If you were one of the millions of people listening to the new song from The Beatles, “Now and Then,” released on November 2, 2023, you’ve helped elevate it to the top of the streaming charts in the U.S., England and 35 other countries. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for a group that disbanded nearly 54 years ago, yet their stories and voices live on in our hearts as if it were still 1964 and Beatlemania was sweeping the nation. The track itself is both wistful and nostalgic, carrying on the grand tradition of the Fab Four revealing aspects of themselves within the lyrics of their songs.
Considered the last Beatles song, “Now and Then” was originally composed by John Lennon and recorded on a cassette tape in 1978. Jump ahead 25 years and it’s been transformed into this new Beatles track and remarkable music video from Lord of The Rings director Peter Jackson, that, through the wonder of technology, brings together the late Lennon and George Harrison with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
As such, as you saw in the video, this Beatles song really does feel like a trip back into the past to remember the lives that once were, serving as an exclamation point to this look at 10 biographical and revealing songs that follow.
10. ‘Norwegian Wood’ (1966)
From the 1966 Rubber Soul album, this was an attempt by John to share something while simultaneously keeping the truth hidden from his first wife. “It was about an affair I was having,” he admitted to writer David Sheff in All We Are Saying. “I was very careful and paranoid, because I didn’t want my wife, Cyn, to know that there really was something going on outside of the household. I’d always had some kind of affairs going, so I was trying to be sophisticated in writing about an affair, but in such a smoke-screen way that you couldn’t tell. But I can’t remember any specific woman it had to do with.”
9. ‘Here Comes the Sun’ (1969)
Not about romance, this song from George Harrison nonetheless touches the heart as it represents a burst of sunshine that lifts you from the doldrums. That’s certainly what he felt during the production of the 1969 album Abbey Road, when he’d had enough of all the business meetings the band was undergoing, took the day off and composed “Here Comes the Sun.” We should all have such productive days off!
8. ‘Help!’ (1965)
Title track for the 1965 film and album, and, as John says, it truly was a desperate cry for help. “Most people,” he reflected in All We Are Saying, “think it’s just a fast rock ‘n’ roll song. I didn’t realize it at the time — I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie — but later I knew I really was crying out for help. So it was my fat Elvis period. You see in the movie that he — I — is very fat, very insecure and he’s completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was.”
7. ‘For No One’ (1966)
From 1966’s Revolver, in the pages of his book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, Paul writes, “You think any love affair could or should or would or will last forever, unless it’s a really quick ‘wham, bam, thank you, ma’am,’ one-night stand. But when you’re going out with someone, when it’s your girlfriend and you’ve been with her for a reasonable amount of time, it’s very different. Jane Asher and I were together for around five years, so at the back of my mind I expected to marry her, but as the time got closer, I think I also realized it wasn’t right.”
6. ‘Here, There and Everywhere’ (1966)
Also appearing on Revolver, this can almost be viewed as the flipside of “For No One.” While that song was about a love that had come to a cold end after a passionate start, “Here, There and Everywhere” captures the emotion of being in love, when your partner is all you want and all you think about. Reflected McCartney in The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present, “My favorite line is ‘Changing my life with a wave of her hand.’ I look at that line now and wonder where it came from. Was I thinking of the power of doing hardly anything? She waves her hand and she’s changed my life. It summons up a lot.”
5. ‘Julia’ (1968)
Appearing on The White Album, this song was John’s heartfelt message to his mother, Julia, who had been killed by a drunk driver in 1958 when he was 18. It was particularly painful memory for him in that she had given him to her sister, Mimi, to raise, feeling incapable of doing so herself, and popped in and out of John’s life. Sadly, they were really developing a relationship when she was taken from him. The pain of that loss would always be with him.
4. ‘Let it Be’ (1970)
During the recording of the 1968 album The Beatles (better known as The White Album), Paul was feeling particularly isolated from the other band members as it felt as though he was the only one actively pushing the band forward into new songs, albums and projects. He began composing “Let It Be” during this period, though really honed in on it during the Get Back sessions (as viewable in the Disney+ documentary series of the same name) which would result in the 1970 album that took the single’s title. Paul revealed the following to Barry Miles.
“One night during this tense time I had a dream I saw my mum, who’d been dead 10 years or so. And it was so great to see her, because that’s a wonderful thing about dreams: you actually are reunited with that person for a second; there they are and you appear to both be physically together again. It was so wonderful for me, and she was very reassuring. In the dream she said, ‘It’ll be all right.’ I’m not sure if she used the words ‘Let it be’ but that was the gist of her advice, it was, ‘Don’t worry too much, it will turn out OK.’ It was such a sweet dream [and] I woke up thinking, ‘Oh, it was really great to visit with her again.’ I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing the song ‘Let It Be.’ I literally started off ‘Mother Mary,’ which was her name, ‘When I find myself in times of trouble …’ which I certainly found myself in.”
3. ‘In My Life’ (1966)
Of this Beatles song that appeared on the 1965 album Rubber Soul, John told Playboy in 1980, “It was, I think, my first real major piece of work. Up till then it had all been sort of glib and throwaway, and that was the first time I consciously put my literary part of myself into the lyric. Inspired Kenneth Allsop, the British journalist who suggested I write about my childhood in my songs; and Bob Dylan.”
2. ‘Something’ (1969)
“Something” is the kind of love song that anyone would want to have sung about them. George Harrison’s ex-wife Pattie Boyd claims that it was about her, while George himself disagreed. Whatever the truth, this was the composition that really put the Quiet Beatle on the map as a songwriter, rivaling Lennon and McCartney. The irony, though, is that it appeared on the band’s final recorded album, 1969’s Abbey Road. With the group breaking up the following year, it proved that Harrison was going to be okay.
1. ‘Yesterday’ (1965)
If you’ve been through the pain of heartbreak — and who among us hasn’t? — “Yesterday” no doubt fuels that pain, makes you wish for the chance to do things differently and remains one of the most moving Beatles songs ever. And it is reported to be the most covered song in history, with 2,200 versions recorded. McCartney took the 1965 song, which appeared on the Help! album, to the rest of the band in the studio, but it ended up more or less the first solo Beatles tune. “Although we did sometimes play it as a four-piece in concert,” Paul related in The Lyrics: 1956 to Present, “for the recording Ringo said, ‘I don’t think I can really drum on that.’ George added, ‘Well, I’m not sure I can put much guitar on it either.’ And then John said, ‘I can’t think of anything. I think you should just do it by yourself. It’s really a solo song.’ Now, this was kind of a big deal at the time, because we’d never recorded like that before. It had always been the band.”