The Beatles’ last song, ‘Now And Then,’ finally released at the beginning of November, was 45 years in the making. But how did it arrive, and how did it come together?
All four Beatles feature on a final track released 45 years after it began, the final song credited to Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr. But what took so long for the aptly titled “Now And Then,” that makes its release such a feat? In short, it’s a full-circle moment for the band, and an impressive demonstration of audio technology.
It started as a demo tape with vocals and piano recorded by John Lennon in 1978 in his New York apartment. After his death, his widow, Yoko Ono, gave the recording to the remaining three Beatles on a cassette that featured demos for “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love.” Those two tracks were completed in 1995 and released in 1996 during the Beatles’ Anthology sessions, the first new material in 25 years featuring all four members.
During the Anthology sessions, the band had also attempted to record “Now And Then,” but they considered the quality of the original demo’s audio too poor to properly salvage. The idea was shelved, with George Harrison reportedly calling the recording “rubbish,” but Paul McCartney never completely let the idea go.
Nearly 30 years later, during the making of the Beatles’ “Get Back” documentary, director Peter Jackson and his film company developed a software to separate recordings of overlapping sounds. Producer Giles Martin used this technology last year to create a new mix of the Beatles’ legendary album, Revolver.
Notably, this software utilizes artificial intelligence to ‘learn’ what a sound is and isolate that sound from others in the recording. “It has to learn what the sound of John Lennon’s guitar is, for instance, and the more information you can give it, the better it becomes,” Giles told the BBC.
Using the software, Lennon’s voice could be isolated from the original cassette recording, removing the background noise from his New York home that had made the Beatles’ previous attempts to finish the song impossible.
Suddenly, Lennon’s voice was “crystal clear,” said Paul McCartney. “It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room,” added Ringo Starr. “Far out.”
Despite the band’s inability to complete the song back in the ‘90s, their attempts to do so during the Anthology sessions made it possible almost 30 years later. The completion of a ‘final’ Beatles song featuring all four members wouldn’t have been possible without the addition of George Harrison’s vocals and guitar during those sessions, as Harrison died of lung cancer in 2001.
“All those memories came flooding back,” said McCartney of hearing the completed “Now And Then” recording. “My God, how lucky was I to have those men in my life? To still be working on Beatles music in 2023? Wow.”
The song is available on streaming services, as well as CD, vinyl, and cassette copies as a double A-side single together with their 1962 debut, “Love Me Do.” November 10 also saw the inclusion of the song on the newly remastered and expanded versions of the Beatles’ Red and Blue Greatest Hits albums.