Following the announcement earlier today of The Beatles’ forthcoming single “Now and Then,” CBC today announced the exclusive Canadian broadcast rights to Now and Then – The Last Beatles Song, a short documentary film that explores the story behind the last Beatles song, with exclusive footage and commentary from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Sean Ono Lennon and Peter Jackson. Now and Then – The Last Beatles Song will broadcast exclusively in Canada on CBC TV at 3:30 p.m. ET, with an encore broadcast at 11:30 p.m. local time, and will be available to stream for free on Wednesday, November 1, 2023 on CBC Gem as of 3:30 p.m. ET. In addition to the premiere of the Now and Then – The Last Beatles Song documentary film, CBC’s broadcast special will feature additional exclusive content and conversation around the momentous Beatles release.
Now and Then – The Last Beatles Song documentary film is written and directed by Oliver Murray and tells the story behind the new single, which was written and sung by John Lennon, developed and worked on by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, and now finally finished by McCartney and Starr more than four decades later. The short film will be available to stream on CBC Gem for 30 days following the November 1 premiere.
The story of “Now And Then” begins in the late 1970s, when John Lennon recorded a demo with vocals and piano at his home in New York’s Dakota Building. In 1994, his wife, Yoko Ono Lennon, gave the recording to McCartney, Harrison and Starr, along with Lennon’s demos for “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”, which were both completed as new Beatles songs and respectively released as singles in 1995 and 1996, as part of The Beatles Anthology project. At the same time, McCartney, Harrison and Starr also recorded new parts and completed a rough mix for “Now And Then” with producer Jeff Lynne. At that point, technological limitations prevented Lennon’s vocals and piano from being separated to achieve the clear, unclouded mix needed to finish the song. “Now And Then” was shelved, with a hope that one day it would be revisited.
Cut to 2021, and the release of “The Beatles: Get Back” docuseries, directed by Peter Jackson, which astonished viewers with its award-winning film and audio restoration. Using WingNut Films’ MAL audio technology, Jackson’s team had de-mixed the film’s mono soundtrack, managing to isolate instruments and vocals, and all the individual voices within The Beatles conversations. This achievement opened the way to 2022’s new mix of Revolver, sourced directly from the four-track master tapes. This led to a question: what could be done with the “Now And Then” demo? Peter Jackson and his sound team, led by Emile de la Rey, applied the same technique to Lennon’s original home recording, preserving the clarity and integrity of his original vocal performance by separating it from the piano.
In 2022, McCartney and Starr set about completing the song. Besides Lennon’s vocal, “Now And Then” includes electric and acoustic guitar recorded in 1995 by Harrison, Starr’s new drum part, and bass, guitar and piano from McCartney, which matches Lennon’s original playing. McCartney added a slide guitar solo inspired by Harrison; he and Starr also contributed backing vocals to the chorus.
In Los Angeles, McCartney oversaw a Capitol Studios recording session for the song’s wistful, quintessentially Beatles string arrangement, written by Giles Martin, McCartney and Ben Foster. McCartney and Martin also added one last, subtle touch: backing vocals from the original recordings of “Here, There And Everywhere”, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Because”, woven into the new song using the techniques perfected during the making of the LOVE show and album. The finished track was produced by McCartney and Martin, and mixed by Spike Stent.