Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

The final Beatles song: Can AI be … good?

With the final Beatles song utilizing AI-adjacent technology, Opinion Editor Devin Ankeney is now seeing its potential benefits.
With the final Beatles song utilizing AI-adjacent technology, Opinion Editor Devin Ankeney is now seeing its potential benefits.

Nearly 43 years ago, John Lennon was shot and killed outside of his apartment building in New York City. 

But in 2023, artificial intelligence can let Beatlemaniacs enjoy one last genuinely new Beatles song for the first time since 1996.

“Now and Then” was one of the demo songs Lennon recorded on a tape recorder in the mid-1970s. When the remaining Beatles came together in 1995 to put together the “Anthology” series, chronicling The Beatles’ release history, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr used these tapes to record two brand new, unreleased songs.

“Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” were the two songs chosen and recorded from those demo tapes, and they were the first new Beatles songs in decades. Those songs were largely recorded over the tapes themselves, cleaning up the poor audio from Lennon’s tapes, but it’s evident when listening that they aren’t as professional as songs like “Come Together” or “Penny Lane.”

For a while, that seemed like the end of The Beatles.

Harrison passed away in 2001 and with him, the spirit of the remaining Beatles for quite a while. It took two decades to reignite the flame that once was The Beatles.

Peter Jackson — famed director, screenwriter and producer — helped to build the “Get Back” docuseries, which took viewers through the process behind the album “Let It Be” and the turmoil that had been taking over the band toward their eventual demise.

To help make a documentary worth watching and listening to, Jackson and his team developed software that could extricate human voices from audio tapes — a software largely being dubbed AI after the fact. 

This software paved the way for the acclaimed docuseries and made it possible to listen to words spoken and lyrics sung like never before.

Jackson’s software prompted a Beatle rebirth of sorts.

Once developed, McCartney and others involved in Beatles-related projects saw an opening: “Now and Then.” During the “Anthology” series, “Now and Then” was shelved due to extra-poor audio quality and an inability to agree on how to proceed — if at all.

But now, in 2023, AI technology has given way to make the nearly-lost song. McCartney, Starr and many producers and technicians got back into the studio and pulled together “The Last Beatles Song.”

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

As a self-proclaimed Beatlemaniac, I’ve given the song many listens.

It’s simply beautiful.

Lennon’s vocals are clear on a new song for the first time since the mid-1980s, and it’s the first new Beatles song in my entire lifetime. It nearly brings me to tears every time I hear the lost legend brought back to life on one more track.

But, there’s a problem. Is it an AI Beatles song? Is that OK?

So, to be clear: Kind of.

This mystical and eerie track that eliminated background noise from a bad tape recorder did, in fact, use AI-like technology to get Lennon’s vocals to be clear. However, there’s an important distinction to be made.

This software that Jackson developed absolutely does not create anything new. All it does is find existing human voices and make them clearer. “Now and Then” is a genuine recording using music recorded by all four Beatles.

As a fearful skeptic of our AI-infused future-to-be, I’m here to say that I may have been wrong. If AI can save art from formerly almost-certain extinction, I’m all for it — as long as it isn’t being used to “create” something brand new.

“Now and Then” is a masterful, beautiful, fantastic cap to The Beatles’ song catalog. To hear McCartney’s aging voice harmonize with an eternalized Lennon is absolutely stunning in a way that melts my brain, my ears and my soul.

I can’t believe I’m alive to hear a brand new Beatles song. It isn’t the perfect recording, but it may be the perfect end to the most important band to ever play.

Maybe AI can actually be useful in the production of art. A couple of old Brits — McCartney especially, who is known for using new technology to make music — seem to have proven it possible.

“Now and Then” is the release I needed to culminate my love for The Beatles. The catharsis McCartney and Starr must have experienced putting this song together has transcended themselves. 

“Now and Then” has brought The Beatles to a full and incredible end.