The legendary singer-songwriter and bassist discussed the prospect during a new interview with Radio 4’s Today Programme, and revealed that AI technology allowed him to “extricate” John Lennon’s vocals from an old demo track — meaning he could complete the song.
While Sir Paul did not explicitly mention which specific track he is now in the process of completing, it seems likely that the track will be one developed by Lennon back in 1978, titled ‘Now And Then’.
As reported by BBC, the Beatles bassist had received the demo from Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono in 1994. It was featured on a cassette that Lennon had made shortly before his death in 1980, and was titled ‘For Paul’.
The surviving members contemplated releasing the song on their career-spanning ‘Anthology’ series in 1995, although this idea was later scrapped.
The ‘Anthology’ series — cleaned up by producer Jeff Lynne — instead featured two other tracks from the cassette, ‘Free As A Bird’ and ‘Real Love’. Completed in 1995 and 1996, both songs were labelled as the band’s first “new” material in a quarter of a century.
The reason why ‘Now And Then’ failed to make it into the project was due to the extensive work it would need. “The song had a chorus but is almost totally lacking in verses. We did the backing track, a rough go that we really didn’t finish,” recalled Lynne (via BBC).
Speaking with Q Magazine, McCartney also said that the song was withheld from the compilation albums because George Harrison disliked it and there were a variety of technical issues in the original recording.
“It didn’t have a very good title, it needed a bit of reworking, but it had a beautiful verse and it had John singing it,” he told the publication. “[But] George didn’t like it. The Beatles being a democracy, we didn’t do it.”
In recent years, Sir Paul continued to discuss his desire to work on the track again — particularly after the release of Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary, where dialogue editor Emile de la Rey used technology to distinguish each member’s voice and separate it from background noise.
“He [Jackson] was able to extricate John’s voice from a ropey little bit of cassette,” he said during the Radio 4 interview, discussing how the method used in the documentary helped him work on ‘Now And Then’. “We had John’s voice and a piano and he could separate them with AI. They tell the machine, ‘That’s the voice. This is a guitar. Lose the guitar’
“So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles’ record, it was a demo that John had [and] we were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI. Then we can mix the record, as you would normally do. So it gives you some sort of leeway.”
“We just finished it up and it’ll be released this year,” he added.
The bassist used this process to “duet” with the late musician on his last tour, although admitted that he finds the process of using artificial intelligence to make music “scary”.
“I’m not on the internet that much [but] people will say to me, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s a track where John’s singing one of my songs’, and it’s just AI, you know?
“It’s kind of scary but exciting, because it’s the future. We’ll just have to see where that leads.”
This isn’t the first time that an artist has spoken out about the concerns of using AI to create music.
Earlier this year, Bad Seeds frontman Nick Cave blasted the concept as “a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human”, and later stated that he wanted AI platforms like ChatGPT to “fuck off and leave songwriting alone”.
“These fucking idiots have clearly got too much time on their hands and too much money that they can afford the technology to fucking piss around doing that for a laugh,” he said in the latest In Conversation series. “People kept sending my stuff like Ringo Starr singing ‘She’s Electric’. There’s not enough hours in the day. Do we need Freddie Mercury singing ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’? Does anybody give a shit?”
On the other hand, other musicians seem more open to the idea, with Liam Gallagher praising the “lost” Oasis album — titled ‘AISIS’ — as sounding “mega”.
Grimes also shared her support for the use of artificial intelligence in developing new music, and even claimed that fans were allowed to use her voice in their own AI projects, provided they share the royalties with her.
Last week, the singer-songwriter also discussed AI and streaming services, and confirmed that she thinks Spotify and others should have a section dedicated to it.
In other Beatles news, Sir Paul is set to launch a new book and accompanying photography exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, titled Eyes Of The Storm.
Running from June 28-October 1 this year, the reopening of the gallery will see 250 photographs taken by the musical legend of his bandmates and surroundings on tour from 1963-64. The musician will also be interviewed by Stanley Tucci ahead of the opening.