One of the most anticipated singles of the year just dropped — not by Taylor Swift or Beyonce, but by a little group called The Beatles.
The legendary band broke up way back in 1970, and in the decades since two members have left us —John Lennon in 1980 and George Harrison in 2001.
But thanks to new technology and some old recording demos, all four Beatles were able to reunite on one final song.
The Beatles (L-R): Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison, pictured in 1965. Credit / Getty.
The track, “Now and Then,” released earlier today, was written by John Lennon and recorded as a home demo in 1977. Lennon was shot and killed in 1980 without ever getting to finish the song.
In the 1990s, the three then-living Beatles — Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison — reunited to record new tracks together based on John’s old demos, effectively reuniting the four Beatles for the first time in decades.
“To hear John’s voice, that’s a thing that we should cherish, and I’m sure he would’ve really enjoyed that opportunity to be with us again,” George Harrison said, as heard in the new documentary Now and Then: The Last Beatles Song.
“It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him back in the room,” said Ringo Starr.
The collaboration produced two singles, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” released as part of the Beatles Anthology project. The band also tried to record “Now and Then,” but at the time they had trouble isolating John’s vocals and piano track on the decades-old recording, and according to Paul “ran out of steam.”
“It was one day – one afternoon, really – messing with it,” producer Jeff Lynne recalled to BBC. “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.”
“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,” Paul told Q Magazine. “[But] George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it.”
In 2001, George Harrison died of lung cancer, leaving Ringo and Paul the only two surviving Beatles. The two have continued to tour, keeping the Beatles’ music and legacy alive and occasionally collaborating with one another, but there’s never been another “Beatles reunion” without John and George.
But recently, the musicians found a way to produce a true “final Beatles song,” by going back and revisiting “Now and Then.”
While collaborating with Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson on the documentary Get Back, they realized that music technology had advanced enough that they could effectively isolate John’s vocals from the demo using AI.
And because George Harrison had recorded guitar tracks in the 1995 session, it was a way to bring the four Beatles together again for a new song.
Paul and Ringo recorded new vocals and instrument parts, and it all came together in one true final Beatles song.
The Beatles have always incorporated cutting-edge technology into their music, dating back to the days of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper, and John’s son Sean Lennon says his father would’ve approved of the use of technology to bring his song back to live.
For the two surviving members, it was an emotional experience that brought back memories of their departed bandmates, and their heyday as the world’s biggest rock band.
“All of those memories come flooding back,” Paul says in the documentary. “How lucky was I to have those men in my life and to work with those men so intimately and to come up with such a body of music.”
“To still be working on Beatles music in 2023 – wow.”
After months of anticipation, the long-awaited song has finally been released — take a listen:
Reaction from Beatles fans has been overwhelmingly positive, with many having an emotional reaction to hearing the Fab Four back together again.
“As a lifetime Beatles fan, there are no words to describe how poignant this is. Thanks to everyone who made this song possible,” one comment reads.
“I was there for their first song. I’m here for their last one. Decades later. Unfreakinbelievable! What a beautiful song!”
“Genuinely speechless, I’m honoured to be alive to witness actual real Beatles history happening right now. Insane,” another wrote.
The single was released with a new mix of “Love Me Do,” the band’s first single from 1962. It will also be featured on an upcoming re-release of their 1967–1970 compilation album (aka the “Blue Album).
The Beatles are the most legendary band ever, and it’s incredible to hear a new song from all four members in 2023. “Now and Then” is a fitting, poignant final track.