A new and final Beatles recording using artificial intelligence will be released later this year, Sir Paul McCartney has announced.
The musician said he had used new technology to “extricate” John Lennon’s voice from an old demo and complete a decades-old song.
“We just finished it up and it’ll be released this year,” he told the Radio 4 Today program on Tuesday.
Although McCartney did not name the song, it is likely to be a 1978 Lennon composition called Now and Then. The demo was one of several songs on cassettes labeled “For Paul” that Lennon made shortly before his death in 1980, which was later given to McCartney by Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono.
It was largely recorded on to a boombox as Lennon sat at a piano in his New York apartment. The lyrics, which begin “I know it’s true, it’s all because of you / And if I make it through, it’s all because of you”, are typical of the apologetic love songs Lennon wrote in the latter part of his career.
The idea to use AI to reconstruct the demo came from Peter Jackson’s eight-hour epic, Get Back. For the documentary, dialogue editor Emile de la Rey used custom-made AI to recognize the Beatles’ voices and separate them from background noise.
It was this process that allowed McCartney to “duet” with Lennon on his recent tour, including at last year’s Glastonbury festival, and for 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.’
“So when we came to make what would 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 records, as you would normally do. So it gives you some sort of leeway.”
Now and Then was previously considered a possible reunion song for the Beatles in 1995, when they were compiling their career-spanning Anthology series. The three surviving band members released two of the songs from Lennon’s cassettes – Free As A Bird and Real Love – marking the band’s first “new” material in 25 years.
But even though they also attempted to record Now and Then, the session was quickly abandoned. Producer Jeff Lynne, who cleaned up the reunion songs, said the band were “messing with it” during the course of one afternoon.
“The song has a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track, a rough go that we really didn’t finish,” Lynne recalled.
McCartney later revealed the song was shelved because George Harrison had called it “fucking rubbish” and refused to work on it.
“It didn’t have a very good title, it needed a bit of reworking, but it had a beautiful verse and it had John singing it,” he told Q Magazine. “[But] George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it.”
An additional factor behind the scrapping of the song was a technical defect in the original recording, which featured a persistent buzz from the electricity circuits in Lennon’s apartment.
In 2009, a new version of the demo without the background noise was released on a bootleg CD – leading to fan speculation that it was a different recording altogether, and was stolen from Lennon’s apartment after his death.
Over the years, there have been reports that McCartney would release a complete version of the song, and the musicians have often spoken of his desire to do so.
“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.”
The news comes as controversy over the use of AI music continues to mount, with high-profile fakes from Drake, the Weeknd and Kanye West receiving hundreds of thousands of streams before being scrubbed from streaming services.
A UK band even used AI to imagine what Oasis might sound like if they were to reform and release a new album in 2023.
McCartney, who was speaking before the launch of a new book and accompanying a photography exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, said some of the applications of AI did give him cause for concern.
“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.”