How artificial intelligence helped to bring to life the 'last Beatles song'

Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Ringo Starr have confirmed the release date of what they are calling the last Beatles song.

The record, which has been described by Sir Paul as "emotional", is due to be released at the start of November. Here, ITV News Arts Editor Nina Nannar analyses how modern day technology helped to bring to life a previously thought unusable song.

On the day when the government is warning of the potential risks posed by artificial intelligence (AI), we hear of an application of the new technology that Beatles' fans at least will no doubt applaud. 

Because here we are in October 2023 announcing the release of a new Beatles single - their last ever - and it's only been made fit for public consumption because of the latest AI techniques developed by the Lord Of The Rings Director Sir Peter Jackson. 

The single's origins go back to around 1978, when the late John Lennon recorded a number of tracks onto a cassette while in his New York apartment. 

Those recordings were made all the more poignant after the murder of the former Beatle in 1980, when he was shot outside his home.

Fourteen years later, Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, passed the cassette onto Sir Paul.

The remaining three band members were compiling their Anthology series, looking back on their career, and with the help of producer Jeff Lynne two of the tracks on the cassette were cleaned up for release.

But one track, Now And Then - an unfinished love song - was more challenging.

With reports of a 'buzz' sound throughout Lennon's recording, the technology didn't exist to clean up the sound sufficiently. And George Harrison was said to be against using something where the sound was so poor.

Roll on another quarter of a century, and Sir Peter released his groundbreaking Beatles: Get Back documentary series.

The Beatles teased the announcement by projecting a cassette onto a number of famous landmarks in Liverpool. Credit: Universal Music

A reworking of the bands' 1970 film, Let it Be, Jackson's team had developed a technique - referred to as sound separation or de-mixing - so that guitar sounds could be stripped away to reveal conversations between the Fab Four.

An AI-based machine was effectively trained to identify each separate sound - for example the guitar or the voices - so it could isolate them individually. 

Accidentally letting the cat out of the bag on a BBC radio interview in June, Sir Paul revealed the single was forthcoming, that Lennon's vocals had been isolated using AI, and that he and drummer Sir Ringo had laid down their parts of the song. 

They are also planning to use the technology to restore and remix both the Red and the Blue albums from the 1960s.

We are living in a time when we can watch Abba on stage long after they ceased playing together, when Duran Duran broke new ground getting an AI creation to simply make the video for a single, and where Sir Paul himself accompanied his former band mate John Lennon's voice on stage at Glastonbury last year. 

Technology is making what was once impossible, possible in music. There is much more work to be done on what the parameters of AI should be in the entertainment industry however - issues of copyright are unresolved.

Its use is an issue that brought Hollywood's writers out on strike. 

But today for Beatles fans, who dreamed that there might be more unreleased magic from the Fab Four, it is a dream come true.

Now And Then will be released at 2pm on Thursday November 2 as a double A-side with the Beatles 1962 debut single Love Me Do, and cover art by US artist Ed Ruscha. A music video will debut on Friday November 3.

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