The Last Beatles Song (and Other News)

The news zipped across the interwebs like lightning just after 9AM Eastern Time today (it went live here first). "Now & Then," a new-old song by The Beatles made with modern technology, bringing the band back together once more across time and space, will be released November 2. The evening prior, at 7PM London time, the BBC will broadcast "Now And Then – The Last Beatles Song," a short documentary directed by Oliver Murray, describing how the song was made. It will appear on the Beatles' YouTube channel at 8:30PM London time November 1, 3:30PM Eastern US time. There will also be a radio documentary about the song, produced by Beatles historian Kevin Howlett. The BBC today released the first 5 episodes of "Eras - The Beatles," a podcast hosted by actor Martin Freeman; episode 6 will drop November 2 (see

The song will be released for streaming and on radio November 2; the physical release (multiple choices of 12", 10" and 7" vinyl of various colors, for sale in stores and online) takes place November 3. The other side of the double-A-side single will feature the very first Beatles single: "Love Me Do," the version with Ringo playing drums (no tambourine), newly remixed and remastered.

There's more: New 50th Anniversary expanded versions of 1962-1966 ("The Red Album") and 1967-1970 ("The Blue Album") will be released November 10. This release will include both two-CD and three-LP versions, with different song sequences; you can see the track sequences here. In the LP sets, the first two platters contain the same songs in the same order as the original Red and Blue albums; the third record will contain extra tracks. In the CD sets, the extra songs are added in chronological order. All tracks have been remixed at some point since 2015, so the sound is all different from the sound of the original 1973 albums, the first CD releases in 1993 and the 2010-remastered CD releases (see the sidebar). The new song, "Now & Then," starts the 3rd LP of the new Blue. The CD sets offer the symmetry of opening Red with "Love Me Do" and closing Blue with "Now & Then": the first and last Beatles songs.

The newest remixes, everything from Revolver back to 1962, used a machine-learning technology from Peter Jackson's WingNut films, known colloquially as "de-mixing." The process, developed to pull dialog from noisy backgrounds in the Beatles' Get Back documentary series, has been honed to separate individual voices and instruments from individual Beatles tape tracks, which often include multiple voices and instruments. In an e-mail exchange, Beatles remastering engineer and producer Giles Martin (son of original producer George Martin) explained it this way:

"I liken it to baking a cake and then realizing that you want the ingredients back. And so you have to separate the flour, the milk, the eggs, the sugar, and you end up with the source materials. If you imagine recording yourself on a [telephone answering machine], and having a dog bark in the background, and then you're thinking, 'How do I get rid of that dog?,' a computer [can] work out there's a dog sound, and that dog will be removed. So it's removing audio [from a single complex track and placing each instrument and voice on separate tracks], and that means that when I come to mixing, which is where you're choosing the levels of different [instruments and voices], I have control over those in a sound field."

Apple Corps, the Beatles' company, and Universal Music Group (UMG) held a press event September 27 at the Dolby Theater in Manhattan to unveil all this news then slapped a press embargo on it until this morning. The dual purpose of the event was to officially announce the new single and the anniversary Red and Blue albums and play some music in full-resolution Atmos surround (as opposed to the lossy version of Atmos that streams on Apple Music and other platforms). The BBC documentary was also screened, along with the music video for "Now & Then."

Nathan Sheppard, Capitol Records' SVP Marketing, said Universal is treating the digital and vinyl releases of "Now & Then"/"Love Me Do" as "a front-line single" and expect to have a top-of-the-charts hit. Jeff Jones, CEO of Apple Corps, said "there will be exclusive products (colored versions of the vinyl single and combo packages including Beatles swag) on" Jones added, "the ultimate goal is to get as many people to hear it, and feel it, as possible." Expect to see a lot of artist Ed Ruscha's cover image of words and colors as UMG heavily promotes the single.

The New-Old Song
"Now & Then" began as a song demo on a cassette John Lennon recorded in the late 1970s in his NYC apartment, accompanying himself on piano. In the early 1990s, at the time the Anthology TV documentary and multi-album project was taking shape, Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, gave that cassette and three other demos to Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, the three surviving Beatles at that time. The Beatles worked with producer Jeff Lynne and fully developed "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love" as singles in connection with the first two Anthology CD sets. Some work was done on "Now & Then," including Harrison adding rhythm guitar tracks, but it was put aside because technology of the mid-90s couldn't pull Lennon's voice out of the boomy and muddy piano sound. The fourth song, "Grow Old With Me" was rejected by the Beatles but released on the posthumous John Lennon album, Milk And Honey (footnote 1).

Fast-forward to 2022. McCartney asked Giles Martin and Jackson if the new de-mixing technology could keep Lennon's singing and ditch the piano. The answer was yes, and the project picked up steam. McCartney and Starr laid down new instrumental tracks to flesh out the song, including a McCartney guitar solo Paul described as "in George's style." Giles Martin wrote string parts and recorded them at the Capitol Tower in Hollywood—the last session before the studio closed down for years of still-ongoing renovations.

The existence of a new Beatles song has been known in the world for months. In July, McCartney spilled the beans in a BBC interview, in which he described the "de-mixing" technology as "AI." This ignited an online firestorm, with people conjuring a robot-generated Lennon-avatar creating machine-lyrics out of virtual whole cloth. That is not what happened. The voice is Lennon's, the instruments are played by his bandmates, and the production was done by human beings. Jones described Lennon's part in the song this way: "It's a cassette, not AI. It was a conscious decision [by Lennon] to make the cassette."

See the December issue of Stereophile, on sale in early November, for a full review of "Now & Then." There was other news at the September 27 press event, relevant to audiophile fans of surround sound, detailed in the December issue's As We See It.

The New-Old Anthologies
At the event, the new reissues of Red and Blue were described by Jones and Vince Szydlowski, executive vice-president for commerce at UMe, UMG's back-catalog division, which handles Beatles reissues in cooperation with Apple Corps. On Red, 30 of 38 tracks were newly de-mixed and re-mixed. The remainder are from the 2022 Revolver remastering, which also used WingNuts' de-mixing technology. Blue contains seven new de-mix/re-mix versions; the remainder of the 37 tracks are from remix/reissue projects dating from 2015–2021, from the 1+ anthology through the Let It Be deluxe reissue.

I asked Giles Martin about de-mixing and remixing the early, pre-Revolver songs: What is the end goal of that method with those relatively simple recordings? What was gained in service of the song and performance?

"[Let's] talk about the intent. It's like saying, 'Black and white films were intended to be in black and white.' That was only because color didn't exist. To answer the question 'Can you do this?': Of course, and this is what we're [doing], in a groundbreaking way ... We are taking tracks that in some cases—for example, 'She Loves You'—are purely mono, and managing to separate the source instruments from those tracks, and then creating a new [stereo] mix. You have to be careful that you're being musical about this, as natural as possible, but if you were in the room with The Beatles at the studios, you wouldn't be listening in mono, you'd be listening to a band in a room. And that's essentially what we're trying to create. That was the intent, honestly, in those days when my father and Norman Smith were recording The Beatles. They were trying to capture the live sound of a band. So I think that's what we're celebrating with these early mixes, [using] the [de-mixing] technology."

Given that perspective, I wondered why he had chosen to keep drums mostly or entirely in one speaker, guitars in the other, on many of the Rubber Soul-era songs.

"If we were to mix with a set of written rules, the mixes probably wouldn't be very musical. It's really based on taste. In 'Drive My Car,' the drums are still left, but they're not as hard left as they were on the original, I don't think, and that's to give room for the guitar and piano. In 'Norwegian Wood,' the voices are in the middle, the drums are coming I think on the right-hand side, which makes sense because you've got guitars going on.

"The interesting thing is, The Beatles were so economical with what they played, compared to modern day recordings. You quite often have a guitar, bass, and drums, and a vocal, and so if you're thinking about the sound field of the three instruments, if you put the drums in the middle, and the guitar on the right-hand side, and then the bass on the left-hand side, it'll sound right-heavy because bass doesn't have much direction. So therefore, you have to put the drums slightly off to one side in order to create a stereo field. And the voices, we always try to put the voice in the middle."

The Beatles' first recording sessions were to one-track, mono tapes. In later 1962 and 1963, they began using two-track, which was called "twin-track" at Abbey Road Studios. The intent was not to make a two-channel stereo recording but to allow overdubbing on the second track and "bouncing" to a second tape, or mixing two groups of sound to a mono master. In 1964, the group began recording to 1" four-track tape, which allowed more flexibility with overdubbing and building complex instrumental mixes by "bouncing" from two or three tracks to a single track and then re-recording on the other tracks. The main intent was still mono masters, mono singles, and mono LPs, but George Martin began making stereo mixes for the LPs, often without the Beatles in attendance.

Meanwhile, Capitol USA put out its own versions of Beatles albums through Revolver, with different and/or fewer tracks and with Capitol's own mastering. In some cases, Capitol even made its own fake-stereo versions of mono-only content. Those of us in the USA who came of age before the late 1980s got to know the Beatles from those Capitol LPs. If you didn't meet the Beatles in the early and mid-1960s, most likely the stereo Capitol albums were your introduction. When Apple/EMI finally put out the Beatles catalog on CD, starting in 1987, it was the British versions of the albums with George Martin's stereo mixes if they existed (much of the 1962–63 catalog was mono-only). The singles and other strays were collected on the Past Masters anthologies. The entire catalog's master tapes were re-transferred and remastered in 2009, both as stereo CDs of each album and The Beatles in Mono box set. The mono master tapes were also cut to AAA vinyl.

Giles Martin said, "all the first-generation tapes are present and accounted for, and we always do anything with source material from the earliest version of the recording possible," as the starting point for de-mixing. While "there are notes on the tape boxes, ... the best way, really, to find out what's on a tape is by listening to it, and so we do that," and then decide on a de-mixing/remixing strategy, song by song."

Asked about the condition of the Beatles tapes, he provided reassuring news: "I only ever really deal with the multitracks, and they are all in fantastic condition, as you can hear on these mixes."

At the Dolby Theater, Atmos mixes were played of "Now & Then", "Ticket To Ride," and "I Am The Walrus." They sounded very different from the Capitol albums I grew up with. Stereophile was provided pre-release stereo audio for "Now & Then," Red and Blue. A full review of the new Red and Blue will be in the January 2024 issue.

Footnote 1:

JRT's picture

I think that mischaracterizes the trend, because I doubt that this is the last time that AI will be utilized to create another new song from The Beatles, rather quite the opposite.

"Money don't get everything, it's true. What it don't get, I can't use. Now give me money, that's what I want. That's what I want..." The Beatles didn't write that, but they covered it rather well, and it speaks to the underlying desires and motivations in this, which won't be satiated by just one more song, if the production of that song is profitable.

stereostereo's picture

I never really liked the work with Jeff Lynne. Although I am a big fan of his the work sounded too much like a Jeff Lynne song rather than a Beatles one. His influence was too apparent. I am hoping this latest is more in the Beatles vein rather than an ELO one.

supamark's picture

The only thing they used it for was to separate John Lennon's vocal from the piano on the cassette. ALL instruments were played/recorded by the former Beatles, and all the music was written and arranged by human beings; not AI. Unless they find more recorded material (and at least one more living Beatle), this will be the Beatles' last "new" song.

This ain't a Tupac situation, where his estate has released more music after he died than when he was alive.

I'd be more worried about the new AI products coming out that can essentially mix and master a multitrack recording for you. It won't sound very good, but the software exists and is being continually improved.

Mark Phillips,
Contributor, SoundStage! Network.

teched58's picture

...that you guys decided to post a story that would generate some easy traffic. And, thankfully, it's not accompanied by art that's a poorly framed photo of a 60-ish guy with unkempt hair and a protruding belly that's full of, well, belly fat.

Joe Whip's picture

It would be nice if they released the full Atmos tracks which requires a Blu ray. A pity, just like with Revolver.

kai's picture

Tell Me If You Can – the only composition by Paul McCartney and Tony Sheridan, predates “Love Me Do”, and was never released in the Beatles’ era.

It’s world premier recording was by Tony Sheridan and the Ensemble Chantal at Abbey Road Studios London in 2004.

Now that we have a “last The Beatles song”, Tell Me If You Can could in some way be one of “the first Beatles songs”.

Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Pete Best as The Beatles, accompanied Tony Sheridan on recordings in 1961 and as backing band in the Star Club Hamburg in 1962.

downunderman's picture

The new 'Beatles' single is an example of jumping the shark.

McCartney playing in the style of Harrison does not make this single an actual Beatles song just for starters.

cognoscente's picture

even the BBC is so honest and announced it as a song made with AI technology, so you can ask the question, is this a Beatles song or deep fake?

ChrisS's picture

...the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Muti (


a flash mob in Japan (

is still Beethoven.

ChrisS's picture Fur Elise.

Never published or performed during his lifetime.

It is still Beethoven.

bilguana's picture

The AES held a meeting at the Hollywood Dolby ATMOS theater (6321 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90028) in June. The sound was so bad that we walked out. I hope the Manhattan one was a better presentation.
My complaint about "Now and Then" is that Paul decided to omit the bridge, which would have made for a more impactful song. Giles claims to have exactly used the tape that Paul gave him. Hummm...

Laurence Svirchev's picture

I listened to about one minute of the track and stopped. The arrangement is sloppy & maudlin, mainly due to the addition of the strings. The modern sound of the drums, bass, guitar are bury Lennon's voice. Much is made of extracting Lennon's voice from the guitar original, but perhaps that is exactly the reason that this version of a composition musically fails.
One over-riding thought occurred to me: Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. That sound should have been called Wall of Mud. McCartney famously removed all the spectored flourishes to get to essence of the song, renaming the session as Naked.
The Beatles and George Martin were remarkably adept at artistic sound manipulation to make ingenious music, yet here is McCartney returning to the same shuck that Spector used to ruin music. Really odd.