Listen to AI-Assisted John Lennon in The Beatles ‘Final’ New Song

Listen to AI-Assisted John Lennon in The Beatles ‘Final’ New Song

Music icon John Lennon was assassinated 43 years ago, but his voice is still kicking around. Using the latest AI technology, surviving members of The Beatles, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, have the ability to extract Lennon’s voice from the most notorious track of his unreleased library.

McCartney and Starr got together to do one last hurrah to release an all-new track and further immortalize The Beatles’ work. There was a track Lennon wrote and recorded in the late 1970s, a demo called Now and Then that was never professionally released. Lennon’s last living bandmates say they had long wanted to somehow expand the song into a fully produced track, but they simply couldn’t fix the audio issues and extract the songwriter’s voice without distorting it. The surviving Beatles along with Universal Music say they’ve done what seemed impossible for years and extricated the singer-songwriter’s voice from an old demo tape with the help of AI.

Now And Then

Now it’s here, released at 10 a.m. on Thursday by Universal Music record label. The single Now and Then is reminiscent of the band’s later tracks, though really it just includes the now venerable Beatles members harmonizing on top of the AI-enabled Lennon.

The members of The Beatles described Now and Then as their “final song” that’s supposed to encapsulate the legendary legacy of the pioneering rock band. Still, it’s a reminder that the entertainment industry now thinks it can continue to profit off artists’ work, even after they’re in the ground. All that for a song that’s just… good. Not incredible, just good. It fits into the Beatles lexicon, but it’s hard to put it into any one album.

The song is fine and works as a Beatles song if you listen to it once in isolation. George Harrison’s guitar solo is especially soulful, which is all the more painful since he passed away in 2001. But otherwise not much stands out. If you like The Beatles, you’ll like Now and Then well enough.

Because there are plenty of other folks who are simply excited to have a new Beatles song in 2023. Apple CEO Tim Cook called it “a song 40 years in the making” while promoting the track on Apple Music.

The old bandmates previously said they got the idea to release this single after helping to make Peter Jackson’s 2021 documentary Get Back. That film used a software called MAL to isolate conversations between Lennon, Harrison, McCartney, and Starr from archival footage of the band making their album Let It Be. That same technology was used to extract Lennon’s voice from the original demo track. They also used a 1995 recording of Harrison’s guitar solo during the group’s original attempt to remake the track.

This song isn’t just about the song. It can’t be. Lennon is credited as a producer on the song, alongside his former bandmates Harrison, Starr, and McCartney, the latter of which is also credited with arranging the production. In an accompanying 12-minute short doc describing how the music was made, Lennon’s son Sean Ono Lennon and McCartney both say the long-deceased Beatles member would have appreciated the new AI recording techniques.

The Beatles – Now And Then – The Last Beatles Song (Short Film)

But as Geoff Edgers (an obviously much bigger Beatles fan than I) from The Washington Post put it, “Is that how we treat vital elements of the pop canon? As works to be deconstructed decades later, simply because we can?”

Other companies are already planning to do the same thing with both living and deceased artists. Google and Universal Music were in talks to replicate artists’ voices. That’s not to mention the number of deepfake music spreading on YouTube and Spotify. Now and Then will prove popular, popular enough that even more companies might think recreating dead artists is not only profitable but wanted by the public. Never mind the ethics of re-using a dead man’s voice. That will never come into the discussion.

Update 11/2/23 at 1:32 p.m. ET: This post was amended to further clarify that the AI used for creating the song extracted Lennon’s vocals, not that it remade his vocals.

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