“Now and Then,” a recently finished recording from the late 1970s that is being billed as the “last song” by the Beatles, will be released on Nov. 2, more than half a century after the group broke up, thanks to advancements in audio technology, the band’s remaining members announced Thursday.
The track — along with two other songs, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” that were released in the mid-1990s — was initially recorded by John Lennon as a demo with piano and vocals at his home in Manhattan’s Dakota building not long before he was killed in 1980.
After receiving those recordings from Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, in 1994, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr worked on the tracks, but found that the home recording of “Now and Then” could not be properly mixed with the tools of the time.
Last year, according to the announcement, McCartney and Starr worked to complete the song, using the same audio technology — WingNut Films’ MAL — that the director Peter Jackson used to isolate instruments, vocals and chatter for his 2021 documentary series “The Beatles: Get Back.”
“There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear,” McCartney said of “Now and Then” in a statement on Thursday. “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.”
Starr added: “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.”
McCartney previously caused confusion and consternation among purist Beatles fans earlier this year when he said that they had used “A.I.” technology to finish a final Lennon track. “We were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this A.I., so then we could mix the record, as you would normally do,” he said at the time.
But rather than any artificially created sounds meant to reproduce Lennon’s voice or playing, the official announcement makes clear, the technology was used to preserve “the clarity and integrity of his original vocal performance by separating it from the piano.” The same technology was used for last year’s rerelease of the 1966 album “Revolver,” which included a new mix sourced directly from the four-track master tape recordings.
“Now and Then,” which will be preceded by a 12-minute making-of documentary the day before its release and a music video the day after, 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,” according to the announcement. McCartney also added a slide guitar solo inspired by Harrison, as well as backing vocals with Starr in the chorus.
The track will also feature a string arrangement by Giles Martin, the son of the former Beatles producer George Martin, who died in 2016, along with McCartney and the composer Ben Foster, plus backing vocals from three other Beatles songs — “Here, There and Everywhere,” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Because” — as a nod to the Beatles’ stage show and album, “Love.”
The release of “Now and Then” will be paired with the Beatles’ 1962 debut single “Love Me Do” as a double A-side single with an original cover by the artist Ed Ruscha. The song will also be included in the expanded reissue of the Beatles’ greatest hits collections, “1962-1966” (known as “The Red Album”) and “1967-1970” (“The Blue Album”), due out Nov. 10.