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Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Coming Back to ‘Now and Then’

The last Beatles song, which was five decades in the making, was made possible by artificial intelligence.
“Ego and fame broke The Beatles apart and led them away from what truly mattered to them — music and friendship.” (Courtesy of IMDb)

The Beatles is one of the greatest and most influential bands of all time. Made up of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, and kickstarted by Lennon and McCartney, the English rock band was formed in Liverpool in 1960. 

While The Beatles have been overwhelmingly popular for over six decades, their time together was relatively short. On April 10, 1970, Paul McCartney said in a press release that he was no longer working with The Beatles. The band formally broke up on Dec. 29, 1974. 

The assassination of John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980, assured the four Beatles would never collaborate on a song again. Their last song was believed to be “The End” — both literally and metaphorically — but the group persevered to continue to create songs in Lennon’s honor. 

The Beatles Come Back Together  

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After The Beatles broke up, Lennon continued to write and record music on cassette tapes at home. These demos would later be used by the band to create more Beatles songs. In the mid-1990s, Yoko Ono — Lennon’s widow — gave Lennon’s song demos to McCartney, Starr and Harrison. The three remaining Beatles decided to take the demos back to the studio to record two more Beatles songs in Lennon’s honor called “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.” The group worked in the studio together for the first time in over 20 years to release the two songs in November of 1995. 

However, the band wished to bring one more of Lennon’s demos to life — “Now and Then.” In the studio, the band struggled to combine their vocals and instruments with Lennon’s voice and piano. 

In the Disney+ documentary, “Now and Then’ — The Last Beatles Song,” Starr explained, “When we started ‘Now and Then,’ it was very difficult because [Lennon] was sort of hidden in a way. In [Lennon]’s demo tape, the piano was a little hard to hear. And in those days, of course, we didn’t have the technology to do the separation. Every time we wanted a little bit more of [Lennon]’s voice, this piano came through and clouded the picture.”  

The lack of technology to separate Lennon’s vocals from the piano led the band to put off finishing the recording. After Harrison sadly died of lung cancer on Nov. 29, 2001, it was believed the song would never manifest. Little did they know then that modern AI (artificial intelligence) would create the impossible — the last Beatles’ song. 

AI Makes ‘Now and Then’ Possible

This song is five decades in the making. First, Lennon recorded a demo in the late ‘70s, and in the ‘90s the remaining members tried to record the song. AI technology in the 2020s has finally made it possible for the song to be made. The Disney+ documentary released on Nov. 1, 2023, shows the behind-the-scenes of the creation of the song.

“In 2001, we lost George, which kind of took the wind out of our sails. It took almost a quarter of a century for us to wait until the right moment to tackle ‘Now and Then’ again,” said McCartney in the documentary. 

Peter Jackson — a New Zealand film director and screenwriter — and his team were able to do what was thought to be impossible in the studio sessions in the ‘90s. During the creation of The Beatles movie “Get Back” on Disney+, Jackson was able to separate certain vocals from their instrumental accompaniments to create a clear sound. 

“During the course of ‘Get Back,’ we were paying a lot of attention to the technical restoration. That ultimately led us to develop a technology which allows us to take any soundtrack and split all the different components into separate tracks based on machine learning,” said Jackson. 

Jackson was able to solve the main problem The Beatles had with the first attempted recording in the ‘90s. Now Lennon’s voice was “crystal clear.” McCartney and Starr then got to work enhancing the song with new strings and bass. 

“We had kept [Harrison]’s guitar parts from ‘95,” McCartney said. “And I thought, what I’d like to do is a slide guitar solo in [Harrison]’s style. It was really a tribute to [Harrison].”

Finally, on Nov. 2, 2023, the last Beatles song was released — ‘Now and Then.’ 

Meaning of ‘Now and Then’ 

“Now and Then” encompasses the relationship between McCartney and Lennon. The bandmates met in 1957 when they were 15 and 16. Initially, they respected each other’s music greatly and would collaborate equally on every song. They started to grow apart when their music styles began to differ. All of a sudden, these former teenage friends were writing spiteful songs toward one another. Ego had broken up these two. Jackson strongly believes that “Now and Then” is a love letter and apology from Lennon to McCartney. Even though they fought, they loved each other deeply.  

Does AI Uphold the Integrity of Music?

With a new age of technology comes concerns. Does the use of AI uphold the integrity of the song? Is it a true Beatles song if the four of them did not record it in the studio together? Sean Ono Lennon — Lennon’s son — says, “My dad would have loved that because he was never shy to experiment with recording technology. I think it’s really beautiful.” 

He continued: “It was incredibly touching to hear them working together after all the years that my dad had been gone. It’s the last song my dad and [McCartney] and [Harrison] and [Starr] will get to make together.”

AI made it possible for The Beatles, who broke up on rocky terms, to have the closure they needed. AI allowed them a redo.

“All those memories come flooding back,” McCartney said. “My God. How lucky was I to have those men in my life and to work with those men so intimately and to come up with such a body of music?” 

Ego and fame broke The Beatles apart and led them away from what truly mattered to them — music and friendship. The Beatles believed that producing this song was exactly what Lennon would have wanted. 

“To still be working on Beatles music in 2023, wow. We’re actually messing around with state-of-the-art technology, which is something The Beatles would’ve been very interested in” McCartney said. “‘Now and Then’ — it’s probably, like, the last Beatles song. And we’ve all played on it, so it is a genuine Beatle recording.”

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