Now and Then: The Beatles’ Final Song and the use of AI

Ellie-Mae Davies

Thinking about the possibilities of AI and its impact on the entertainment industry can be quite a scary thing. However, The Beatles’ new song has demonstrated how useful advanced technology can be in the creation and production of music. Impact’s Ellie-Mae Davies details the story of the song Now and Then, how the band used AI to finish its production as well as considering the possibilities of AI.

On 2nd November 2023, The Beatles released their final ever song. Fans of The Beatles would have never imagined that the band would still be releasing music this late after the band’s run in the 1960s. However, with the help of AI and technological advancements, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Peter Jackson have finished the creation of the last ever Beatles song, Now and Then.

The story behind the song is fascinating in itself. After receiving a track from John Lennon which was recorded back in the 1970s, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr set out to finish what Lennon had started to create. In 1995, the three worked on the track, trying to save John’s original vocal recording and finish the song, but ran into technological issues. They tried to separate John’s vocals from the piano accompaniment but unfortunately the technology was not advanced enough at this point. It was only last year that the song was properly completed.

This piece of software allowed the band to keep John’s authentic vocals

During the Beatles’ documentary Get Back, Peter Jackson developed a piece of AI software that could isolate different musical elements from a track. So, with John’s recording, he could accurately separate his vocals from the piano accompaniment, saving the original track and making the vocals sound much clearer. This piece of software allowed the band to keep John’s authentic vocals whilst mixing in other instrument tracks and vocals from Paul, Ringo and George, recorded at various points over the last few decades. The song having parts of recordings from the 70s, 1995 and even last year actually emphasises the content of the song, having elements from Now and Then.

Along with the release of Now and Then, the band also created a short documentary explaining the process of recording and producing the song, which I certainly recommend watching. The song’s musicality is really quite beautiful and emphasises the sentimental aspect of closing The Beatles’ chapter in the music industry. Paul paid tribute to fellow late bandmate George Harrison with a Harrison-esque slide guitar riff during the final part of the song, as well as including parts of George’s guitar and vocal recording from 1995. Of course, they used John’s original, raw vocal recording as the main melodic element of the song. Ringo added in a gorgeous drum accompaniment and both Ringo and Paul added vocals to John’s melody.

Something that fans never thought they’d be able to see again, making it quite an emotional watch

Using recordings from all members of the band, despite them being from different decades, really emphasises the sense of group unity and is a beautiful way to honour John and George whilst celebrating the legacy of the band. Also, the content becomes even more sentimental when considering John’s final words to Paul before he died allegedly being: “Think about me every now and then, old friend.” Alongside the use of AI to help with the song’s creation and production, Peter Jackson also created the music video which consists of old and new clips of the band performing. One specific shot, during the chorus, sees modern-day Paul and Ringo next to John and George from the 60s, something that fans never thought they’d be able to see again, making it quite an emotional watch.

The reception of the song has been mixed. Many online have suggested that “it’s no Hey Jude or Yesterday”. However, others have recognised that the purpose of the song is the wrap up the incredible legacy the band has created over its 10 year period and how it has forever influenced the music industry, a category I certainly fit into. This legacy has been proven by the song hitting number one on the Billboard Digital Song Sales chart.

This then poses the question, what are the possibilities of AI in relation to music production?

Although The Beatles didn’t actually use AI to create any vocal recordings, could it replace ‘human’ singing voices? There’s been an increase on social media of AI versions of artists singing songs, such as Freddie Mercury singing Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. But can this replace the whole process of songwriting and creating music?

In short, not really no. Peter Jackson’s software is excellent for the production aspect of creating music, but technology cannot replace human creativity or the authentic aspect of songwriting. Paul McCartney also clarified on Twitter that the band only used AI to clean-up certain parts of the recording and to aid the production aspect, not to create new vocal parts.

It’s a really beautiful way to celebrate the band’s music from Now and Then

Now and Then demonstrates the possibilities of AI and its relationship with aiding the production aspect of creating music. It has also allowed for all of The Beatles to play on this last song, featuring John’s recording from the 1970s, George’s in 1995 and Paul and Ringo’s from last year. It’s a really beautiful way to celebrate the band’s music from Now and Then.

Ellie-Mae Davies 

Featured image courtesy of Fedor via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article videos courtesy of @thebeatles and @officialcharts via instagram.com. No changes made to these images.

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