Now and Then: The Beatles transform a John Lennon demo into what could be the band’s last collaborative song

The Beatles released “Now and Then,” the band’s first new song since 1995, pieced together from an old lo-fi John Lennon demo.

The Beatles, Now and Then, demo, John Lennon, song, new

Today is a special day for fans of The Beatles, as the iconic rock band has released its first song since 1995. Titled “Now and Then,” the track is a technological marvel after Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr used machine learning and an old lo-fi John Lennon demo to create the finished piece. The song’s origin dates back to the mid-’90s, when McCartney, George Harrison, and Starr reunited for the group’s Anthology album. Other new songs on the album include Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” but work on “Now and Then” stalled when layering technology failed the band’s attempt to polish the track.

“In John’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,” McCartney said in a new documentary about the song. “Every time we wanted a little bit more of John’s voice, this piano came through and clouded the picture.”

Despite the band’s best efforts, “Now and Then” landed on the cutting room floor. Thankfully, audio technology is advancing rapidly, giving artists the tools to create ear candy unlike anything we’ve ever heard. While asking computers to piece together a Beatles song is strange, the quality of the finished track speaks highly about how much the music production arena has changed over the decades.

“I think we kind of ran out of steam a bit, and time. And it was like, ‘I don’t know. Maybe we’ll leave this one,’” McCartney said. The song “just kind of languished in a cupboard,” McCartney adds. Sadly, Harrison died in 2001, making the song’s completion an afterthought. However, the desire for new Beatles music is as strong as ever, and technological advances grant opportunities to artists that were unavailable until now.

The notion of revisiting the track came when the band collaborated with filmmaker Peter Jackson for his Get Back documentary. As the remaining band members explored possibilities for the film, introductions to machine learning changed their approach to reviving “Now and Then.” To create the track, McCartney and Starr split Lennon’s demo into pieces, then added additional elements, including McCartney on bass, Starr on drums, and a string arrangement by producer Giles Martin.

“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 about using new tech to finish an unreleased tune. “‘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.”

Source: The Beatles, The Verge

About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.