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Listen to ‘Now and Then,’ the final song by The Beatles

When the three surviving members of The Beatles were working on the Anthology documentary in the 1990s, Paul, George, and Ringo thought it would be perfect to take some unfinished demo recordings by John, and provided by Yoko, and The “Threetles” (as fans since dubbed Paul, George, and Ringo working together) would add their own parts and polish the tracks so that the four Beatles would appear on new music for the first time since the band broke up. “Free As a Bird” was the first one completed, and it appeared on the Anthology #1 CD in 1995. Next was “Real Love” on Anthology #2 in 1996. But when Anthology #3 was released later in 1996, fans were disappointed. No third new song?

They worked on more music, but the demo recordings were just too rough to make it work. And even the finished songs had compromises to make it work. They had to layer a lot of music on top of John’s original recording to make it sound like a fully-fledged Beatles single, and the hissy, cassette-tape version of John’s voice had a hard time competing with the other instruments added to the track. As John’s son Julian once said about “Free as a Bird,” “It’s a great song. I love it. Although I must say I find it hard to hear dad’s vocals.”

One of those other songs worked on in the 1990s by Paul, George and Ringo was “Now and Then.” They had to abandon work on it because they didn’t have the technology then to extract John’s voice enough for it to be heard clearly enough.

Time goes by, and when director Peter Jackson worked on the mammoth Get Back documentary, his tech team had to invent new technology to the band’s January 1969 filmed recording project come to modern life. If you’ve seen it, you might recall a candid conversation between John and Paul about George’s sudden departure from the rehearsals that was secretly recorded without their knowledge. While the original recording of that discussion was very difficult to understand, Jackson’s team developed computer technology to enhance John’s and Paul’s voices while minimizing the other sounds on the tape. While Jackson still had to add subtitles to ensure the audience could fully follow the conversation, the clean-up job was startling.

Later, Jackson provided Paul with video footage of John performing “I’ve Got a Feeling” from their rooftop concert with everything but John’s voice cut out, so that Paul and his live band could perform to the footage in live concerts, allowing Paul and John to virtually duet together once again on stage.

More recently, Paul, Ringo, and their team used the same technology to go back to John’s home recording of “Now and Then” and extract John’s voice more clearly, stronger, and isolated from other noises on the cassette tape. Since they had begun work on finishing the song with George back in the 1990s, they already had contributions from George on tape. And they could finally finish the song.

Unfortunately, when Paul was describing this process in an interview, he perhaps inelegantly suggested that the song was finished using artificial intelligence to aid with John’s voice. That comment led music journalists and the public to conflate it with the A.I. trickery out there which can simulate John singing the vocals on one of Paul’s solo songs. This is simply not the case with “Now and Then.” A.I. was used as an enhancement tool of the very real John Lennon vocal, and that’s that.

Join the Beatles on their YouTube channel at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 1 for a 12-minute Documentary “Now and Then – The Last Beatles Song.” You’ll find out the story behind the last Beatles track, with commentary from Paul, Ringo, George, Sean Ono Lennon and Peter Jackson.

Listen at 91.3 WYEP or stream at wyep.org.

Mike Sauter started at WYEP in 2004 and held various positions, including Midday Mix host, music director, program director, and station manager.