The Beatles catalog will soon be made available online by its owner, Apple Corps, for legal downloading from multiple online music services as well as iTunes. Beatles music was a turning point in the history of pop music, and its power will once again prove to be a turning point in the history of online music. As CD sales plummet, Tower Records goes out of business, music downloading matures, and high tech titans call for an end to copy protection, the Beatles — dressed up in white tuxedos right out of Magical Mystery Tour — are happy just to dance with all the online music services, and put online sales on an equal footing with CD sales. Baby boomers are excited by this, and that’s why record labels should also be excited — baby boomers (those of us over 50) are the folks more likely to buy music, compared to the younger generations that are used to downloading free music.
According to Roger Friedman at FoxNews.com (and repeated everywhere in the blogosphere), Apple Corps CEO (and original Beatles road manager) Neil Aspinall said that all 13 core albums — the ones originally released on CD in 1987 — have been remastered and will all be released, probably at the same time. Apple Corps is owned by the Beatles’ two surviving members, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and the estate of the late George Harrison.
You should be able to find Beatles songs here, there, and everywhere — Aspinall told Friedman that Apple Corps plans to offer the Beatles catalog on all services, not just iTunes. Rumors have swirled for weeks, since the Apple-Apple settlement, that the Beatles would debut on iTunes on Valentine’s Day (tomorrow as I write this). It has also been reported, as a rumor, that Apple Corps, the label that owns Beatles recordings, gets a share of iTunes/iPod sales as a result of the settlement.
But Apple (the computer company) was not the reason for the delay in getting the music online. In a written statement submitted to the U.K. High Court back in April (as reported in VH1 News by Chris Harris on April 14, 2006), Aspinall wrote, “I think it would be wrong to offer downloads of the old masters when I am making new masters. It would be better to wait and try to do them both simultaneously so that you then get the publicity of the new masters and the downloading, rather than just doing it ad hoc.”
Indeed, it has been possible to download the older unremastered Beatles music for about 11-14 cents per song (or $1.79 for all of Sgt. Pepper) from the Russian site All of MP3 (Beatles page), but U.S. and NATO government officials have told Russian authorities to shut it down, alleging the site is pirate.
However, the Beatles never made an official debut online, and none of the music of the Beatles as solo artists has appeared either, with the notable exception of Ringo Starr (with his All Starr Band and other albums).
Other holdouts from iTunes and other online stores: Wings and other recordings by Paul McCartney, John Lennon’s and George Harrison’s solo albums, and classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin. Curiously, other Apple Corps artists such as Badfinger, and James Taylor (his first album) are on iTunes.
Jason D. O’Grady (ZDnet, The Apple Core) asks the Big Question: “Whether or not Apple will announce a special edition Beatles iPod to commemorate the occasion. As much as I love the idea of a Yellow Submarine iPod it won’t be a phone-less iPhone (iPod 6G) as many have hoped. Such a device would cannibalize iPhone sales too much.”
I disagree with the idea that a Beatles-branded iPod would damage iPhone sales; besides, I expect Apple to introduce more iPod models, decked out with enough storage to handle larger music and video libraries. Perhaps an Abbey Road model would include everything the group ever did — all music, all films and videos, even audiobook biographies. Nevertheless, the film Let It Be remains unissued. “The film was so controversial when it first came out,” said Aspinall to Friedman. “When we got halfway through restoring it, we looked at the outtakes and realized: this stuff is still controversial. It raised a lot of old issues.” You can find excerpts of Let It Be in the Beatles Anthology video series, which will likely be included in the online rollout.