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THE BEATLES – NOW AND THEN (2023) – A PERSONAL VERDICT

When I heard about this, I had mixed feelings. It seemed an awful long time since ‘Free as a Bird’ and ‘Real Love’ appeared in 1994 at the time “The Beatles Anthology” flew straight onto my bookshelf, and yet no time at all. I/we assumed that there would be no more. After all, hadn’t they already been through John’s demo tape of 1978 and abandoned this very song? What I hadn’t thought about was that technology would step in and allow a sufficient separation of John’s vocal and piano to make the song viable. Peter Jackson had already used this technology on the 2021 Beatles documentary “Get Back”. No doubt this latest achievement will be added to the debate about the ethicality and desirability of Artificial Intelligence. One the one hand it is true to say that AI opens up new possibilities of the creation of new and innovative music; on the other the human element and organic, truly interactive elements of creating music might be compromised.

Of course, nowadays music can be made from home, with no need to go to a recording studio or even to have personally met the musicians you interact with. This opens up fantastic possibilities for worldwide collaboration. So, it is possible to put these reservations aside given the context of John’s tragic killing in 1980 and George’s premature demise in 2001.

And now it’s time to head over to Spotify. (I baulk at the crazy price of a 7” single and the “limited” edition nature of it gets my cynical radar twitching - £75 on E-nay already, come on!). I hear John’s distinctive piano and falsetto vocal on a wistful ballad that sounds perfectly natural, Ringo’s distinctive measured drumming, Paul’s bass added – he also interprets George’s intended guitar line for the song. Chorus and strings provide embellishment. It is certainly no classic, but one could imagine it appearing on one of John’s solo albums perhaps, which comes to another source of my mixed feelings – what would John have thought?

Of course, Yoko Ono handed John’s tapes to Paul in the first place, so the discretion was his, I suppose. Being released so soon after Paul’s public remarks about Yoko’s presence at the “Let it Be” sessions seemed bad timing to me. This should be left where it belongs – in the past just like Paul’s song ‘Too Many People’ on his ‘Ram’ album drawing a riposte from John on his ‘How Do You Sleep?’ However, on balance any ‘new’ Beatles song is welcome, but without the rose-tinted glasses preferably.

Finally, at least I read a dissenting voice in the i newspaper, a long-standing Beatles fan like myself who doesn’t buy all the hype. And comparative headlines like “The Beatles Head Back to #1 Again after 54 Years” don’t help – these are different times altogether.

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