ITunes Deal Offers Chance for Beatles Swan Song

Now's the time for McCartney and Starr to complete the lost Lennon tune "Now and Then"

News that the Beatles’ catalogue is finally on iTunes marks a chance for a new generation of fans to download the hits of the act we've known for all these years.

But the release also provides a prime opportunity to grab the attention of those of us who already own all the vinyl and two generation of CDs by offering a last flash of Beatles magic.

This would be a great time for Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to come together and complete the unfinished John Lennon ballad "Now and Then" – topping off the group's online debut with a haunting swan song.

Some quick Beatle-background: The song, also known as "I Don't Want to Lose You," was among the home-recorded Lennon demos Yoko Ono gave the surviving Beatles in the early 1990s.

McCartney, Starr and Harrison completed "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" for the Anthology albums. By most accounts (the most authoritative telling we've read is this 2005 Washington Post article), the “Threetles” recorded some tracks for "Now and Then," but never completed the song.

One of the reasons might have been the poor quality of the Lennon tape. Versions floating around the Internet are somewhat scratchy, but presumably could be cleaned up through digital technology not available 15 years ago.

The bootlegs also reveal the power of the simple, emotional, minor key ballad, which, unlike "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love," likely would need additional music and lyrics to flesh out the song.

Messing with legend is fraught with danger, as the surviving Beatles discovered in the mid-1990 with the release of the two "new" songs, which got mixed receptions.

But enough time has passed that completing “Now and Then” would not only serve as an appropriate final contribution to the Beatles music catalogue, but as a tribute to Lennon and Harrison, and offer another reminder of how much they're still missed all these years later.

“Now and Then” doesn’t represent the Holy Grail of Beatledom, but rather a last chance at a sip of tea with some old friends as they get their latest introduction to a new, younger crowd.

McCartney and Starr, who last reunited for a song at Ringo's 70th birthday in July, very much recognize the value in keeping the group's legacy alive, as evidenced by the release last year of the "The Beatles: Rock Band" and the ongoing Cirque du Soleil show “Love.” They also have been around enough to know the power of promotion: the iTunes release will get even more attention if a new tune is added to the offerings.

Completing the aptly named "Now and Then" would provide fans a final taste of the past as the Beatles forge into the digital age – and the song would represent one more gift for those who just can’t let them be.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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