it with a song that more appropriately reframes the band’s ending than “Real Love” did, one that received the blessings of both Lennon’s and Harrison’s estates (Harrison’s widow Olivia and his spitting image son Dhani have said that George’s earlier reluctance to redo “Now and Then” had more to do with the poor quality of Lennon’s vocals on that 1977 demo, and was less about his displeasure with the song itself).
With the advent of technology, Paul McCartney and his producers Giles Martin (son of longtime Beatles board man George Martin) and Peter Jackson, whose 21st century software perfectly extracted Lennon’s voice from the poor quality cassette containing his original demo, have rectified the technical issue that was the source of Harrison’s displeasure. They, along with Ringo Starr, have made “Now and Then” as close to a Beatles tune as we’ll ever see again.
Bottom line: With “Now and Then” it’s now or never.
Let’s send this one straight to the top and give the Beatles the closure they deserve!
DJRob (he/him/his), who never thought he’d be writing about new releases by the Beatles and the Stones in the same week (in 2023), is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.
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