Records and Roots: Artificial intelligence is no stranger to music world

Imagine there’s another Beatles song out there to be made. It’s easier than you think. John Lennon’s dead. George Harrison, too. Yet imagine a new Beatles song anyway — with the full lineup.

Apparently, that’s about to happen.

Courtesy of Paul McCartney and artificial intelligence, or AI, a new Beatles song will be released later this year. McCartney said AI allowed him to “extricate” Lennon’s voice from a dusty demo and complete a song they nearly issued decades ago.

“We just finished it up, and it’ll be released this year,” McCartney said to Radio 4 Today in London of the unnamed song.

Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, sent the song via cassette tape labeled “To Paul” to McCartney. The tape was made shortly before Lennon’s death in 1980.

AI has been used to “clean up” Beatles material before. For instance, on his recent tour, McCartney performed a “duet” with Lennon on the Beatles song “I’ve Got a Feeling.”

“So when we came to make what will be the last Beatles record,” McCartney said, “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.”

Country music did that years ago. Okay, no one referred to the process as AI, but that does not deter from the fact that studio voodoo or wizardry or magic or whatever you wish to call it, occurred.

Patsy Cline perished in a plane crash near Nashville on March 5, 1963. Fellow country star Jim Reeves died in a plane crash near Nashville on July 31, 1964.

Unlikely though it may seem, RCA Records’ Reeves and Decca Records’ Cline — who never recorded together in life, scored a top 10 country record with “Have You Ever Been Lonely (Have You Ever Been Blue)” nearly 20 years after their respective deaths. The song debuted on Billboard on Nov. 7, 1981. Issued on Reeves’ RCA, it peaked at No. 5 in early 1982.

To satisfy label agreements, MCA (formerly Decca Records) released a Cline and Reeves duet of “I Fall to Pieces” in May 1982. The song debuted on Billboard on June 5, 1982. Alas, by then the novelty had worn down, and the song chugged along to peak at No. 54. Most country fans never even heard that record.

So, how’d they do it back then? The same way Hank Williams Jr. “dueted” with his late father, Hank Williams, on “There’s a Tear in My Beer” in 1988. The song and accompanying music video became sensations. In addition to it becoming a top 10 single in 1989, the song won a Grammy — even though the late Hank Williams died on New Year’s Day 1953.

Williams wrote “There’s a Tear in My Beer” and recorded a demo of the song in either 1950 or ’51. His producer, Fred Rose, was reluctant to issue songs about drinking alcohol. So Williams passed the demo — essentially a blueprint sparse recording of a song, to Big Bill Lister. He recorded and released the song in 1952 on Capitol Records as the B side of a 45 RPM record.

Decades later, Lister gave the original demo to Hank Williams Jr., who proceeded to do essentially the same thing McCartney did — except for one thing — with the forthcoming new release by the Beatles.

Through recording studio technology, Williams isolated his father’s voice from the demo. He added his voice, new music — and voila! An unlikely father-son duet of the two Hanks was reality. Same thing happened with Cline and Reeves.

Only thing, Patsy Cline wasn’t finished. Neither was Hank Williams. In 1999, Mercury Records snagged Cline’s vocals from her records, including “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “Life’s Railway to Heaven.” Crafted as duets, Cline’s voice was fused with singers she never even met.

Issued in 1999 as Patsy Cline’s “Duets (Volume 1),” the album cobbled Cline’s voice with those of John Berry (“There He Goes”), Glen Campbell (“Too Many Secrets”), Willie Nelson (“Life’s Railway to Heaven”) and so forth.

There’s more. In 1985, Columbia Records compiled an album of Willie Nelson duets for a release titled, “Half Nelson,” which sold well. The album features Nelson on songs with Merle Haggard, Mel Tillis, Neil Young, Ray Charles and a very dead and scratchy-voiced Hank Williams.

Williams wrote and recorded “I Told a Lie to My Heart” as a demo in 1947. It’s one of the earliest demos by the late Hillbilly Shakespeare known to exist. Well, four years before Hank Jr. hatched “There’s a Tear in My Beer” as a duet with his father, Nelson did so with “I Told a Lie to My Heart.”

However, there’s a difference between the Williams records and what McCartney has planned for the last Beatles song. Each were taken from a demo. Yet the scratchy vocals on Williams’ demos remained pretty much as such when added to updated records. Thanks to AI, Lennon’s vocals should sound new.

Meanwhile, the new Beatles song will seem novel to many, perhaps even wildly inventive, courtesy society’s latest bogeyman, AI.

Oh, sure, Lennon’s voice will not sound scratchy, much as Williams’ voice did when his son “brought him back.” But, as with most things under the sun, the music business has been there and done that decades ago.

Imagine! Elvis Presley back from the grave to tour? Oh wait, that’s been done, too.

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