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The Beatles release a new song, with a little help from AI

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

New music singles don't usually make headlines, but what if it's a new single from a group that broke up more than 50 years ago?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOW AND THEN")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) I know it's true. It's all because of you.

SIMON: That single, "Now And Then," has an origin story worthy of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOW AND THEN")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) It's all because of you.

SIMON: John Lennon's vocals for the song go back to the late 1970s. He was essentially a stay-at-home dad then, writing songs on the side, songs that would make up "Double Fantasy," the solo album released shortly before he was murdered in 1980.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAUTIFUL BOY (DARLING BOY)")

JOHN LENNON: (Singing) Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Beautiful boy.

SIMON: Yoko Ono, John Lennon's widow, gave those late '70s demo tapes to his former bandmates. That inspired Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to get back into the studio. With the help of producer Jeff Lynne, they remixed the old vocals and recorded some new music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREE AS A BIRD")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Free as a bird.

SIMON: The song "Free As A Bird" was followed by another off those discarded demo tapes from John Lennon's home studio, "Real Love." They tried for a third song - "Now And Then." But John Lennon's vocals, along with his piano, were recorded on analog tape. There was a television playing in the background. Thirty years ago, there was no way to isolate his vocals from that recording, but a breakthrough came from a certain docuseries.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Yeah, yeah, check me out. Yeah, he thought she was a woman, but she was another man.

SIMON: Millions of people spent their COVID quarantines watching Peter Jackson's "The Beatles: Get Back." Its nearly eight hours of The Beatles being The Beatles in a way fans had rarely seen - chatting, laughing, playing music over one another.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEATLES: GET BACK")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Desmond had a barrow in the market place. Doris had another in the bog.

SIMON: Peter Jackson used technology aided by AI to isolate the audio of those exchanges that would have been drowned out by the chaos of the studio. This new tech allowed producers to strip John Lennon's vocals from that old demo tape and bring "Now And Then" to life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOW AND THEN")

THE BEATLES: (Vocalizing).

SIMON: Paul and Ringo finished the song with new drum and bass parts and added a string section. George Harrison died in 2001, but his surviving bandmates included the guitar parts that he recorded in 1995. Is a song built this way truly a Beatles song? We asked Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn.

MARK LEWISOHN: I think a Beatles recording is a recording that has all four Beatles on it that has the name Beatles on it. It's a collaborative effort by the four of them. Well, by the four of them in the sense that two worked on it, and two have worked on it since the first two died. It's a bit tricky, I do agree.

SIMON: Tricks aside, if it's a Beatles song, is it a good Beatles song?

LEWISOHN: I was concerned that there was a chance that this one might have a lot of people scoffing, going, huh, all that fuss about that? So it is a relief, as I say, to hear that it is a very good track, and I've only heard it three or four times, and already I can't stop singing it and whistling it in my head.

SIMON: The Beatles latest single, "Now And Then." Perhaps their last, but really, who knows?

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEATLES SONG, "NOW AND THEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.