Get Back director Peter Jackson, who helped utilize the AI technology that allowed the two surviving Beatles — Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr — to reunite with the late John Lennon and George Harrison on the new track Now and Then, says it’s “conceivable” that there could be a few more new songs from the Fab Four in the vault.
“We can take a performance from Get Back, separate John and George, and then have Paul and Ringo add a chorus or harmonies. You might end up with a decent song but I haven’t had conversations with Paul about that,” the Lord of the Rings filmmaker says in a new interview with the Sunday Times. “It’s fanboy stuff, but certainly conceivable.”
Now and Then emerged from a demo John Lennon recorded before his murder in 1980. Jackson was able to help facilitate the track by cleaning up the track and layering in contributions from McCartney and Starr, along with guitar parts Harrison played in the 1990s.
Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, gave McCartney a cassette labelled “For Paul” that contained the track when they recorded Free As a Bird and Real Love in the mid-90s for a three-album Anthology project.
After fits and starts, Now and Then was shelved after it was considered unsuitable for release. But in 2021, when Jackson was putting the finishing touches on the Beatles documentary, Get Back, McCartney floated the possibility of using technology to revisit the song.
“We had John’s voice and a piano and (Jackson) could separate them with AI,” McCartney said earlier this year. “They tell the machine, ‘That’s the voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar.’”
“It felt so wrong to have a Beatles song all to myself,” Jackson told the Sunday Times. “It’s not a classic in the sense of I Am the Walrus or Penny Lane — it’s not complex like that. It’s simple, but it’s got a haunting quality. Whenever anyone asks why I like the Beatles, I just say they make me happy. With the world in the state it is, we need the Beatles to appear again, as if a flying saucer has touched down and they’ve got off and are providing us with their one last song to cheer us up.”
As the song progressed, McCartney asked himself, “Is it something we shouldn’t do?”
“Every time I thought like that I thought, wait a minute, let’s say I had a chance to ask John, ‘Hey John, would you like us to finish this last song of yours?’ I’m telling you, I know the answer would have been, ‘Yeah!’” McCartney says in The Beatles — Now And Then — The Last Beatles Song, a new short-film now streaming on YouTube.
In announcing the collaboration earlier this year, McCartney told the BBC that the song was “the last Beatles record,” adding that the project was “kind of scary but exciting.”
“To still be working on Beatles’ music in 2023 — wow,” he says. “We’re actually messing around with state-of-the-art technology, which is something the Beatles would’ve been very interested in.”
“He was always making demos,” Lennon’s son Sean adds in the new short film, “and I do remember him recording into these tape cassette recorders. Mum had these handful of songs that my dad hadn’t finished. And she gave them to the other Beatles.”
But although Jackson was happy to help play a part in reconstructing the song, he initially was reluctant to direct the music video for Now and Then.
“Nothing at all seemed to exist showing Paul, George and Ringo working on Now and Then in 1995,” he says in a statement. “There’s not much footage of John in the mid-seventies when he wrote the demo … And they didn’t even shoot any footage showing Paul and Ringo working on the song last year.”
He quickly changed his mind as newly unearthed material was funneled his way.
“Paul and Ringo shot footage of themselves performing and sent that to me. Apple unearthed over 14 hours of long forgotten film shot during the 1995 recording sessions, including several hours of Paul, George and Ringo working on Now and Then, and gave all that to me. Sean and Olivia (Harrison) found some great unseen home movie footage and sent that. To cap things off, a few precious seconds of the Beatles performing in their leather suits, the earliest known film of the Beatles and never seen before, was kindly supplied by (former drummer) Pete Best.”
The resulting video leaves a “few tears to the eye,” Jackson says.
“Generating emotion using only archive footage is a tricky thing. Fortunately, the simple power of this beautiful song did a lot of the work for us. I have genuine pride in what we made, and I’ll cherish that for years to come.”
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