The Beatles’ iconic members, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, harnessed the power of machine learning to transform an old John Lennon demo into what is likely the band’s ultimate musical masterpiece. “Now and Then” marks the first “new” Beatles song since 1995 and is readily available on platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and other streaming services.
The Resurrection of “Now and Then”
The genesis of this song has intrigued fervent fans of the legendary rock band. McCartney and Starr employed cutting-edge technology and machine learning to assemble a track from an aged lo-fi demo recorded by John Lennon during the mid-70s.
A Long-Awaited Revival
The Beatles’ initial attempt to resurrect Lennon’s “Now and Then” demo dates back to the mid-90s when Yoko Ono provided the demo to McCartney, Starr, and Harrison. At that juncture, the trio had reassembled to revamp songs that would feature on the band’s anthology albums. Their efforts resulted in the compilation of tracks like “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” where they overlaid the entire band’s arrangements onto Lennon’s demo recordings. However, challenges with the original material hindered progress on “Now and Then.”
McCartney elaborates, “On John’s demo, the piano playing was hard to hear. In those days, of course, we didn’t have the technology to do the separation. Every time we wanted to hear a little more of John’s voice, that piano would come in and take over the voice.” Consequently, the trio of McCartney, Harrison, and Starr abandoned their work on “Now and Then” in the nineties. Harrison’s passing in 2001 cast further doubt on the song’s fate.
A Quarter-Century Wait Ends
McCartney remarks, “It took us almost a quarter of a century to wait for the right moment to take up ‘Now and Then’ again.” The turning point emerged earlier in the current decade when director Peter Jackson was working on his comprehensive documentary “Get Back” for Disney Plus. Jackson’s team developed technology that could separate instrumentals from vintage demos using machine learning.
McCartney and Starr seized this opportunity to revive “Now and Then.” McCartney laid down the bass line, Starr added drums, and producer Giles Martin crafted a string arrangement based on archived George Harrison parts. As a result, this song boasts the complete Fab Four ensemble.
Despite initial confusion among the band’s fan base, everyone involved in the project expresses profound satisfaction with the outcome, notes NIX Solutions. Sean Ono Lennon, John Lennon’s son, states, “My father would have loved it because he was never shy about experimenting with recording technology. I think it’s really beautiful.”
McCartney concurs, “Still working on Beatles music in 2023… Wow. We actually used state-of-the-art technology that the Beatles would have been very intrigued by. ‘Now and Then’ seems to be The Beatles’ swan song. And we all wrote the parts for it, so it’s a real Beatles record.”