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‘Now and Then,’ the last Beatles song, has arrived

The Beatles / YouTube

Music releases happen in tiers. Some only resonate with an artist’s most fervent fans. Others also capture the attention of curious onlookers (think the Taylor Swifts and Beyoncés of the world). Very, very few reverberate well beyond that, finding the ears of people who otherwise care little about keeping up with the music world.

Today brings one of those very, very few in the form of “Now and Then” — a track billed as the last Beatles song.

“Now and Then” has a long history in Beatles lore, starting as a demo John Lennon put on cassette around 1977. Time clouded the quality of that recording, which Yoko Ono first mentioned to George Harrison in 1994. The next year, he and the band’s other surviving members convened to see if they could salvage something from the demo.

Those sessions resulted in “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” both of which were released in conjunction with The Beatles Anthology. But “Now and Then” presented a much greater challenge.

“In John’s demo tape, the piano was a little hard to hear. And in those days, of course, we didn’t have the technology to do the separation,” Paul McCartney explained in the “Now and Then” documentary released this week. “Every time we wanted a little bit more of John’s voice, this piano came through and clouded the picture.”

The skies started to clear in 2022, when director Peter Jackson’s work on the Get Back documentary revealed a path to resurrect the “Now and Then” project.

“During the course of Get Back, we were paying a lot of attention to the technical restoration,” Jackson shared in the “Now and Then” doc. “That ultimately led us to develop a technology which allows us to take any soundtrack and split all the different components into separate tracks based on machine learning.”

Using that machine assisted learning (MAL) software, they revisited the cassette and, as McCartney put it, “There it was. John’s voice. Crystal clear.”

A call to Ringo Starr set the pair to work adding new bass and drum parts to the song, George Harrison’s guitar work from 1995 was added, and Giles Martin — son of famed Beatles producer George Martin — worked up an arrangement for strings.

“It was incredibly touching to hear them working together after all the years my dad had been gone,” Sean Ono said in the documentary. “It’s the last song that my dad and Paul and George and Ringo will get to make together.”