The Beatles will release their last song together as a group on Nov. 2, the band announced on Thursday. Titled “Now and Then,” the song will feature contributions from band founder John Lennon, who was murdered in 1980, and lead guitarist George Harrison, who died in 2001, via AI technology and archival guitar recordings, respectively.
“There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear,” Paul McCartney said in a statement announcing the release. “It’s quite emotional. 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 an exciting thing.”
“It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room, so it was very emotional for all of us,” added drummer Ringo Starr in the statement. “It was like John was there, you know. It’s far out.”
Lennon recorded a demo of “Now and Then” with vocals and piano in the late 1970s. In 1994, Yoko Ono, his wife, gave the recording to the three other band members. Harrison, McCartney, and Starr recorded new parts for the song and made a rough mix. At the time, there was no way to separate Lennon’s vocals from the piano and background noise.
In 2021, however, new audio technology was used on the The Beatles: Get Back docuseries to isolate instruments, vocals, and individual voices. Peter Jackson, the director of the docuseries, then used the same technology to Lennon’s demo, successfully separating his vocals from the piano.
Lennon’s vocals, in turn, were included in “Now and Then,” combined with 1995 guitar recordings from Harrison and new drum, bass, guitar, and piano parts from Starr and McCartney. The latter played the piano to mirror Lennon’s original demo, as well as adding a slide guitar solo inspired by Harrison.
“Back in 1995, after several days in the studio working on the track, George felt the technical issues with the demo were insurmountable and concluded that it was not possible to finish the track to a high enough standard,” Olivia Harrison, George Harrison’s wife, says in the statement. “If he were here today, Dhani and I know he would have whole-heartedly joined Paul and Ringo in completing the recording of ‘Now And Then.’”
The day before the release of “Now and Then,” a documentary short, Now And Then—The Last Beatles Song, will premiere on the Beatles’ YouTube channel. It includes commentary from McCartney, Starr, George Harrison, Sean Ono Lennon (John Lennon’s son), and Peter Jackson.
“Is this something we shouldn’t do?,” McCartney asks in the film. “Every time I thought like that, I thought, wait a minute, let’s say I had a chance to ask John. ‘Hey John, would you like us to finish this last song of yours?’ I’m telling you, I know the answer would have been, ‘Yeah!’ He would’ve loved that.”