It’s The Beatles

Beatles image on the front page of Apple.com.

Yes, It’s The Beatles. Which surprised me a little when I became convinced of it last night because in recent weeks I’d been working under the theory that bringing the Beatles catalogue to iTunes was a high priority only for Apple…not for the Beatles or EMI. Record companies would like for us to buy the whole CD if they can. CDs still account for something like 80% of all music sales and The Beatles might be the only group whose albums are so valuable as entire units that the public would be just as happy to rip the discs themselves.

I think it’s more about exposure than unit sales. The Beatles broke up just about when I was born (I had nothing to do with it, I should add). So when I entered that phase where I started to develop my personal musical tastes, much of this music was already nearly two decades old.

Today, this stuff was released forty years ago. Was I terribly interested in The Andrews Sisters or Eddie Cochran Domino when I was 18? I was not. It doesn’t matter how good “Twenty Flight Rock” might have been…it was ancient and remote and it was nowhere on my radar.

So I think it’s more a case of EMI and the Beatles trying to give the music an extra push to make sure it’s available — and that it seems fresh and relevant — to new generations of listeners. Why did the Beatles license their music for Cirque du Soleil? Why did they allow a special version of Rock Band? Why does Yoko allow footage of John Lennon to be used in commercials?

It’s all down to the same reason. The Beatles don’t need the money. What they really want is to make sure that “Hey, Jude” remains part of the world soundtrack. They want to ensure that future generations, like every generation since the Sixties, will have that one Beatles song that resonates so deeply with a specific moment in their lives that the first few bars will always stop them cold no matter where they are or what they’re doing. A move towards the iTunes Store is yet another move towards that goal.

What does this mean for Apple? I dunno. I still can’t say whether or not there’s been a tidal wave of pent-up demand for digital downloads of The Beatles and if it’ll translate into another comma being added to Apple’s quarterly profits statement. It’s definitely an important acquisition, for the same reason why signing Letterman was an important deal for CBS. In an increasingly-crowded market, it underscores the message that Apple, and iTunes, is where it’s all happening and that there is indeed a difference between the iTunes Store and Amazon MP3.

As for me…I’ll tentatively say that I called this one correctly. I didn’t embrace the Beatles rumor, but I didn’t reject it, either. I was consistently saying that it would be a content announcement as opposed to a “new feature” one, though I wasn’t certain what kind of content it would be.

I didn’t start to have real confidence in the Beatles story until late last night, when a bunch of additional assets came through. Before then, all we had were a bunch of theories about what the wording of the announcement was and what the clock faces represented. Apple does like its puzzles. But I resolutely insist that someone who insists that it was all clearly spelled out in vague title fragments and by the fact that “there could only be one reason why Apple included four of those” is probably also someone who fell for the “Paul Is Dead” rumors back in the Sixties.

I reckon they did a little too much LDS back then as well.

I won’t be buying these tracks. Like most people, I already own the CDs. I even bought second copies of two or three of my favorites when they were remastered and re-released. As usual, if I really like the group or the album I don’t bother with MP3’s. I’d rather buy the disc. I get the whole album in an uncompressed format, and over the coming years I can easily remaster them into new digital formats.

One final comment, though:

"Beatles Top Sellers" on iTunes. The #2 and #3 slots are held by audio interviews.

I’ll predict that it won’t be long before “Press Conference In America” gives up its longstanding top spots on iTunes’ list of best-selling Beatles tracks. I know, it’s shocking…it’s like when “The DaVinci Code” was knocked off of the #1 spot on the New York Times list.

What can you say? Musical tastes are fickle and the producers of those interviews should just be proud that their work had such a long and well-received run.

38 thoughts on “It’s The Beatles”

  1. A year after LOSSLESS remastered versions were released on CD, we get 256kbit compressed MP3s.

    P-lease, Apple.

  2. Andy, I wish they did do too much LDS back then, we wouldn’t have the drug culture of the 70’s if the Beatles were into God rather than their own interests.

    ;)

    Besides, I really don’t care about the Beatles. I’ve heard enough of them in my 40 years. Growing up in Chicago, we were force-fed Classic Rock if we wanted to listen to rock in the mid-late 80’s.

    I’ll pass.

  3. I have to agree completely, and I love that Star Trek IV reference you threw in there.

    Everybody who wants the Beatles already has it, and have probably ripped it to their computer already because waiting to pay more money for the same thing is silly.

  4. “I reckon they also did a little too much LDS back then as well.”

    Huh? Are they Mormons? Did you mean LSD?

  5. OK, my bookends are in place. I watched the Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan Show* appearance and have taken note of their arrival on iTunes.

    [And I have neither bought nor otherwise acquired any of their music.]

    –Grumpy old man

    * Yes, it was a really big shew.

  6. This is exactly why I love Apple, its culture and why Apple sits at the helm of the circle in which my life revolves. Apple makes me feel the same way the Beatles make me feel. That there is beauty in simplicity and when you do things right they are timeless. I love Apple even more after today with the way they handled this announcement.

  7. Psh, Lossless. When the End Times come, only those of us with vinyl will still be “And Your Bird Can Sing”-ing. Alls I need is an exacto knife and a spindle!

  8. My musical tastes vary widely, but being in high school in the early 90s meant I listened to a healthy dose of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and other “Alternative” bands. Always having a little hippie jealousy, I did like a few Beatles songs but never got into the whole Beatles universe.

    Fast forward to last year and the remastered box set, RockBand, and all the hype of 9/9/09. I fell for it and quickly realized how much more there was there than I had ever realized. Being a father of young children, I took this as my opportunity to expose my children, and hopefully influence their future musical choices, to some quality music and away from the current manufactured pop song of the day.

    While the announcement and the “excitement” of it all is probably more about Steve winning one that he’s long been after, I hope getting The Beatles on iTunes helps expose all those high school and college kids out there. I know I’ve benefitted from a trip back in time musically, and I think lots of others can as well. So congrats Steve, and thank you John, Paul, George and Ringo.

  9. Wow… What a “meh” moment for Apple. Check out the comments on Macrumors, TUAW, etc. People are unbelievably LIVID that the Beatles is all there is to the announcement.

    For my part, I am a 30-year musician (Jazz, classical, rock, folk) and have been an avid listener and collector of the finest music from throughout history.

    I never >got< the Beatles hype. Sure, they were historically significant, and Paul/John could really wordsmith a good song. Nice historical facts and I'm sure quite poignant in 1965.

    There is, however, an entire generation or two that have grown up without the significance of the Beatles, and this isn't anywhere near as important to the 20-40 somethings as it appears to be to Steve (and as a result, Apple)

    This generation will never fall in love to a Beatles tune. Never meet in a drive-in or go to a sock-hop and have all sorts of important personal memories to Beatles tunes. That's not the current 40-something set's time. That's not our band and (unless our parents pounded it into us) never was.

    I appreciate the importance for Apple this announcement is in the grand scheme of music availability on the iTunes store, but if you're going to exercise your marketing muscle for such a letdown moment, the next time you exercise that muscle, will anyone listen?

    I really feel this was a significant misstep by Apple based on assumptions by the company regarding the listening public.

  10. “Wow… What a “meh” moment for Apple. Check out the comments on Macrumors, TUAW, etc. People are unbelievably LIVID that the Beatles is all there is to the announcement.”

    I am SO angry about this announcement, as I have been dreaming about it and counting on it ever since I heard about it 45 minutes ago!

  11. You are so the voice of reason. But regardless of why it was done, it just keeps Apple keepin on, and always in front. Music may be the backdrop to our lives, but Apple is becoming the heartbeat.

  12. I grew up in Wales during the Beatles Story, I had my 56th birthday yesterday, but they ceased to be a major part of my musical tastes years ago. Still like and admire them but I would have thought the front page on Apple.com with that message would have been more exciting if it had been Mobile Me Light for free.
    If you haven’t seen the film Telstar it’s worth a look for the way the British Music industry looked back then, some good lines about the Beatles and Tom Jones.
    The only way a music announcement would have made my front page is the release of a new unreleased album by Peter Green. ;)

  13. Perhaps Apple is far more clever than we give them credit for?

    Is it possible that there’s an office deep inside Apple where all they do is read the reactions, speculation, and wish-lists that grow out of their ‘coded’ announcement announcements?

    “And as you can see, a full 67% of commenters at Mac specific news sites and blogs anticipated changes and improvements to MobileMe or some other “cloud-centric” announcement, while at iPod and iPhone centric sites over 80% of commenters anticipated an expanded selection in the iTunes catalogue. Across the board, 99% said they want TBBT to be available day of broadcast.. A large number of them used the phrase torches and pitchforks.. ”

    “Excellent. Tomorrow I’ll give an interview and say that ‘no one wants TBBT on their iPhone’…”

    Nah…

  14. This is a day I’ll never forget? Steve Jobs has cajones the size of Apples (AAPL) if he thinks anyone besides he and his hippy-wannabe buddies care about this.

  15. A tip of the hat to Apple and their marketing. To see the genuine disappointment by Apple fans that the announcement was “only the Beatles” just gives that much more credit to the hype machine that is Jobs/Apple.

    They presented the world with two simple (one grammatically incomplete I might add!) and managed to throw the tech world into a frenzy of speculation. All I could picture was a dog chasing it’s tail and seeing how disappointed it was when it finally caught it. “That’s it? Ok, so NOW what?”

    I love Apple. I love the Beatles. So, naturally, I’m excited that I can now purchase their songs through iTunes (I swore off CDs almost 10 years ago). But it’s only thanks to the frenzied speculation of the other Apple fans, and their bitter dissapointment by the reality, that truly makes this a day that I won’t forget.

    You brought it on yourselves!

  16. After Steve got Bob Dylan on board many, many years ago, he must have assumed it was ALL going to be that easy.

    Imagine how me must have felt, through all the Apple Corps lawsuits, when he came to the realization that his musical heros/gods weren’t solely about “peace and love” but just as much about profit and ownership rights as HE was. Must have been a profound letdown.

    I venture to say that dealing with The Beatles (and Yoko, etc.) changed Steve Jobs’ worldview immensely.

    Is today vindication? Probably not as much as you might expect.

    I agree with everyone saying this step is a decision by some wealthy, powerful adults over 50 who are wiping slates clean for the sake of “legacy”.

  17. When will you Americans get it? WE. DO. NOT. CARE. ABOUT. ITUNES!!! “Buying” music is SO last century!!

    If this was Beatles on SPOTIFY, it would be HUGE. Now it’s just “meh!”

    Yawn….

  18. “I reckon they also did a little too much LDS back then as well.”

    They were doing Mormons? Most people did LSD.

  19. Now, if it had been me in charge of designing the teaser, I would have chosen clocks to represent cities where it was simultaneously 6, 1, 2 and 4. (a.m’s and p.m’s wouldn’t really matter)

    A simple number/letter substitution on the first three clocks would have then spelled out F-A-B-4.
    Added bonus: the “4” would really have looked like the semaphore “P” in the “Help!” cover art…

    It’s simple, elegant, not too hard to figure out, and it would have caused some head-scratching. (Why is Apple making their announcement in Kuala Lumpur?)

  20. Added bonus: the “4? would really have looked like the semaphore “P” in the “Help!” cover art…

    There is no semaphore “P” in the “Help!” album cover. Spelling out “help” looked ugly, so they spelled out “NUJV” (UK Parlophone) or “NJUV” (US Capitol) instead. http://tinyurl.com/9qdpz5

    #trivia

  21. Added bonus: the “4? would really have looked like the semaphore “P” in the “Help!” cover art…

    There is no semaphore “P” in the “Help!” album cover. Spelling out “help” looked ugly, so they spelled out “NUJV” (UK Parlophone) or “NJUV” (US Capitol) instead. http://tinyurl.com/9qdpz5

    #trivia

  22. Apparently HTML “quote” tags don’t work here, and “Error establishing database connection” doesn’t mean one’s comment didn’t get posted after all. (sigh)

  23. Here’s the ONLY good result of this “non-event”…. Amazon just SLASHED prices on it’s entire Beatles catalogue, and undercut Apple in the process.

  24. @Howlin’ Hobbit: ‘There’s quite a swath of “who freaking cares?” running through my twitter feed.

    “The Beatles! Now with DRM!”’

    There’s quite a swath of people you follow on Twitter who haven’t been to the iTunes music store in a couple years.

  25. Hey, easy now . . . there is a reason why Andy wears John Lennon hats and Yoko Ono trousers (well, she tried to, anyway)
    Just enjoy . . . the music is, after all, some of the best from the 20th century . . .
    Love listening to you on TWIT, Andy, and can’t wait to hear what you make of this with Leo and Alex.

  26. When The Beatles was released on CD in 1987 it marked the end of the LP era. Yesterday they were released on iTunes and that means the CD era is over.

  27. Well Andy, I’m of that “certain age”. I was a sophomore in High School and in love for the first time when the Beatles “broke” in 1964. From this admittedly slanted perspective I posit that this is all about Paul, Ringo, Olivia and Yoko wanting to assure that the legacy lives on. We the, bulge in the belly of the snake, baby boomers feel a sense of completion knowing that the Greatest Band’s work will now live on in the digital world. As was brought out on TWiT yesterday, who walks down the street humming a New Kids song? What AC/DC song touches the same spot in everyone’s heart that Yesterday does? Who has ever written something greater than Blackbird? The Apple iTunes release means that the music is now truly canonical. The kings are dead, long live the kings!

  28. I thought that everyone that loves the Beatles already had their music in iTunes. Boy, was I wrong – now, 2 days after the release, here in Sweden 11 of the 25 most bought albums are Beatles and the second best sold album of all albums is the Beatles Box Set… more than 40 years after the group recorded their last song!

    Wow!

    ~Jörgen

  29. The nice part was watching the overview and concert videos, than we listened to The Beatles we already had on iTunes.

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