- By Paul Glynn & Mark Savage
- BBC News Entertainment
More than 50 years after The Beatles split, the band have announced they will release their “last song”.
Called Now and Then, it’s based on John Lennon’s 1970s demo recording and was completed last year by Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Ringo Starr.
The track will premiere on Thursday, November 2 at 14:00 GMT.
It will also feature on newly remastered versions of The Beatles’ Red and Blue albums on November 10.
First published in 1973, career-oriented collections As reported by Rolling Stone magazine “One of the most influential greatest hits albums in history”.
Featuring everything from Love Me Too to The Long and Winding Road, the two volumes are essentially split between the band’s early mop-top days (Red Album) and their more experimental and expansive late period (Blue Album).
In a press release, the surviving Beatles said it was a surreal experience to finish the song.
“There it was, John’s voice, clear,” said Sir Paul. “It’s very emotional. We’re all playing on it, it’s a real Beatles recording. In 2023 the Beatles are still working on music and we’re going to release a new song that the public hasn’t heard, and I think that’s an exciting thing.”
“It was the closest we got to having him back in the room, so it was very emotional for all of us,” Starr added. “It was like John was there, you know. It’s so far away.”
Now and Then was originally written by John Lennon in 1970 after the break-up of the Beatles, and was distributed as a bootleg over the years.
An apologetic love song, it is addressed to an old friend (or lover), to whom Lennon declares: “Nowadays, I miss you / Now and then, I want you back to me“.
After Lennon was shot dead outside his New York apartment building in December 1980, his widow, Yoko Ono, presented the song to Sir Paul.
It was on a cassette titled “For Paul”, which also contained early versions of Free As A Bird and Real Love – the rest of which The Beatles polished and released as singles in 1995 and 1996, as part of their Anthology project.
The band also attempted to record Now and Then, but the session was soon abandoned – guitarist George Harrison said the quality of Lennon’s recording was “rubbish”.
Sir Paul has wanted to finish the song ever since – and advances in audio technology have finally made it possible.
The story began in 2021 with the release of the Beatles’ Get Back documentary. Director Peter Jackson and his team developed new software that allowed them to “de-mix” mono recordings from the 1970s to isolate individual instruments and vocals.
The same technology was used last year to create a new mix of the band’s album Revolver. Producer Giles Martin told the BBC that the software used elements of artificial intelligence and machine learning to separate overlapping sounds.
“For example, you have to learn what John Lennon’s guitar sounds like, and the more information you can give it, the better it becomes,” he said.
That process is now used on the original tapes of Now and Then, eliminating tape hiss and electrical mains noise while preserving Lennon’s performance.
Sir Paul and Sir Ringo began finishing the song last year, adding new vocals, drums, bass, guitar and piano; as well as electric and acoustic guitar parts recorded by Harrison before his death in 1995,
Giles Martin, son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin, added backing vocals from the original recordings of Here, There and Everywhere, Eleanor Rigby and Puke.
The release of Now and Then will be preceded by a documentary about the making of the song, which will premiere on Wednesday, November 1.