Revisiting The Beatles: Unearthing ‘Now and Then’ – A Tale of AI, Nostalgia, and Closure

Explore the evolution of The Beatles’ ‘Now and Then,’ from a humble demo to a remarkable AI-assisted revival. Delve into the nostalgia and closure this iconic band brings in 2023.

The Beatles' "Now and Then" song
The Beatles’ “Now and Then” song.

Let’s address the most apparent critique right from the start: “Now and Then,” the song hailed as The Beatles’ ultimate single, can’t possibly measure up to classics like “Let It Be,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” or your personal favorite Beatles track.

This song had humble beginnings as a modest demo – a product of John Lennon, who recorded it on a home boombox in the late ’70s while a TV played in the background. It remains a modest demo, albeit one that has been transformed into a respectable full-band production.

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The journey of its production is as fascinating as the song itself, if not more so. The band initiated the process of enhancing “Now and Then” in the mid-’90s, during the sessions that gave birth to the previous “last Beatles songs” – specifically, “Free As a Bird” in 1995 and “Real Love” in 1996. Remarkably, even George Harrison contributed a guitar part to “Now and Then,” a significant feat considering his passing in 2001.

The challenge lay in the original tape’s quality, with a persistent hiss and the omnipresent TV in the background, making Lennon’s demo far from showroom-ready. Isolating his vocals and piano to the necessary standards proved unattainable, leading to the shelving of the song.

This is where artificial intelligence played a pivotal role. Using the same technology that Peter Jackson used to restore footage for his 2021 documentary, “The Beatles: Get Back,” AI separated Lennon’s vocals, his piano, and the unwanted background sounds and hisses that required removal. Despite concerns about The Beatles receiving AI assistance, this wasn’t an AI-generated Lennon creating a song from scratch.

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Nevertheless, “Now and Then” never rises beyond its destined status as a heartfelt, affectionately crafted oddity. It’s evident how Lennon’s lyrics would resonate more deeply with surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, who surely reflect on their departed comrades with a blend of sorrow and gratitude: “Now and then / I miss you / Oh, now and then / I want you to be there for me / Always to return to me.”

As this excerpt suggests, the song lacks profound lyrical depth, comprising mainly of general appreciation, nostalgia, and profound longing. These emotions befit The Beatles in 2023, with half the members taken too soon and the rest revisiting Lennon’s words from the perspective of their early 80s. However, it doesn’t offer much insight, and even though Lennon’s vocals have been polished, they still fall short of how he might have envisioned the final rendition.

Ultimately, we are left with four simple yet remarkably complete minutes that serve as closure. “Now and Then” can never rival the body of work that precedes it, but it doesn’t tarnish it either. It’s best to let it be and cherish every Beatles moment we have.

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