Why George Harrison Didn’t Want to Release ‘Now and Then’
The reality of being in a band — even one as unequivocally successful as the Beatles — is that unanimous agreement isn't always achievable.
The Fab Four, as Paul McCartney would explain to Q in 2006, functioned as "a democracy." Input and opinion was meant to be shared and discussed amongst the members. But following John Lennon's death in 1980, the future of anything Beatles-related seemed hazy at best.
"When we lost John, we knew that it was really over," McCartney said in a 2023 film.
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From these sessions, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" were born, but a third song, "Now and Then," proved much more challenging, chiefly due to the quality of the audio. Lennon's vocal and piano playing were impossible to separate, meaning mixing it into a new track would also be impractical.
George Harrison, for one, was well aware of the kinds of new technology available to musicians — tools that certainly weren't around in the Beatles' heyday — but he was also wary of the difficulty it could present.
Listen to the Beatles' 'Now and Then'
Harrison, Starr, McCartney and Lynne all attempted to bring "Now and Then" up to a suitable standard, to no avail.
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"It was one day — one afternoon, really — messing with it," Lynne would later explain. "The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track, a rough go that we really didn't finish."
Harrison had more choice words for the track: "fucking rubbish."
That was about all the other band members needed to hear to drop the project. It would be close to 30 years later, long after Harrison's own passing, that McCartney and Starr would revisit the song, armed with better technology.
Three Decades and Many Technological Advancements Later
In 2021's The Beatles: Get Back, director Peter Jackson was able to utilize a new kind of audio de-mixing, such that individual sounds and voices could be separated into different tracks. The Beatles were once famous for being one of the first bands to use multi-track recording systems in the studio, which, in the '60s, meant four-track machines. Jackson's process now afforded, essentially, unlimited tracks.
This same technology, at the request of McCartney, was applied to "Now and Then." Where once Lennon's voice and piano playing were inextricably bound together, now his vocal could stand apart, clear as day. From there, McCartney and Starr could appropriately finish the song.
Dhani and Olivia Harrison's Reaction
"Back in 1995, after several days in the studio working on the track, George felt the technical issues with the demo were insurmountable and concluded that it was not possible to finish the track to a high enough standard," Harrison's widow, Olivia, said in a 2023 press release. "If he were here today, [son] Dhani and I know he would have whole-heartedly joined Paul and Ringo in completing the recording of 'Now and Then.'"
Though his father was not around for the completion of "Now and Then," Dhani Harrison was along for the ride. (So was Lennon and Ono's son, Sean.) McCartney played the slide guitar solo, but the elder Harrison's guitar parts and backing vocals from the '90s were added on to the track, and the result was a true Beatles song on which all four members, living and dead, could be heard.
When Jackson was tasked with making a music video for "Now and Then," Dhani happened to be visiting New Zealand, and he paid a visit to Jackson.
"I discussed the ending with him, and described one vague idea I’d been toying with," Jackson recalled. "His eyes immediately filled with tears — so that is the way we went."
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Gallery Credit: UCR Staff