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The Beatles' 'Now and Then': Authentic or Cash Grab?

Photo by j4p4n via Openclipart (Under License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

60 years after ‘Love Me Do’, The Beatles have released their last song ever: Now and Then’; but the story of the song is a complicated one.

‘Now and Then’ began life as a lo-fi piano demo recorded by John Lennon in his New York City apartment in 1977. Following his death, the song was forgotten about until Yoko Ono unearthed a cassette tape featuring the song and gave it to Paul McCartney in 1994.

The remaining members of the Beatles worked with Electric Light Orchestra frontman Jeff Lynne to finish the song for release as part of The Beatles Anthology: multimedia project alongside ‘Free as a Bird’ and ‘Real Love’. Though two other Lennon demos saw completion during this time, ‘Now and Then’ was shelved due to technical difficulties in removing white noise from Lennon’s demo tape and George Harrison’s dislike of the song.

However, during the production of The Beatles: Get Back (2022) documentary, filmmaker Peter Jackson developed new AI technology to separate audio tracks on old recordings. It is with this technology that Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Giles Martin were able to complete the song ready for release more than 45 years after its initial creation.

Yet McCartney’s insistence that this is a “genuine Beatles recording” is up for debate. Whilst it is true that all four Beatles feature on the song, the manner in which it was produced is more reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster than authentic music. The uncanny artificiality only makes listeners doubly aware of how they aren’t really together anymore. Stitching together recordings from four different decades including a McCartney slide guitar solo in the style of George Harrison; is it an imitation of a Beatles song made to profit off of nostalgia rather than the real thing.??

There is also the glaring issue of consent. John Lennon and George Harrison have been dead for over 40 and 20 years respectively, and despite their estates greenlighting the project, one must wonder what they would think of the song in its final form. Though Sean Ono Lennon says that his father “would’ve loved” the use of modern technology to finish the song, we will ultimately never know his thoughts on what is essentially a throwaway demo being turned into ‘the last Beatles song’ to bookend their legacy.

Part of the reason why the song was abandoned during the Anthology sessions was that Harrison reportedly described it as “fucking rubbish” with McCartney saying “George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it”. It then seems ironic that McCartney is more than happy to override Harrison’s wishes regarding the song now that he isn’t around to veto it. Whilst

Although the song doesn’t compare to Lennon’s countless masterpieces both with The Beatles and in his solo career, I think the song is good; but the issue of whether it should exist in the first place is another issue.

The Beatles being one of the most influential and forward-thinking bands of all, what does the release of ‘Now and Then’ mean for the future of the music industry?

Though AI was only used to restore and refine Lennon’s demo tape in this instance, it is conceivable that it may be used to create entirely new music from long-gone artists at some point; this future is closer than we think in light of AI covers racking up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and TikTok. A world of computer-generated music from dead artists is arguably about as dystopian and anti-art as you can get.

So it’s almost relieving that ‘Now and Then’ song doesn’t resemble an authentic collaboration of the band members because it demonstrates the limits of AI in music. All in all, it seems that McCartney and Starr were too preoccupied with whether or not they could make a new Beatles song that they didn’t stop to think if they really should.

Edited by Akane Hayashi and Lucy Blackmur, Music Editors


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