Next week, the last Beatles song — written and sung by John Lennon, developed and worked on by Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — will be released. Called Now and Then, an unfinished composition from the 1970s, the track has taken the help of AI to see the light of day.
A bit of history. The song was initially recorded by Lennon in the late 1970s at his Dakota address in New York City. In 1994, his widow Yoko Ono handed over the demo to McCartney on a cassette labelled “For Paul”. It’s the same cassette that contained Lennon’s demos for Free As a Bird and Real Love. McCartney, Harrison and Starr worked on all the tracks but found Now and Then unusable at that point in time.
When Peter Jackson was working on his Get Back documentary, his team, especially Emile de la Rey, the dialogue editor, came up with an AI-assisted technology — to isolate the Beatles’ voices from the rest of the audio, including background sounds and their instruments. That same technology has been used to separate Lennon’s voice from that of his piano.
“There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear,” McCartney said of Now and Then 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.”
At a time when the world is wondering how Apple will implement generative artificial intelligence through its products, I am reminded of what Apple co-founder once said about the Beatles. In a TV interview, he said: “My model of business is the Beatles. You know there were four very talented guys who who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts and that’s how I see business. You know great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people and we’ve got that here at Pixar and we’ve got that at Apple as well and so that’s what lets me do this well.”
The new song could have been given a sloppy release long ago but McCartney and Starr took their time and are releasing it when technology could help. Jobs too admired the element of flawlessness in the Fab Four. In the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, he said: “They were such perfectionists they kept it going and going.” When he was designing the first Macintosh computer, he listened to demos and early takes of Strawberry Fields Forever to understand the group’s creative arc.
Now And Then will be released worldwide on November 2 and a new music video for the song will debut the next day. A 12-minute Now And Then — The Last Beatles Song documentary film, written and directed by Oliver Murray, will debut on November 1.