dFor many years, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison worked hard to release what they knew would be the Beatles’ last song. Yoko Ono, the partner of her late bandmate John Lennon, had given them a recording containing three unreleased songs.
However, the frustratingly muffled sound of Lennon singing softly on his piano in his New York home left the surviving trio sweating in the studio trying to get a clear sound.
For McCartney, the idea of finishing the troubled recording seemed a long way off, until artificial intelligence technology gave the pop pioneer new hope.
Almost 50 years since Lennon recorded the first version of ‘Now and Then’, fans will finally be able to hear the Beatles’ last song. A final and moving encore from the four Englishmen from Liverpool who changed music forever.
In collaboration with the team of the director of get back, Peter Jackson, the final version was released on Thursday, November 2. But as many Beatles fans will know, today’s gift is yesterday’s curse.
The story of its premiere is a complicated odyssey in which only two of the original four will be able to enjoy these last and bittersweet fruits of their labor.
Although Lennon announced his intentions to leave the band in 1969, the group did not officially break up until five years later. Tensions over Ono’s involvement, disputes over money, Lennon’s heroin addiction, and a clash of creative egos erupted into an irreparable, ugly, and ultimately tragic feud.
Lennon composed ‘Now and Then’ in 1978, two years before he was shot dead outside the Dakota Building on New York’s Upper West Side, where he lived with Ono and his son, Sean Lennon.
He recorded it with a boombox onto a cassette tape labeled “For Paul,” which was the one Ono gave to McCartney when he found it among his possessions in 1994.
The remaining Beatles released two of the songs from the cassette—’Free as a Bird’ and ‘Real Love’—soon afterward, with the help of producer Jeff Lynne. But despite their attempts in 1995 to work on a version of ‘Now and Then’, they were forced to shelve the project due to the poor quality of the recording.
Harrison’s widow, Olivia Harrison, revealed: “After several days of editing the track in the studio, George felt that the technical problems with the demo were insurmountable and concluded that it was not possible to finish the track to a high enough standard.” .
About two decades later, Jackson (best known for his epic fantasy trilogies The Lord of the rings and The Hobbit) and dialogue editor Emile de la Rey were working on the documentary series The Beatles: Get Back and used cutting-edge technology developed by their studio, WingNut Films, to demix the film’s monophonic soundtrack. In this way, it was possible to separate individual voices and uncover conversations that had never been heard before.
McCartney wondered: Could the same be achieved with the archived recording he had long considered an unfinished business?
Jackson, De la Rey and a sound team got to work and applied the same technique to separate Lennon’s vocal performance from the piano, without neglecting the integrity and clarity of the original recording.
“There it was, John’s voice, clear as day,” McCartney says of the moment he heard Lennon’s clear voice for the first time. “It’s quite emotional. We all participate, it is a genuine Beatles recording. “It’s exciting to still be working on Beatles music in 2023 and be about to release a new song that the public hasn’t heard.”
He and Starr finalized the song last year, incorporating the electric and acoustic guitar parts that Harrison recorded in 1995, along with new drums from Starr, backing vocals and a yearning string arrangement that McCartney, Ben Foster and Giles Martin wrote.
In a touching final touch, Martin added backing vocals to the original vocals on ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Because’ and ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, before producing the final version with McCartney and sending it to Spike Stent to mix.
“It was the closest we got to having him back in the room, so it was very emotional for all of us,” Starr says. “It was like John was there, you know? How innovative.”
This final chapter in the Beatles’ recording history will also be marked by two collections. The Beatles’ 1962-1966 (The Red Album) and The Beatles’ 1967-1970 (The Blue Album) will be re-released with new stereo and Dolby Atmos mixes on both CD and vinyl collections.
The release of ‘Now and Then’ is preceded by a 12-minute documentary, which premiered on the Beatles’ YouTube channel on November 1. The short film tells the full story behind the making of the song and features exclusive footage of McCartney, Starr, Harrison, Jackson and Sean Lennon. The official music video premiered today, November 3.
“It was incredibly moving to hear them work together so many years after losing Dad. “It’s the last song my dad, Paul, George and Ringo did together,” said Sean Lennon. “It’s like a time capsule and feels planned by destiny.”
Translation of Michelle Padilla