The Beatles are back in 2023 with a new song, thanks to artificial intelligence

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the last two surviving Beatles, decided to complete an unreleased song by John Lennon using AI.

The Beatles are back in 2023 with a new song, thanks to artificial intelligence
Paul McCartney (L) and Ringo Starr perform during the taping of "The Night That Changed America: A GRAMMY Salute To The Beatles", which commemorates the 50th anniversary of The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, in Los Angeles January 27, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

The backstory: Pretty much everyone knows The Beatles – the world-famous English rock band with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon. In 1969, John Lennon surprised everyone by saying he was leaving the band, but it wasn't until 1974 that they officially broke up. Why did they split? Well, it was a mix of problems like arguments, money troubles, Lennon's drug problems and creative disagreements. A lot of fans also blame a huge falling out between McCartney and Lennon and Lennon’s blossoming relationship with Yoko Ono.

Now, let's jump to 1978, just two years before John Lennon's tragic assassination outside his New York home. Back then, Lennon was working on a song called "Now and Then." He recorded it on a boombox and saved it on a tape labeled "For Paul." In 1994, Ono found it in Lennon's stuff and gave it to McCartney. From this old tape, they discovered two other songs, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love," which the remaining Beatles worked on and released as singles as part of their Anthology project. They tried to bring "Now and Then" to life in 1995, but the project was abandoned because of the bad quality of the recording.

More recently: In 2021, Peter Jackson, the guy who made the iconic "The Lord of the Rings" movies, teamed up with Emile de la Rey, a sound guru. They were working on a documentary series called "The Beatles: Get Back." Using an AI technology developed by Jackson's WingNut Films studio, they were able to dig into old Beatles recordings, pulling out unheard stuff and separating voices like never before. 

Then, McCartney had an idea. What if that same tech could breathe new life into the old "Now and Then" recording? So, Jackson, de la Rey and their sound team got to work. They extracted Lennon's voice from the old recording while preserving its essence. 

The development: McCartney and Starr, the last two surviving Beatles, decided to complete the song. They added Harrison's guitar parts from 1995, fresh drumming from Starr, some singing and a new strings arrangement. As a touching final touch, Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles' producer, spiced up the song with backing vocals from classic Beatles tunes like "Eleanor Rigby," “Here, There and Everywhere” and "Because." After that, they sent it over to mixing whiz Spike Stent for the finishing touches.

The official release date for “Now and Then” is November 2. Alongside the song release, a 12-minute documentary will drop on The Beatles' YouTube channel on November 1. This doc will peel back the curtain on how they made the song, with exclusive footage and insights from McCartney, Starr, Harrison, Jackson and John’s son, Sean Lennon. And on November 3, the official music video is set to launch, marking a major moment in Beatles history.

Key comments: 

“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,” said Olivia Harrison, George Harrison’s widow, about the first time the band tried to work on the song. 

“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,” said Paul McCartney about the final version of “Now and Then” set to be released this week. 

“[Jackson] was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette,” said McCartney. “We had John’s voice and a piano, and he could separate them with AI. They tell the machine: ‘That’s the voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar.’”