Shortly after posting my thoughts on The Beatles release of “Now and Then”, I came across this curious article by Russell Root and published on Salon.com:
The crux of Mr. Root’s argument is…
…the song lacks the real-time collaboration that defined the Beatles’ style, despite the deliberate attempt to include all four members on the track. The drive to finish this song seems to have been spearheaded by McCartney.
Sonically, the song bears much more resemblance to recent Paul McCartney works than to other pieces from the Beatles’ repertoire. The song’s jaunty rhythm, guided by heavy piano and acoustic guitar, would fit much better on McCartney’s 2018 “Egypt Station” than on any Beatles album.
Mr. Root then compares “Now and Then” with “Real Love” and “Free as a Bird”, the previous two songs McCartney/Harrison/Starr finished up from Lennon’s demos:
Unlike “Now and Then,” however, the studio versions of (“Free as a Bird” and “Real Love”) stay truer to both the original demos and the Beatles’ own sound. Neither “Free as a Bird” nor “Real Love” tamper with the structure of Lennon’s original compositions, as the only real changes to the songs themselves are finishing touches to some incomplete lyrics in the chorus of “Free as a Bird.”
I have to admit, I’m rather confused by Mr. Root’s argument. He’s saying that because “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” remained closer to Lennon’s demo they are therefore more like “real” Beatles songs? Further, the fact that Paul McCartney seemed to be the force behind the release of “Now and Then” and obviously worked on it more than the other two songs therefore it’s more of a… I don’t know? More of a McCartney song (modern vintage) versus a Beatles song?
Of the three demos given to McCartney by Yoko Ono to work on, clearly “Now and Then” was the one that was in the “roughest” shape. Had it not been, I strongly suspect it would have appeared on one of the Anthology Albums, where it was originally intended to go. As it was, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” were the songs that technology allowed at the time for the then three remaining Beatles to work on and finish up while “Now and Then” had to be put aside.
In listening to the John Lennon demo (which can be found on YouTube though I believe it is being knocked out wherever found) I very much hear a “rougher” version of the “Now and Then” we eventually got, for good or ill. Yes, there are flourishes in it that weren’t in the demo and I know at this point in time, with both Lennon and Harrison having passed, it was very likely worked on more by McCartney than anyone else but, again, it was a very rough work and someone had to do that. My understanding is that Ringo had to be convinced to come in and do some drum work, so clearly of the two Beatles left things had to fall more to McCartney.
In the demo, Lennon at times sings gibberish words, an obvious placeholder for later on when he would try to come up with “proper” lyrics. Obviously he never got to that point and unless this song was released with the gibberish placeholder lyrics and/or a seance managed to get Lennon and Harrison to work on it from the beyond, someone had to be there to fix it up, no? And why not McCartney?
Which brings us to Mr. Root’s complaint that this is more of a Paul McCartney work.
I don’t know Mr. Root’s age. I don’t know how much he knows about The Beatles so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here: The Beatles worked both as a collaborative band as well as individual artists on their songs.
For example, one of The Beatles most famous songs, “Yesterday” was created and recorded entirely by Paul McCartney. No other member of the band was involved in its making or recording… perhaps other than sitting around while it was being made. There are no Ringo drums nor any Lennon or Harrison guitars. McCartney plays the acoustic guitar and an Orchestra -led by producer George Martin, I suspect- backs him up.
Similarly, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” was recorded solely with Lennon and McCartney present. Neither George Harrison nor Ringo Starr were involved in that song. It, like “Yesterday” is still listed as a Beatles song even though not every Beatle was involved.
And get this: The most streamed Beatles song ever, the George Harrison composition “Here Comes The Sun”, perhaps the pinnacle of Harrison’s musical output (though one could argue “While My Guitar Gently Sleeps” is damn near) was recorded without John Lennon’s participation.
Yes kids, “Here Comes The Sun” featured George Harrison, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr but, because he was recovering from a car crash, no John Lennon.
Yet it too, like the others I mention above, is very much a Beatles song.
I’ve written a lot here and I’m wondering why at this point.
If you don’t feel “Now and Then” is a “proper” Beatles song, so be it… but at least come up with a reason that doesn’t feel like you’re upset because there’s too much –gasp!– McCartney in the song -as if he’s somehow not a “real” Beatles bandmate- and not enough of everyone else.
To me, all three post-breakup Beatles songs taken from Lennon’s demos are interesting curios. I don’t feel any of them are as “strong” as the best of the Beatles stuff but neither do I feel they are failures.
It’s incredibly hard to go back to your most successful era of creativity and knock out stuff that sounds like that but neither do I feel the remaining Beatles did themselves a disservice going back to these Lennon demos and “finishing them up”.
Or, to put it another way… lighten up, my man!