The Beatles are releasing a final song tomorrow featuring all four members

To me, the Beatles are in a class all their own. I can’t speak to any technical, compositional reasons why the music is so good, I just know that I love it! When it comes to lyrics, they’re just astounding. At times whimsical, others romantic, and often so unbelievably simple and pure in concept and concisely put together. Like great Italian cooking. If I had to pick a favorite album, it would probably be Magical Mystery Tour. You’ve got “Fool On the Hill,” “I Am the Walrus,” “Penny Lane,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” … “ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE!!!” I could go on and on, clearly. So it’s a treat for all us Beatlemaniacs that an actual new song, featuring all of the Fab Four (thanks to an assist from AI, more on that later), is being released later this week:

The track, titled “Now and Then,” set to debut on Thursday, Nov. 2, will be part of a single paired with “Love Me Do,” the very first single the Beatles released in 1962 in England. It will feature cover art by pop artist Ed Ruscha.

“Now and Then” comes from the same batch of unreleased demos written and recorded by the late John Lennon at his home in the Dakota building in New York City in 1970 that were used to complete the songs “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” both released in 1994. They were included on a cassette Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, gave to Paul McCartney labeled “For Paul.”

McCartney, Ringo Starr and the late George Harrison began work on “Now and Then” at the time but could not finish it due to studio limitations.

However, with the advent of artificial intelligence technology, Peter Jackson, the director of the “Get Back” documentary series, aided the surviving band members in isolating Lennon’s original vocals from the music.

“It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room, so it was very emotional for all of us,” Starr said in the announcement on Thursday, Oct. 26. “It was like John was there, you know. It’s far out.”

Starr added a new rhythm track, and McCartney contributed fresh bass and piano parts, along with a slide guitar solo as a tribute to Harrison, who passed away in 2001. They also provided backup vocals.

Giles Martin, son of the late Beatles producer George Martin, completed the track with a string arrangement and snippets of backing vocals from the original Beatles recordings of “Here, There and Everywhere,” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Because.”

“It’s quite emotional,” McCartney said. “And we all play on it, it’s a genuine Beatles recording. In 2023 to still be working on Beatles music, and about to release a new song the public haven’t heard, I think it’s quite an exciting thing.”

Olivia Harrison, George’s widow, said he prevented the song’s release in the 1990s because it didn’t meet the band’s standards. However, with the technological enhancements, she believes he would have “wholeheartedly joined” his fellow band members in completing the song.

McCartney insisted that despite the use of AI software, there is nothing artificial about the track.

“Can’t say too much at this stage but to be clear, nothing has been artificially or synthetically created,” he said. “It’s all real and we all play on it. We cleaned up some existing recordings — a process which has gone on for years. We hope you love it as much as we do.”

[From SF Chronicle]

We’ve been tracking a few AI stories here, from authors suing different AI software over copyright infringement, to Zelda Williams chiming in on the toll it takes when seeing her father, the late great Robin Williams, being artificially resurrected. I’ve felt pretty securely anti-AI, but this is the first case where I’m conflicted. What I think Paul McCartney was getting at with that last quote is that nothing was generated of John Lennon’s voice, but rather the AI was used to restore old, poor quality tapes. Where it gets murkier, is filling out the track by pulling from other recorded songs. To me that sounds like the film equivalent of playing with age, like how it was still Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in the latest movie, but they also used old footage of him for the younger Indy scenes. (Readers, please correct if I’m way off the mark in my understanding of this nascent technology!) In terms of ethics, I think everything here is kosher because they have all the core people on board (including next of kin where necessary). But as we move into succeeding generations, it will be harder to judge when its people further removed left to give the ok. I do love to watch a good documentary, though, and will have no existential qualms about watching Now and Then – The Last Beatles Song on Disney+, a companion short-doc about the making of the new song.

The cherry on top will be seeing the “Now and Then” music video, directed by none other than mega Beatles fanboy Peter Jackson. Jackson says he was sated with having done the Emmy-winning Get Back docu-series in 2021 (also on Disney+). In a short few 1,285 words he detailed how and why he thought he couldn’t direct the music video. Luckily, excitement won out over fear. Goo goo g’joob!

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

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