More than 53 years after the English rock band The Beatles broke up, they have reunited to release what is being dubbed their “final song.” Their newest single “Now and Then” topped the Billboard charts in the weeks following its release on Nov. 2, hitting number one on Billboard’s Digital Song Sales chart for the week of Nov. 11 and was first on the Official U.K. Singles Chart for the week of Nov 18. Even after the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison, the remaining band members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were able to release this perfect farewell hit thanks to modern AI technology. “Now and Then” serves not only as an emotional tribute to The Beatles but as a representation of their long-standing legacy and undying brotherhood.
The story begins in 1978 at Lennon’s home in New York City, the place where he recorded a vocal and piano demo on a cassette tape. After he died in 1990, his widow Yoko Ono gave the tape to the three remaining Beatles, which also featured clips from “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.” Those two songs were recorded and released in 1995 and ‘96, but attempts to finish “Now and Then” were quickly abandoned as the recording was deemed too poor to salvage. Despite Harrison reportedly calling the tape “rubbish,” McCartney never let go of the idea, something that would come to fruition a few decades later thanks to new technology.
During the production of the 2021 documentary “The Beatles: Get Back,” director Peter Jackson’s film company created an AI software that was able to “de-mix ” low-quality recordings. This technology was used to “lift” Lennon’s voice off of his 1978 “Now and Then” demo, removing the hiss and static that prevented The Beatles from continuing its production back in the ‘90s.
Combining Lennon’s isolated vocals with guitar and voice recordings from Harrison in 1995, both McCartney and Starr recorded instrumentation and vocals in 2022 to finish off the song, one that has been 45 years in the making.
“Now and Then” is a beautiful soft rock ballad, a mix of calm and clear vocals mixed with subtle yet powerful instrumentation. Lennon’s vocals shine as many of the verses feature him singing exclusively. His beautiful tone is so profound, that it’s as if he was actually in the recording studio with his fellow bandmates, it’s hard to believe Lennon’s vocals were taken from a forty-year-old cassette tape. This technological marvel is sure to open up possibilities for other bands to release new music, even well after they have gone their separate ways.
The Beatles were a band plagued by a messy breakup, with years of drama leading to their eventual split. While McCartney shocked the world with an announcement on April 10, 1970, that he would be leaving the band, troubles grieving the loss of their manager Brian Epstein in 1967, Lennon and Ono’s relationship, and Harrison’s frustrations with his position in the band, all lead to their chaotic falling out.
However, despite all the problems they had in the past, “Now and Then” signifies the nearly eight years of brotherhood spent together making music, a love letter Lennon wrote about their time together and the unceasing love they have for each other. As he poetically sings the verse, “I know it’s true/ It’s all because of you/ And if I make it through/ It’s all because of you” one thing is very clear: despite all their disagreements, they wouldn’t have made it to where they are today without each other.
As McCartney and Starr sing together in the “Now and Then” music video, which premiered the day after the song was released, young projections of Lennon and Harrison can be seen standing beside them playing the guitar, with Lennon joyfully smiling and waving to the camera. While it’s a sad reality that The Beatles will all never be together again in person, “Now and Then” was able to bring them closer than they were before, an emotional tribute to the lives of Lennon and Harrison and the band’s legacy.
Combining old recordings with new, “Now and Then” symbolizes the success of modern technology, allowing the surviving Beatles to release an emotional closing to this chapter of their lives, and recognize their brothers who were along for the ride. One of the verses Lennon and McCartney sing together says it best, “Now and then/ I miss you/ Oh, now and then/ I want you to be there for me/ Always return to me,” and thanks to this song, Lennon and Harrison will always return to McCartney, Starr, and the countless Beatles fans all over the world, a true testament to not only what they meant for music, but for those that knew them best.