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The Beatles: ‘final’ song Now and Then to be released thanks to AI technology

Now and Then, the long-awaited “final” Beatles song featuring all four members, is to be released next week thanks to the same AI technology that was used to enhance the audio on Peter Jackson’s documentary Get Back.

“There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear,” Paul McCartney said in a statement. “It’s quite emotional. And we all play on it, it’s a genuine Beatles recording. In 2023, to still be working on Beatles music, and about to release a new song the public haven’t heard, I think it’s an exciting thing.”

Now and Then was written and sung by John Lennon in the late 1970s at his home in the Dakota building in New York City. In 1994, Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono gave the demo to Paul McCartney on a cassette labelled “For Paul” that also included Lennon’s demos for Free As a Bird and Real Love.

While the latter songs were completed by McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison and released as singles as part of the Beatles Anthology project, technological limitations meant that Lennon’s vocals and piano on Now and Then couldn’t be separated to work alongside new parts recorded by the other three Beatles, and it was shelved.

Ed Ruscha’s artwork for Now and Then.Ed Ruscha’s artwork for Now and Then. Photograph: PR handout

More than quarter of a century later, Jackson used AI-assisted software to de-mix the original audio from Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 footage of the Beatles recording their final album, Let It Be, to isolate instruments, vocals and conversation, and turned the audio and images into the Get Back documentary series.

The technology was then used to produce a new mix of Revolver in 2022 and inspired the surviving band members to revisit Lennon’s Now and Then demo. Jackson and a sound team led by Emile de la Rey used the same technique to isolate Lennon’s original vocal performance from his piano.

Starr said in a statement: “It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room so it was very emotional for all of us. It was like John was there, you know. It’s far out.”

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McCartney and Starr have produced new parts for the song, which features guitar parts recorded by Harrison in 1995 and a string arrangement written by McCartney, Giles Martin and Ben Foster. Backing vocals from the original recordings of Here, There and Everywhere, Eleanor Rigby and Because have been woven into the new song. Jeff Lynne contributed additional production.

In June, McCartney told BBC Radio 4 that AI had been used to “extricate” Lennon’s voice from a cassette recording. “We were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI,” he said. “Then we can mix the record, as you would normally do. It gives you some sort of leeway.”

[wpcc-iframe src=”https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/KgFTpwB_uII?wmode=opaque” height=”480″ width=”854″ allowfullscreen]The trailer for Now and Then: The Last Beatles Song – video

His remarks prompted concern that AI was being used to artificially regenerate aspects of Lennon’s performance. McCartney subsequently expanded on the “confusion and speculation”, clarifying: “Can’t say too much at this stage but to be clear, nothing has been artificially or synthetically created. It’s all real and we all play on it. We cleaned up some existing recordings – a process which has gone on for years. We hope you love it as much as we do.”

The song will be teased in a 13-minute documentary on its making premiered at 7.30pm GMT on Wednesday 1 November, and unveiled in full on 2 November. On 3 November, it will be released as a double A-side single with the Beatles’ 1962 debut single, Love Me Do, featuring cover art by pop artist Ed Ruscha.

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The existence of Now and Then comes as no surprise to fans. In 1997, McCartney told Q magazine it had been shelved because Harrison “didn’t like it”.

“It didn’t have a very good title, it needed a bit of reworking, but it had a beautiful verse and it had John singing it,” he said. “[But] George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it.” McCartney later clarified to the New Yorker that Harrison had called Lennon’s demo “fucking rubbish”.

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Harrison’s widow, Olivia Harrison, said in a statement: “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. If he were here today, [son] Dhani and I know he would have wholeheartedly joined Paul and Ringo in completing the recording of Now and Then.”

Lennon’s son Sean Ono Lennon also commented on the making of the track, saying: “It was incredibly touching to hear them working together after all the years that dad had been gone. It’s the last song my dad, Paul, George and Ringo got to make together. It’s like a time capsule and all feels very meant to be.”

The physical release of Now and Then also comes in advance of new editions of the compilations known as the Red Album and the Blue Album, expanded to cover the Beatles’ entire singles discography, adding 12 songs to Red and nine to Blue.