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Beatles Coming Together Online
It’s been a long and winding road, but the Beatles are finally getting online.
Apple Corps, the music company formed by the Fab Four to control their music and business empire, has confirmed plans to digitally remaster the band’s entire catalog and, for the first time, make it available for download via online stores.
The news surfaced in testimony by Neil Aspinall, the Beatles’ former road manager who’s now managing director of Apple Corps, in the company’s trademark lawsuit against Apple Computers in London.
In a written statement submitted earlier this month, Aspinall told the High Court that surviving members Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the widows of John Lennon (Yoko Ono) and George Harrison (Olivia Harrison) had been taking a wait-and-see approach to Web-based distribution. They decided that before jumping on the online bandwagon–which accounted for a whopping $1.1 billion last year, they wanted to digitally polish the 40-year-old songs. (The Beatles have been famously technology-shy, having waited years after CDs were widely available to release their albums on disc.)
“We’re remastering the whole Beatles catalog, just to make it sound brighter and better and getting proper booklets to go with each of the packages,” Aspinall explained. “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 publicity of the new masters and the downloading, rather than just doing it ad hoc.”
A rep for London-based Apple Corps has confirmed the company is in talks with various Internet music services, but said there was no firm timetable. There was no comment on whether one of those services would be Apple’s iTunes Music Store–by far the most popular online service; but given the litigious history between the companies, such a deal might seem like a pipe dream at this point.
Apples Corps is claiming that Apple Computers’ iTunes violates a 1991 settlement in which the computer company agreed not to go into the music business. Apple Corps claims Apple Computers’ logo is too similar. Apple Computers, which was named in honor of the Beatles’ company, asserts that the 1991 agreement only covered physical media–like CDs, tapes and records–and did not extend to digital delivery.
The trademark trial concluded on Apr. 6 and a ruling is expected later this month.
Meanwhile, Daily Variety reports that Apple Corps is working on remastering a batch of previously unreleased Beatles tunes to be used as background music for a new Cirque du Soleil show at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The launch of the show will reportedly be accompanied by the release of an album of “completely new music.”
Famed Beatles producer George Martin told the trade that the recordings were made during the band’s Abbey Road sessions and were relegated to the vaults before being unearthed for the circus project.
“I think we will achieve a real sense of drama with the music,” Martin said. “The audience will feel as though they are actually in the room with the band.”
The remastering is being supervised by McCartney and Starr, with Ono and Olivia Harrison ultimately having sign-off powers.
The Cirque du Soleil production is expected to debut this summer. No word when the purported album will hit stores.
The last time the Beatles reworked old tracks for release was in 1995, when “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” appeared as singles on the group’s Anthology collection.
This week also saw the release of The Beatles: The Capitol Albums Vol. 2, a four-disc box set featuring the U.S. versions of four mid-1960s Beatles releases–The Early Beatles, Beatles VI, Help! and Rubber Soul.
Finally, in related news, Michael Jackson is close to selling off a portion of the Beatles’ song catalog to stave off bankruptcy. (While Apple Corps oversees the band’s business interests and controls release of Beatles music through EMI, Jackson owns the entire Lennon-McCartney Beatles songbook and oversees use of the actual songs.)
Per the New York Times, the erstwhile King of Pop would sell Sony the option to purchase half of his stake in the Beatles catalog in exchange for obtaining a loan that would help him remain solvent. Sony already has a 50 percent stake in the catalog through an earlier deal with Jackson, and if the company exercises its option, it would control 75 percent.
Jackson outbid McCartney in 1985 for the rights to the ATV catalog, which includes 251 Lennon-McCartney compositions, paying $48 million. Today, the same catalog is worth an estimated $1 billion.