Peter Jackson is a gift to humanity.
Not only did he direct the greatest trilogy of all time ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ Jackson masterfully documented WWI in ‘They Shall Not Grow Old ‘ and The Beatles docuseries ‘Get Back‘ he’s also done the impossible; a new, original, Beatles music video.
The John Lennon song “Now and Then” – released last week by The Beatles – was made possible thanks to AI. Or more accurately, Machine Learning, which comes under the banner of Artificial Intelligence.
Peter Jackson’s team had developed a system to untangle voice and instruments into separate tracks when working on ‘Get Back’.
They were able to apply this technology to Lennon’s 1970s home recording of ‘Now and Then’ which had piano and voice mixed together on tape. And that recording was rough. It not only had Lennon’s voice meshed in with his piano playing, it had a horrible hum.
And as I told Tim Gilbert on Sky News Weekend Edition, this is not an AI recreation of Lennon’s voice. It is a cleaning up of the track to isolate Lennon’s real voice. Effectively saving it.
“There it was, John’s voice, crystal clear,” said Paul McCartney.
“It’s quite emotional. And we all play on it, it’s a genuine Beatles recording. In 2023 to still be working on Beatles music, and about to release a new song the public haven’t heard, I think it’s an exciting thing.”
The Beatles actually tried this in 1995 but did not have the technology to make it work.
“Back in 1995, after several days in the studio working on the track, George (Harrison) felt the technical issues with the demo were insurmountable and concluded that it was not possible to finish the track to a high enough standard,” said Olivia Harrison, George Harrison’s wife.
“If he were here today, Dhani (their son) and I know he would have whole-heartedly joined Paul and Ringo in completing the recording of ‘Now And Then.’”
Sadly, George Harrison died in 2001 but his guitar playing is on the track after laying it down in 1995.
“It was incredibly touching to hear them working together after all the years that Dad had been gone,” said Sean Ono Lennon, John Lennon’s son.
“It’s the last song my dad, Paul, George and Ringo got to make together. It’s like a time capsule and all feels very meant to be.”
It was Yoko Ono who passed John Lennon’s unfinished recordings onto The Beatles. It set in motion a decades-long journey to the final song from the Fab Four.
And that’s where Peter Jackson’s team came in.
“It was the closest we’ll ever come to having him (John Lennon) back in the room, so it was very emotional for all of us. It was like John was there, you know. It’s far out,” said Ringo Starr.
In the end, the extraction of Lennon’s voice from the original recording was the straight forward part. The technology was in place since ‘Get Back’ so it was a similar execution of the process used in that series.
But there was plenty of work to do on the song itself. New lines were written and sung, instruments laid down, strings added, backing vocals too.
As accomplished and admired as Peter Jackson is, the director was overwhelmed by the request to produce the music video of ‘Now and Then’.
“To be honest, just thinking about the responsibility of having to make a music video worthy of the last song The Beatles will ever release produced a collection of anxieties almost too overwhelming to deal with,” said Jackson.
“My lifelong love of The Beatles collided into a wall of sheer terror at the thought of letting everyone down. This created intense insecurity in me because I’d never made a music video before, and was not able to imagine how I could even begin to create one for a band that broke up over 50 years ago, had never actually performed the song, and had half of its members no longer with us.”
But Jackson stepped up and delivered. As he pretty much always does.
Crucially, all four Beatles are on the song. The final song. So thank you Peter Jackson and AI. You’ve made millions of Beatles fans very happy.
“Now And Then” Credits:
- Produced by Paul McCartney, Giles Martin
Additional Production: Jeff Lynne
Vocals: John Lennon, Paul McCartney
Backing Vocals: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Guitars: George Harrison
Guitars, Bass, Piano, Electric Harpsichord, Shaker: Paul McCartney
Drums, Tambourine, Shaker: Ringo Starr
- Additional Credits:
String Arrangement: Paul McCartney, Giles Martin, Ben Foster
Mixed by Spike Stent
Engineered by Geoff Emerick, Steve Orchard, Greg McAllister, Jon Jacobs, Steve Genewick, Bruce Sugar, Keith Smith
Source Separation / MAL Courtesy of WingNut Films Productions Ltd.
Head of Machine Learning: Emile de la Rey
Project Management: Adam Sharp
- Recorded at Hog Hill Studio, Capitol Studios and Roccabella West
Mastered by Miles Showell
- Project Producers: Jonathan Clyde and Guy Hayden
Executive Producer: Jeff Jones
- Video Director: Peter Jackson
- Video Producers: Peter Jackson, Clare Olssen, Jonathan Clyde
- Audio Producers: Paul McCartney and Giles Martin
- Production Company: WingNut Films Productions Ltd