Beatles Come Together Over iTunes

When the “Beatles for Sale” rumors reported by The Financial Times and The Wall St. Journal hit, there was “No Reply” from Apple (though Steve Jobs was overheard humming “Don’t Bother Me” and Microsoft Zune employees could be heard singing “I’m a Loser”). Asked why it took so long, the label’s spokesperson merely referred to the song “You Never Give Me Your Money”. “Her Majesty” had no comment. Fans everywhere could be heard singing “Don’t Let Me Down!”

This morning, Apple and Apple Corps (label for the Beatles, distributed by EMI) finally made a deal and put The Beatles on iTunes, with great fanfare, streaming video, and an online Beatles Box Set for $149 (a sort of super-iTunes LP).

I have always thought the two should be paired. The Beatles were cool and relevant; Apple is cool and relevant. The Beatles changed everything; Apple changed everything. The Beatles put out a white album with an Apple on the label; Apple uses white and the Apple logo. The Beatles started Apple Electronics to drive forward electronic music (and even experimented with music “stored” in a box that you could play); Apple invented the iPod.

So finally, the Beatles and Apple sing “We Can Work it Out”. iTunes is “Getting Better” all the time. It should have happened sooner. Note that in 2012 the rights for the earliest songs, such as “Love Me Do” will be “Free as a Bird”; i.e., in the public domain.

I wrote back in 2007 (Splendid Time is Guaranteed For All) about how all 13 core albums — the ones originally released on CD in 1987 — were remastered for CD and presumably for online distribution, though it didn’t happen. I speculated that since Beatles music was a turning point in the history of pop music, and its CDs were a turning point in the history of CD sales, the Beatles catalog would once again prove to be a turning point in the history of online music. Besides, baby boomers would be excited, and that would stimulate downloads for record labels.

Well of course the latter happened without the Beatles. In fact, The Beatles: Rock Band game, which did come out, did not light any fires under the game industry, which has already soared without them.

It simply took too long to get all the rights lined up. That is has taken so long means its impact is reduced from what it would have been in 2007. The Beatles may command the power to legitimize a medium, but the iTunes Store is way ahead of the game. What the Beatles remastered catalog has the power to do is to forge a new format for historic albums on iTunes.

I expected far more of an immersive experience with everything the Beatles ever released, including all movies, trailers, Christmas specials, the entire Anthology documentary, and even new surprises such as Carnival of Light and more about the magical mystery chord. Alas, these items will probably be sold separately over time; right now, all you get are the 13 albums plus the 2 compilations. Soon, I hope, you will be able to get the Anthology.

I care most about the iTunes album goodies, which will indeed cause me to open my wallet for music I already own. I care about the remastered music, which will be available quickly for downloading. And I mostly care about the influence the Beatles may yet have on the next generation with these new products — including the message that the love you make must equal the love you take. May we all someday live in a Yellow Submarine.

“I am the Walrus” covered by other bands:

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