On Tuesday, Apple posted an iTunes-related announcement that claimed:
“Tomorrow is just another day. That you’ll never forget.”
And this naturally led to the expression of every Apple enthusiasts hopes and dreams. Would Apple finally bring the legendary server facility online for music streaming? Would it announce new content channels for the iTunes Store? The opening of the Mac App Store? A version of Ping that was truly worth a damn?
As it turned out, no. As the day passed the more interesting rumours were squashed and the truth of it eventually surfaced.
Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles.
Here, there, and everywhere
What’s actually happened is this: The Beatles’ basic catalogue has come to the iTunes Store. This includes the recordings of the band’s 13 (if you count Yellow Submarine) studio albums plus the Past Masters recordings (bundled as a double album) and the Beatles 1962 – 1966 and Beatles 1967 – 1970 hits collections. You can purchase tracks individually for $2.19. Single albums are $20.99 and double albums are $35.99. Each studio album is sold with a video documentary. You can purchase The Beatles Box Set (an iTunes LP project that contains all the albums, mini documentaries, and a video of the 1964 Washington Coliseum concert) for $259.
These recordings are hardly a bargain. The Box Set is only US$149 on the US iTunes Store. And if you go to Amazon, you’ll find The Beatles Stereo Box Set for US$130. The Mono Box Set is priced the same. Each of these sets contains the 13 mini documentaries (but only the iTunes version has the Washington concert). And you can likely find any of the individual albums at your local record shop for under $21.
The iTunes versions are 256-kbps AAC recordings of the remastered stereo British versions (the American Beatles recordings were largely mishmash collections designed by Capitol Records to create more albums). The mono versions of the recordings aren’t offered, which is too bad as these are the versions that The Beatles were most proud of. Once the mono mixes were done and the band was happy with them, they often left the studio and allowed George Martin to work out a stereo version – many of which, at least for the first few albums, primitively panned the voices to one speaker and the instruments to the other.
Missing are the rarities collections – none of the anthology recordings are there nor are the Live at the BBC recordings. Likewise no EP collections, Live at the Hollywood Bowl, or a collection of the fan club recordings the band sent out each Christmas.
Some have questioned if Apple’s PR personnel, while hurriedly seeking the exact meaning of unforgettable in the department dictionary, mistakenly transcribed the definition for the uneventful entry. Given that anyone who cares about The Beatles likely already owns the band’s catalogue in one form or another, the versions sold by Apple are more expensive than their disc-based (and uncompressed) counterparts, and this deal has taken just about forever – what about it is so unforgettable?
How you answer has very much to do with the number of birthdays you’ve celebrated and/or your devotion to The Beatles.
I’m of an age where I recall The Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was a very big deal. My older sister collected Beatles trading cards, was first in line to see A Hard Day’s Night, and did her best to convince my father to take her to see The Beatles at Candlestick Park (their last show in the US; she failed). People of that age remember and so Apple’s suggestion that today would be unforgettable harkens back to those days.
But you needn’t necessarily be old to be a fan – The Beatles’ music wears well. The Boys knew how to write, play, and sing and they had some brilliant minds behind the board. But it helped to be there to really catch the Beatlemania bug.
If you’re such a fan that you’ve followed the labyrinthine legal manoeuvres that took place after the band broke up – including Apple Records’ infringement issues with Apple Computer – then today has been a long time coming. Getting the members-and-spouses interests to agree on anything has been a terrible slog. And perhaps, after all this time, it gives you a reason to celebrate. (For a glimpse at just how awful the band’s breakup was, take a look at Peter Doggett’s You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup.)
And, of course, if you’re Steve Jobs, this is a personal triumph. Apple is first to get The Beatles’ standard catalogue in legal downloadable form. Others have tried, Apple finally did it. It’s no secret that Jobs is a Beatles fan – Apple wasn’t named Apple because Jobs and Woz were particular fans of the fruit. To secure the band’s catalogue must be satisfying to him both personally and professionally.
So good for Apple and good for the fans. But unforgettable? Unless your name is Paul, Ringo, Yoko, Olivia, or Steve, 16 November (or 17 November for some of us), 2010 is likely to be remembered as just another day.