Sir Paul McCartney stated that he used AI technology to create a final Beatles song, which will be released later this year. The musician stated that he used the technology to ‘extricate’ John Lennon’s voice from an old demo and complete a decades-old song.
“We’ve seen some confusion and speculation about it. Seems to be a lot of guess work out there,” he continued. “Can’t say too much at this stage but to be clear, nothing has been artificially or synthetically created… It’s all real and we all play on it. We cleaned up some existing recordings — a process which has gone on for years.”
Though McCartney has not yet announced the name of the song, it is speculated to be a 1978 Lennon composition titled ‘Now and Then’. The demo was one among a series of songs that Lennon made shortly before his death in 1980 titled “For Paul”. Largely recorded on to a boombox as Lennon sat at a piano in his New York apartment, the cassettes were later given to McCartney by Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono.
“So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles record, it was a demo that John had and we were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI. Then we can mix the record, as you would normally do. So it gives you some sort of leeway.”
The inspiration to reconstruct the demo originally came from Peter Jackson’s eight-hour documentary, Get Back. The dialogue editor for the documentary, Emile de la Rey, used custom-made AI to recognize the Beatles’ voices and separate them from the background noise. This process allowed McCartney to “duet” with Lennon on his most recent tour and to create new surround-sound mixes of the Beatles’ Revolver album last year.
“[Jackson] was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette,” McCartney said. “We had John’s voice and a piano and he could separate them with AI. They tell the machine: ‘That’s the voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar.’
Now and Then was previously considered as a possible reunion song for the Beatles in 1995 when they were compiling their career-spanning anthology series. Though they attempted to record Now and Then, however, the session was quickly abandoned. McCartney also later stated that the song was shelved because George Harrison had called it “rubbish” and refused to work on it.
“The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track, a rough go that we really didn’t finish,” Producer Jeff Lynne, who cleaned up the reunion songs, stated.
Another reason that the band originally cut the song was technical issues in the original recording, which featured a persistent buzzing noise from the electrical circuits in Lennon’s apartment. Over the subsequent years, there have been reports that McCartney would one day release a complete version of the song. McCartney himself has spoken of his desire to do so on several occasions.
“And there was another one that we started working on, but George went off it … that one’s still lingering around,” he told a BBC Four documentary on Jeff Lynne in 2012. “So I’m going to nick in with Jeff and do it. Finish it, one of these days.”
This announcement comes amidst rising concerns over the controversial uses of AI in music, with deep fake tracks of artists such as The Weeknd, Kanye West, and Drake receiving hundreds of thousands of streams before being cut from popular streaming services. McCartney himself is not unaware of the controversy and spoke about the applications of AI that cause him concern prior to his book launch and photography exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
“I’m not on the internet that much but people will say to me: ‘Oh, yeah, there’s a track where John’s singing one of my songs,’ and it’s just AI … it’s kind of scary but exciting, because it’s the future. We’ll just have to see where that leads.”