Sir Paul McCartney has said it was ‘magical’ to be reunited with John Lennon for The Beatles’ new and final song Now And Then – as he revealed it was like having the late star in the room again.
Emotional Beatles fans broke down today as they heard the band’s ‘masterpiece’ which was written and sung by Lennon, developed by the late George Harrison and finished by Sir Paul and Sir Ringo Starr decades after the original recording.
Some 43 years after Lennon‘s death – and more than two decades on from Harrison‘s passing – The Beatles have come together with the help of AI and audio tech pioneered by Lord of the Rings and Get Back director Sir Peter Jackson.
Now And Then, written and sung by John in 1977, features acoustic and electric guitar played by Harrison in 1995. Sir Paul McCartney completed the bass and Sir Ringo Starr recorded the drums in the last year.
Describing how special it was to work with Lennon again, Sir Paul told BBC Radio 1: ‘When we were in the studio we had John’s voice in our ears, so you could imagine he was just in the next room in a vocal booth or something, and we were just working with him again so it was joyful.
‘It was really lovely, you know, because we hadn’t experienced that for a long time obviously and then suddenly here we were, working with ol’ Johnny.’
LISTEN TO THE NEW BEATLES SONG BELOW
Sir Paul McCartney playing bass on the new and final song Now And Then released today. He said it was just like playing with John Lennon again. It features all four Beatles
Ringo Starr recording the drums for the final track (pictured) in the last 12 months. It also includes electric and acoustic guitar recorded in 1995 by George and John Lennon’s original vocals from the late 1970s
Tears of a Beatles fan this afternoon as she listens the new, and final, Beatles song as it was played today at the Liverpool Beatles Museum in Mathew Street
The Fab Four: (Clockwise from far left) George Harrison, Ringo Starr (at drums), Sir Paul McCartney, John Lennon in New York in 1964
Today at 2pm, Now And Then was debuted on the BBC and YouTube to the exultation and excitement of tens of millions of fans. Listening parties have been held all over the world, including in their home city of Liverpool at The Cavern Club and the Liverpool Beatles Museum. Tears were shed as the song played.
Describing how the opportunity came about, Sir Paul explained: ‘Before John died he was working on some songs and Yoko (Ono, Lennon’s wife) spoke to George Harrison and said “I’ve got a cassette with some John songs on that he never got to finish. Would you be interested in finishing them off?”
‘So we thought about it and we thought “Yeah, it would be great”, ’cause in a way we would be working with John again, which we thought we would never be able to do.
‘We worked and finished two of the songs but we didn’t get round to finishing the third one, and the third one is called Now And Then. So it was knocking around for a long time and I kept thinking “There’s something here, you know, we should finish this”.
‘I ended up talking to Ringo and we asked him if he fancied putting the drums on again and then I thought “Well, I could up the bass a bit”, so I put the bass on again. We already had George playing guitar and we had John on vocal – it was kind of magical doing it.
‘So we ended up making it into a real record, and that’s what’s being released.’
Sir Paul said he hopes the track gives fans ‘a loving feeling’, adding: ‘That’s often what we were trying to do with our records – we were trying to spread love. And in this one it is very poignant.
Emotional fans listen with tears in their eyes at a party at the Liverpool Beatles Museum
Liam Gallagher led the reviews, and loved it as did millions of others
Back in the studio! The Beatles also released a short film revealing how they made their last song together 43 years after John Lennon ‘s death. Sir Paul McCartney pictured in the 1990s with George Harrison, who played the guitar track in 1995 before he died in 2001
Demo: The band are releasing the track, Now And Then, which late singer John began recording in the late 1970s before it was unearthed by his wife in the Nineties (pictured) and handed to Paul on a tape marked ‘For Paul’
Referencing George Harrison ‘s death, Sir Paul said of the song: ‘In 2001 we lost George, which took the wind out of our sails, it took almost a quarter of a century before we tackled Now And Then again’
‘It’s John talking about ‘I miss you’ and stuff like that so… I think ’emotion’ – that would be the key word for people to take away from it, ’emotion’.’
Earlier, Sir Paul said finishing his friend’s lost love song felt like the Fab Four were all back together again, declaring today: ‘To still be working on Beatles music in 2023. Wow. It’s probably the last Beatles song, and we have all played on it so it is a genuine Beatles recording.
‘Every time I thought, 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’.’
Among those to celebrate the song was Liam Gallagher who tweeted: ‘Now n Then absolutely incredible biblical celestial heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time long live The Beatles LG x’.
BBC Radio 2 listeners, the first to hear it in the UK, said they were in tears as it played live. One, Gemma from Nottingham, said: ‘Just wow. I got the shivers when I heard the one, two at the beginning of the track. That was amazing. I’m actually feeling a little bit emotional now’.
Another said: ‘I’m in tears listening to the new Beatles track. Let’s hope we have the Fab Four for Christmas number one’. A third fan said: ‘I’m only in my mid 30s but The Beatles were a massive part of my childhood with my parents listening to them, and now this new song. I’m in tears, it sounds so haunting yet so beautiful’.
Now And Then is based on vocals recorded by John Lennon on to a cassette before his death.
He recorded the unfinished piece of music in 1977 as a demo at his home in New York City.
The tape, labelled simply: ‘For Paul’, was then handed to the band by Yoko Ono in 1994, and also contained Real Love and Free As A Bird.
George Harrison, who died in 2001, played the guitar on the songs in the 1995 and 1996.
But Now And Then was shelved, with a hope that one day it would be revisited, because John vocals could not be separated from his piano track, making his singing hard to hear.
But 2022 and 2023, Sir Paul McCartney completed the bass and Ringo the drums after director Peter Jackson used audio restoration technology that allowed for Lennon’s vocals to be used without distortion.
A string arrangement was written with the help of Giles Martin, son of the late Beatles producer George Martin.
Asked about the technical innovation used to make the song possible, Sir Paul said it feels in keeping with band’s own approach to experimentation.
A fan listens, looking emotional, as he hears John Lennon’s haunting vocals at a Liverpool listening party today
Many fans enjoyed the new song Now And Then
Others were not wholly convinced
He said: ‘When there was something a little bit offbeat, technological things… I mean like the first time we heard a tape go backwards by mistake we went ‘Oh what’s that?’, and we wanted to put that on our record, whereas other people would just go ‘Oh, come on, get the tape on the right way and let’s get on with it’.
‘But we always grabbed little things like that so Peter Jackson, he’s organised it so it’s magic. It’s very special for me to be singing with John again.’
Students were allowed to listen to the first play in class today. At Lourdes Secondary School in Glasgow they stopped what they were doing, listened to it and clapped at the end.
Many others shed tears over the song when they heard it for the first time.
Broadcaster Lauren Laverne said: ‘I cried like a baby. And I never cry. It’s global treasure, isn’t it? I couldn’t get over the resonance of the title: to have this final track that’s arrived out of the mists of time, which takes us back to the beginning of this amazing story – this story that’s become part of our national character.
‘It’s the story of Britain in the 20th century, I think. Lads from an industrial city who represent so strongly what Britain did, as we moved from this industrial country to being a place where arts and culture is made. Which is very much what we’re about now: this is a place where ideas are born. They represent this story about Britain, about who we all are. They represent us’.
Last night, surviving Beatles Sir Paul McCartney, 81, and Sir Ringo Starr, 83, released a short film expanding on how they made the track, written by Lennon. John began recording the vocals in the late 1970s and 14 years after he was shot dead in 1980, his widow Yoko Ono gave the tapes to Paul.
The technical issues with turning the vocals into a complete track were considered insurmountable by George, who died in 2001. But the feat has now been accomplished with the help of artificial intelligence technology that was used to better isolate John’s voice.
Paul and Ringo then added new parts, including drums, bass, backing vocals and a slide guitar solo inspired by George.
Talking on the short film which premiered on the One Show on Wednesday, Sir Paul said: ‘When we lost John we knew it was really over.’
He added: ‘In 2001 we lost George, which took the wind out of our sails, it took almost a quarter of a century before we tackled Now And Then again.’
Using new technology, which was used during the production of docu-series Get Back, the band were able to separate voices and instruments, giving them hope of working on the track again.
Speaking about hearing John’s voice again for the first time, Ringo said: ‘It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room so it was very emotional for all of us. It was like John was there, you know. It’s far out.’
A video of John recording the demo at his home in New York’s Dakota Building was given to the rest of the the band in 1994. There were also two cassettes.
It included demos for Free As A Bird and Real Love, which were both completed as new Beatles songs and respectively released as singles in 1995 and 1996, as part of The Beatles Anthology project.
At the same time, Paul, George and Ringo also recorded new parts and completed a rough mix for Now And Then with producer Jeff Lynne, leader of the legendary Electric Light Orchestra.
At that point, technological limitations prevented John’s vocals and piano from being separated to achieve the clear, unclouded mix needed to finish the song.
Now And Then was shelved, with a hope that one day it would be revisited.
In 2021, docuseries The Beatles: Get Back, directed by Peter Jackson, was released and viewers were stunned by its award-winning film and audio restoration.
Using WingNut Films’ MAL audio technology, Mr Jackson’s team had de-mixed the film’s mono soundtrack, managing to isolate instruments and vocals, and all the individual voices within The Beatles conversations.
This achievement opened the way to 2022’s new mix of Revolver, sourced directly from the four-track master tapes. This led on to a question, what could now be done with the Now And Then demo?
Jackson and his sound team, led by Emile de la Rey, applied the same technique to John’s original home recording, preserving the clarity and integrity of his original vocal performance by separating it from the piano.
Finally made it! Now And Then was shelved, with a hope that one day it would be revisited
Heartfelt: During the short film, Paul explained that within minutes, John’s voice was heard ringing around the room, crystal clear, as if he was there in person
Band: However, John’s wife Yoko Ono handed over a series of demos that John had been working on prior to his death, some of which they released at the time. Paul, George and Ringo worked on them in 1995 and 1996 (pictured)
George and Paul in the initial sessions 20-plus years ago
Questions: John pictured with Yoko recording a demo in New York at the time Now And Then was written
During the short film, Paul explained that within minutes John’s voice was heard ringing around the room, crystal clear, as if he was there in person.
In 2022, Paul and Ringo set about completing it. Besides John’s vocal, ‘Now And Then’ includes electric and acoustic guitar recorded in 1995 by George, Ringo’s new drum part, and bass, guitar and piano from Paul, which matches John’s original playing. Paul added a slide guitar solo inspired by George and he and Ringo also contributed backing vocals to the chorus.
In Los Angeles, Paul oversaw a Capitol Studios recording session for the song’s wistful, quintessentially Beatles string arrangement, written by Giles Martin, Sir Paul and Ben Foster.
Sir Paul and Giles also added one last, wonderfully subtle touch: backing vocals from the original recordings of ‘Here, There And Everywhere’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Because’.
They were woven into the new song using the techniques perfected during the making of the LOVE show and album. The finished track was produced by Paul and Giles, and mixed by Spike Stent.
Sir Paul said: ‘There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear. 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.’
Now And Then will also be available on a newly-mastered version of the band’s Red And Blue album, which is due for release on November 10.
Release: News of the final song was announced earlier this summer but it has been confirmed it will be released on November 2, premiering on Scott Mills’ radio show on BBC R2
The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York on February 9, 1964
The Beatles, from left, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney arrive in Liverpool, England on July 10, 1964, for the premiere of their movie “A Hard Day’s Night.”
The Beatles, clockwise from top left, John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, pose in a carriage window of train before they left Paddington Station in London, March 2, 1964
Later this month, expanded versions of the Beatles’ compilations from 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 will be released.
Now And Then, despite coming much later than 1970, will be added to the latter collection.
The surviving Beatles have released new projects, such as remixes of their old albums that include studio outtakes as well as Jackson’s Get Back film, timed to appeal to nostalgic fans around the holiday season.
But this will mark the last one.
‘This is the last track, ever, that you’ll get the four Beatles on the track. John, Paul, George, and Ringo,’ Ringo said in a recent interview with Associated Press.
ADRIAN THRILLS: The Beatles’ ‘last song’ Now And Then is an emotional, human record – a belated swansong that’s well worth the wait
THE BEATLES: Now And Then (Apple)
Verdict: Emotional swansong
A sequence of five plangent piano chords, the gentle strum of an acoustic guitar, the crystal-clear voice of John Lennon and the most eagerly anticipated record of the year is upon us. Now And Then, made with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), is being billed as ‘the last Beatles song’ – the final dispatch from John, Paul, George and Ringo, the four mop-haired lads from Liverpool who shook the world.
Created by extricating Lennon’s voice from an old demo that has languished in the vaults for decades, it’s a landmark pop moment. A reflective, romantic ballad, it opens in melancholy fashion, dominated by minor chords, before the mood is lifted by an upbeat chorus. ‘Now and then, if we must start again / Well, we know for sure that I will love you,’ sings John. His voice is unmistakable, and it’s wonderful to hear it again after so many years.
There are plenty of other familiar sounds here, with strings in the tradition of their 1967 track I Am The Walrus and a Paul McCartney slide-guitar solo featuring long, swooning notes in tribute to George Harrison. But it’s the point when drummer Ringo Starr ups the tempo just past the minute mark that Now And Then is transformed from what could have been a souped-up Lennon solo offering into a fully-fledged Fab Four song.
The bar for a ‘new’ Beatles number is impossibly high. If we’re going to judge Now And Then by the standards of Hey Jude, Strawberry Fields Forever or Harrison’s Something – a ballad from 1969’s Abbey Road that Frank Sinatra called the greatest love song in 50 years – it’s going to be found wanting. But it’s a track that’s going to steadily worm its way into the nation’s affections over the coming weeks.
Now And Then was shelved, with a hope that one day it would be revisited – now it has
So, is it really a new single, or simply a computer-generated Franken-song made for Beatles obsessives? Given the presence of AI, can we now expect to hear Eleanor Robot or With A Little Help From My Algorithms? Some will feel there’s something wrong in messing with the legacy of these four national treasures. After all, The Beatles went their separate ways over five decades ago, and two of the band members are no longer with us.
But Now And Then feels like an authentic Beatles track. Lennon, who was murdered in 1980, and Harrison, who died in 2001, are fundamental to what is an emotional, human record, albeit one where the sound quality has been enhanced by state-of-the-art technology.
Lennon sings lead, and many of the instrumental parts – guitar, bass, piano, electric harpsichord and shaker – are supplied by McCartney. There are acoustic and electric guitars by Harrison and Ringo’s heartening drumming. The fact that this is being trumpeted as the band’s final song should also reassure those fearing a deluge of artificially enhanced outtakes.
Lennon, who was murdered in 1980, and Harrison, who died in 2001, are fundamental to what is an emotional, human record
John’s widow Yoko Ono handed over a series of demos that John had been working on prior to his death, some of which the remaining Beatles released at the time
Talking on the short film which premiered on The One Show on Wednesday, Paul McCartney said: ‘When we lost John we knew it was really over’
The song itself dates back to 1978, when Lennon recorded a piano-and-vocal version on a cassette ‘boombox’ at his home in New York’s Dakota Building. In 1994, 14 years after his murder, his widow Yoko Ono gave the tape, which was marked ‘For Paul’ and also contained two other songs, to the three surviving Beatles as they were compiling their retrospective Anthology series.
The other two tracks, Free As A Bird and Real Love, were worked on and released as singles in the 1990s, but Now And Then was deemed unusable. The audio quality was dismal, dogged by background hiss and the buzz of the electrical circuits in Lennon’s apartment. Paul, George and Ringo added new parts with producer Jeff Lynne, but the technological limitations of the 1990s meant that John’s vocals couldn’t be ‘isolated’ and then produced to a sufficiently high standard. The song was shelved and, despite drab bootlegs emerging online, nothing more was heard of it until McCartney teased this release in a radio interview in June.
Using the software employed by filmmaker Peter Jackson for 2021’s Get Back documentary, Lennon’s vocals have now been ‘separated’ from the background noise and the song finished using George’s 1995 guitar parts alongside fresh contributions, including backing vocals in the chorus, by Paul and Ringo.
What’s been done with Lennon’s rough demo – turning ‘then’ into ‘now’ – by producers McCartney and Giles Martin (son of original Beatles producer George Martin) is extraordinary. It’s a vibrant piece of music, despite moments when it threatens to become a little over-the-top. The addition of further vocal harmonies, woven into the song from the Beatles tracks Here, There And Everywhere, Eleanor Rigby and Because, feels like a step too far.
But Now And Then is still a loving restoration. With their old rivals The Rolling Stones at the top of the charts with Hackney Diamonds, their first album of new material in 18 years, it’s only fitting that the surviving Beatles decided they couldn’t simply let it be. This is a belated swansong that’s worth the wait.