So here’s something I never thought I’d say: a new Beatles song will be released this year.
New Beatles. The last Beatles song. It’s kind of incredible. A historic moment.
Paul McCartney announced the news this week: “…we came to make what will be the last Beatles record,” he said. “It was a demo that John had that we worked on and we just finished it up, it will be released this year.”
After completing two songs for the project, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” the three remaining Beatles began work on “Now and Then.” George Harrison ended the sessions almost immediately after they began, citing frustration with the quality of the largely unfinished Lennon demo they were adding instruments to.
McCartney spoke as recently as 2012 about resurrecting “Now and Then.” During an interview for a documentary about Jeff Lynne, the Electric Light Orchestra frontman who produced “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” he said, “That one’s still lingering around, so I’m going to nick in with Jeff and do it. Finish it, one of these days.”
One of these days is likely now.
Presumably, McCartney and Ringo Starr added bass, guitar, drums, and other instruments over Lennon’s voice, as they did for “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.” Hopefully, they were also able to salvage some of George Harrison’s guitar parts from the brief time they worked on “Now and Then” in the ‘90s as well.
I recently came across McCartney’s quote about wanting to finish “Now and Then,” and it took me down an internet rabbit hole. Interestingly, in 2012, a Beatles fan created a version of it based around Lennon’s demo.
It actually isn’t too bad, and gives a possible preview of how the finished product might sound. You can check it out below. I can only imagine how much better it’ll be in the hands of McCartney and Starr.
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We Get By With a Little Help From AI
When he announced the new Beatles song, Paul McCartney explained that AI helped it come together (so to speak), which conjures up all sorts of crazy thoughts. Did he ask ChatGPT to write ‘new’ John Lennon lyrics or create a ‘new’ George Harrison slide guitar solo?
Fortunately, that isn’t the case, as AI is more being used as a music production assistant than anything.
During the making of Get Back, the recent Peter Jackson Beatles documentary, AI was used to isolate the voices of each Beatle from background noise.
This same technique was used to clean up vocals from a rough John Lennon demo, presumably “Now and Then,” which became the basis for the new Beatles song.
“He [Jackson] was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette, where it had John’s voice and a piano,” McCartney said. “He could separate them, with AI they could do it. They tell the machine, ‘That’s a voice, this is a guitar. Lose the guitar.’ And he did that.”
So, at least for now, we don’t have to worry about robot Beatles songs.
Let me make a bold prediction, though: in the next ten years, AI will create new Beatles songs…and they’ll be surprisingly good.
They won’t have the warmth, energy, and creativity of the original thing, but they won’t be as cringe-y as AI-generated music is currently.
Paul McCartney’s quote about AI is succinct and true: “It’s kind of scary but exciting, because it’s the future. We’ll just have to see where that leads.”
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