«Now and then», the Beatles’ last song: an emotion lasting 4 minutes and 8 seconds

Can you take a piece of John Lennon’s minimalist phase and transform it into the definitive Beatles pop ballad? Yes, if your name is Paul McCartneyyou know perfectly “how he thought” the original author but at the same time you know better than anyone how to reach the hearts of the general public. The rest is academic or – to stay on topic – support for new machine learning technologies. Now and then, the one that will go down in history as the Beatles’ last song, works like this and is a bit the same mechanism on which some of the best things created by the Beatles in their eight years of recording activity are based, those actually written together by Lennon and McCartney: John intuits, Paul develops; the first is the ideologist, the second the popularizer; one is the main architect of the uniqueness of the project, the other of its incomparable commercial success.

Lennon, the man who loved to disturb

Now and thenintended as the original piano and vocal track delivered on tape by Yoko Ono to Macca, the Beatles already knew it and it is easily available on YouTubemoreover: something not very different from Lovethe most intimate piece of that masterpiece entitled Plastic Ono Band (1970): there is John who, fresh from a psychoanalytic session, talks about himself on the piano without smoothing out the rough edges. He has minimal stuff that absolutely doesn’t intend to please the listener, on the contrary: one suspects that he actually wants to disturb.

Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney worked together on «Now and then», the last Beatles song (Afp)

Technology as added value

Here, however, we need to say a few more words about the use of what Paul, in the accompanying documentary, calls Peter Jackson’s «technology».: if you remember, the previous two nineties of Free as a Bird e Real Love they had such a patchwork effect. The listener understood very well that John’s voice was a postcard sent from the seventies, certainly remastered but we cannot say restored. Machine learning allows us to go one step further: listening to the track it almost seems that John joined Ringo Starr and Paul, that perhaps he stopped by the Capitol Studios in Los Angeles where Giles, George Martin’s son, conducted the strings.

A song about John and George (who are no more)

Ready, set, go, Ringo gives the time: «One, two». Paul takes John’s restored voice and lays it over a piano arpeggio with acoustic guitar as a reinforcing salad. He doubles it with his own voice in the salient moments, before the sound of Ringo’s bass and drums arrive and we proceed towards a chorus rewritten in Macca’s style, something decidedly more pop. Surprise: McCartney and Starr sing together, a vocal pairing almost completely new in the history of the Fab Four. Feel and reflect on how this song, reworked almost 50 years after it was written, takes on a completely different meaning: it was a piece about the feeling of missing a love that perhaps has ended (Now and then/ I miss you), becomes a piece about the feeling of missing those who are dear to us but are no longer here (Now and then/ We miss you) which, applied to the Beatles, is a bit like the story of Paul and Ringo surviving John and George.

Liverpool, a mural dedicated to the Beatles (Afp)

La formula Beatles

Speaking of Harrison, it is worth mentioning the slide guitar solo that he himself hypothesized, at the time of the Nineties reunion, before Now and then was set aside. Today Paul completes the work, as «a dutiful tribute towards» George, he always explains in accompanying documentary. The string orchestra also enters (“I had a vague idea that strings could be right for us”, underlines Paul again: “the Beatles used them in famous records) and the song, recovered which has an unexpected chorality , starts to close on a slightly lopsided outro, typically Beatles. The moral is now known: «It’s all because of you», whereas these «you» could very well be John and George. We listened to it, listened to it again and, as Beatlesians, we came to the conclusion that Now and then it’s a 4 minute 8 emotion. If this song exists we owe it to machine learning technologies, but if it will remain we owe it to a prodigious chemical compound that no one has yet been able to synthesize in the laboratory. The formula? John+Paul+George+Ringo.

The post first appeared on www.ilsole24ore.com

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