Film-maker Peter Jackson has said it was “head spinning” to be involved in the creation of the “last Beatles record” featuring all four band members.
Now And Then – sourced from a John Lennon demo using technology to extricate and isolate his voice – was released on Thursday by Apple Corps, Capitol and Universal Music Enterprises (UMe).
The demo was recorded by Lennon in the late 1970s at his home in New York’s Dakota Building and was given to the remaining Beatles by his widow Yoko Ono, in 1994, along with Free As A Bird and Real Love.
Apart from Now And Then, all of the songs were released by the band in the same decade.
— The Beatles (@thebeatles) November 2, 2023
The song was left as the band had found it difficult to extract Lennon’s vocals from the sound of the piano in a clear mix.
George Harrison, Sir Paul and Sir Ringo Starr had recorded new parts of the song and completed a rough mix for Now And Then with producer and musician Jeff Lynne.
Jackson’s 2021 documentary The Beatles: Get Back used audio restoration technology that allowed for vocals, music and conservations by the band to be isolated and this enabled a new mix of the Revolver album, sourced directly from the four-track master tapes, in 2022.
After this, Jackson and his sound team, led by Emile de la Rey, successfully used software to help separate Lennon’s vocals from the piano in Now And Then.
The Lord Of The Rings film series director Jackson, 62, recalled the moment Sir Paul asked him for help in extracting Lennon’s vocals for a remastered version of the song.
Speaking on the BBC Sounds podcast Eras: The Beatles, narrated by Sherlock actor Martin Freeman, Jackson said: “I got a phone call from Paul saying, ‘Is it possible to use your technology for another project that I’ve been thinking about?
“‘I’ve got a third song that we were going to do for the anthology series. Free As A Bird, Real Love and there was this third one.
NOW LIVE! Watch the documentary and learn the full story behind ‘Now And Then’ – with exclusive footage and commentary from Paul, Ringo, George, Sean Ono Lennon and Peter Jackson.https://t.co/UaCIMywCOX #NowAndThen @johnlennon @PaulMcCartney @GeorgeHarrison @ringostarrmusic… pic.twitter.com/9OZL5VdGMR
— The Beatles (@thebeatles) November 1, 2023
“‘We abandoned it because the quality of John’s demo tape that the others were playing too wasn’t good enough’ and they couldn’t separate John’s demo piano playing from his vocals.
“And Paul said ‘Look would it be possible to take John’s vocal and clean it up and get rid of everything else because that would allow us to finish this Beatles song?’ and it didn’t take me more than about a second to say ‘Of course we can do it.’
“I mean, just the fact that I might get involved in some kind of minor way to help complete a new Beatles song was sort of head-spinning territory for me.”
Instead of using prior recordings, Jackson went straight to the source and used a digital copy of the original to extract the vocals.
Sir Paul wanted to introduce strings into the song, so an orchestra was tasked with playing some sheet music.
“We had to put the music out on the stands for the musicians but we couldn’t tell them it was a new Beatles song,” Sir Paul said.
Peter Jackson Talks About Making The Beatles' Last Music Video #NowAndThen “When Apple asked me to make the music video, I was very reluctant – I thought my next few months would be a hell of a lot more fun if that tricky task was somebody else’s problem, and I could be like… pic.twitter.com/LVMkboGgpX
— The Beatles (@thebeatles) October 31, 2023
He added: “I think they’d be much more excited to now learn that it was the new John song.”
As the song began to take shape, Sir Paul said that they started playing the piece of music to different people.
“We played it to various people, some of whom cried, some of whom said ‘Jesus Christ it’s a Beatles record’ but the reaction was very favourable,” he said.
The song was released as a double A-side with the band’s 1962 debut single Love Me Do, and cover art by US artist Ed Ruscha.
It is available to listen to via streaming services that include Spotify and Apple Music.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, in support of an exhibition showcasing Sir Paul’s Beatlemania photos at the National Portrait Gallery, the musician described Now And Then as “the last Beatles record”.
New Zealand filmmaker Jackson has directed the music video for the new Beatles song, which will be released on Friday at 2pm.