Former Wings frontman Paul McCartney has said AI has been used in the production of a “last Beatles record” to be released later this year. In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program to promote a new photography exhibition, McCartney mentioned the track in response to a question about AI being used to recreate early Beatles’ vocals. If you’re in the UK, you can hear his response directly at the 29:30 mark here.
According to McCartney, technology developed for the recent Beatles documentary Get Back was able to extract former bandmate John Lennon’s vocals from a low-quality cassette recording in order to create the foundation for the track.
“So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles record — it was a demo that John had, that we worked on, and we just finished it up, and it’ll be released this year — we were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI so that then we could mix the record as you would normally do,” McCartney said.
“We were able to use that kind of thing when Peter Jackson did the film Get Back where it was us making the Let It Be album,” said McCartney. “He was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette where it had John’s voice and a piano. He can separate them with AI.”
Get Back dialogue editor Emile de la Rey is cited by BBC News as developing the technology that was able to separate the Beatles’ voices from background noise and instrumentation for the documentary. Similar technology was also used on the 2022 remaster of the Beatles album Revolver and allowed McCartney to duet with his late bandmate while touring last year. Unlike other recent AI tracks, there’s no suggestion in the interview that AI has been used to generate entirely new “deepfake” John Lennon vocals.
Although McCartney doesn’t name the track directly, BBC News notes that it’s likely to be a song called “Now and Then,” which was originally recorded by John Lennon prior to his death in 1980. The original recording is believed to have suffered from an electrical buzzing sound and was part of a demo tape mostly recorded onto a boombox in Lennon’s New York apartment.
Two other tracks from this demo tape titled “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” were released in the ’90s in collaboration with the remaining Beatles as part of an anthology project. But “Now and Then” wasn’t included because, according to McCartney, surviving Beatles guitarist George Harrison wasn’t a fan. “George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it,” McCartney told Q magazine in 1997.
But McCartney later said in a radio documentary that he still wanted to finish the track. “I’m going to nick in with [producer Jeff Lynne] and do it,” McCartney said in 2012. “Finish it one of these days.”
A version of “Now and Then” emerged on a bootleg CD in 2009, which BBC News notes that fans believe may have been based on a recording stolen from Lennon’s apartment and was unavailable to the surviving Beatles in 1995.
Although excited at the possibility of using AI to restore old recordings, McCartney said that it’s “kind of scary” to hear John Lennon’s voice singing one of his songs. “People say to me, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s a track where John’s singing one of my songs.’ And it isn’t — it’s just AI, you know,” McCartney said. “There’s a good side to it and then a scary side, and we’ll just have to see where that leads.”
Here’s a full transcription of the question and McCartney’s answer:
Today presenter Martha Kearney: What do you think about efforts that are being made through technology, through artificial intelligence, to recreate the early Beatles, making your voice sound younger [and] bringing those voices back from the grave?
Paul McCartney: Well, it’s a very interesting thing, you know. It’s something we’re all sort of tackling at the moment and trying to deal with. What does it mean, you know? I don’t hear that much because I’m not on the internet that much. But people say to me, “Oh, yeah, there’s a track where John’s singing one of my songs.” And it isn’t, it’s just AI, you know. So all of that is kind of scary, but exciting because it’s the future.
We were able to use that kind of thing when Peter Jackson did the film Get Back where it was us making the Let It Be album, and he was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette where it had John’s voice and a piano. He can separate them with AI. They tell the machine “That’s the voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar.” And he did that, so it has great uses.
So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles record — it was a demo that John had, that we worked on and we just finished it up and it’ll be released this year — we were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI, so that then we could mix the record as you would normally do. So it gives you some sort of leeway. So there’s a good side to it and then a scary side, and we’ll just have to see where that leads.