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What the Hell Happened: ‘Now and Then’ is the Beatles’ Last Bow

By Courtesy of The Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons
By Hannah E. Gadway, Crimson Staff Writer

As Spotify and Apple Music users opened up their apps this week, they may have been surprised to see a new release from the iconic, but long-dissolved group The Beatles. An inescapable question arises: How the hell are the Beatles topping charts with a new song when half of the band is dead?

On Nov. 2, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr of the Beatles dropped a single titled “Now and Then,” which they have proclaimed is “the last Beatles song.” This track features vocal and instrumental tracks from the two deceased members of the Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison.

John Lennon originally sang the demo for “Now and Then” in the ’70s, and the tapes were given to the Beatles by Lennon’s partner Yoko Ono in the ’90s. While Harrison, McCartney, and Starr attempted to rework the song in the ’90s, Lennon’s vocals were too obscured by the track’s piano backing to be usable.

Today’s version of “Now and Then” was created thanks to new developments in AI audio software. “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson’s studio WingNut Films remixed a few Beatles demos for the Disney+ film “The Beatles: Get Back” in 2021. While working on the film, Jackson’s studio also managed to parse out a usable version of Lennon’s voice in the “Now and Then” demo. McCartney and Starr then added Harrison’s ’90s recordings to the track as well as their own modern vocals. Besides aiding the production of the song, Jackson also directed the “Now and Then” music video, which includes vintage footage of Harrison and Lennon edited alongside their aged bandmates.

While the song has revived the Beatles’ mainstream relevancy, its release has also drawn criticism from those who find it unnatural to release music from a variety of posthumous sources. Still, the Beatles have always worked at the forefront of what is and isn’t unacceptable in the music industry. Some of the band’s most iconic projects, like the “White Album,” were created by pushing the boundaries of music-making technology. Many feel that embracing AI technology is a logical step in the Beatles’ legacy. As Lennon’s son Sean Ono Lennon said, “​​My dad would’ve loved that, because he was never shy to experiment with recording technology.”

The song doesn’t just serve as a testament to modern musical software; it also gives audiences a taste of Beatlemania. In 2023, it’s hard to imagine how popular the Beatles truly were at the height of their ’60s fame. “Now and Then” gives modern listeners a look into the experience of listening to a new Beatles song for the first time.

The track also serves as a self-defined conclusion to the Beatles’ unprecedented career. Although the Beatles’ legacy will never leave us, McCartney and Starr have decided to say goodbye to the band on their own terms. “Now and Then” serves as the Beatles’ last bow, and nods to both the beauty of their past musical legacy and the bright future of audio technology.

—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at hannah.gadway@thecrimson.com.

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