OPINION: What’s next after The Beatles remasters?

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Unless you haven’t had a television on for the last month, then you should know that next week will be a huge day for Beatles fans. September 9, 2009, a/k/a 9/9/09, b/k/a “the sacred day of the 9”, is the day that the long awaited Beatles remasters will be released on CD, as individual stereo discs, all of the stereo discs in one box, and a monaural box set for the audio junkies. What’s also coming out is The Beatles: Rock Band video game, where you are able to play along with The Beatles in animated form, with optional guitar, bass, and drum set to play along with. Deep Beatles fans also know that the video game contains digital multi-tracks of the various songs used in the game, which will make it possible to hear isolated bass, guitar, drums, and vocal tracks depending on how they were designed for the game. The CD’s have been put on the floor in some record stores in the U.S., while there were reports that a few of them have been sold at Wal-Mart’s before release day. Some people are also reporting that at a few Wal-Mart’s, some cashier’s will say that the title cannot be purchased until September 9th, but not all of them. In other words, the CD’s hit streets before the release date, so it shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise that the remasters (and the video game) are now available online if you know where to look.

The question remains: what’s next for The Beatles in terms of releases? Critics had predicted long ago that people would lose interest in the compact disc by 2009, and as fans move over to the MP3 for convenience over quality, it seems there’s a bit of merit to what those critics were saying. If you are to look at what’s being released and reissued, 2009 has shown a mad rush to get out as much music as possible, almost as if record labels are trying to give one last hurrah to their catalogs before it gets purchased by Verizon or Google. To a casual fan, it probably seems like EMI is doing all it can to milk the Beatles teet until it truly dries up. Before the CD, EMI in the UK and Capitol in the U.S. compiled Beatles music in countless ways to sell it to the market, making it possible to hear the same songs again in a new package. The 1987 CD pressings pretty much made compilations like Love Songs, Rarities, and Reel Music pointless, and when thousands of Beatles fans were not satisfied with some of the mistakes found on those 1987 CD’s, they pushed for justice. Over the years, EMI would release their BBC recordings and also come up with the three-part Anthology, something that fans felt was a relief over the same ol’, but it also showed how much of an influence bootleggers had on what appeared on the comp.

Nonetheless, a casual fan will see the hairy Beatles on the front cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and go “again?” I’ve heard some of the stereo remasters, I’ll have a formal review later on, but I’ll briefly say that soundwise, The Beatles have not sounded any better. Mindblowing. However, what does the future have in store for Beatles fans? As with anything related to the group and their music, no one knows and no one is saying.

In terms of music, there has never been an official release of their Christmas album.
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The album was made by Apple Records in 1970 exclusively for fan club members, who would receive a flexi-disc or cardboard record during the holiday season between 1963-1969. These records had not been heard by most fans until the Christmas album was counterfeited. In the digital era, the Christmas album has been packaged countless times, including outtakes from the recording sessions. The album is no longer a secret, as many radio stations around the world will play them alongside regular Christmas fare during the holiday season, but still no legitimate release. Considering how widely available the album is online, perhaps EMI/Apple feel no need to release it but I’m sure someone is saying “when the time is right”. Well, best to do it now so that Paul and Ringo will be able to talk about it for inclusion within liner notes.

Another side of The Beatles recordings that have been praised by fans are the acetates, where only a small handful were made for each member of the group, perhaps producer Sir George Martin, and close associates. Acetates, known to some as dub plates, were made when a song was recorded in the studio and one of The Beatles wanted to take the recording home for review. A rough mix of a song, the audio equivalent of a “rough sketch”, would be made into a one-off record and given to the intended person. What is of interest is the fact that most of these rough mixes were never released in this form, as they are unpolished and not produced, you’re hearing these songs in the most primitive form without the additions of strings, percussion, vocals, or other elements that may have been added during post-production. These acetates can go for $200+ when put on the market, which is a rare occasion. Existing acetates have also been bootlegged over the years, compiled into CD compilations so fans can hear songs develop from one take to the other. A very small handful are sourced from existing tapes, which would prove to be of value. A lot of times, the rough mix of a song was solely documented for an acetate, it was not saved on tape so the only way that mix can be heard in that fashion is by doing a vinyl transfer from the records.

Over the years, fans and Beatles scholars have claimed that there isn’t much left in the tape vaults to dig up, that everything that needs to be heard has been released. As time goes on, there seems to be stories of newly discovered tapes, adding to the already valuable cliche of recordings. Another option would be to create alternate mixes of the songs directly from the multi-tracks, similar to what they did with the Yellow Submarine soundtrack. Or a series of isolated tracks from the multi-tracks where Beatles fans can hear just the drums, or just the bass, or maybe the string section? By doing that, it would lead to an endless amount of remixes, mash-ups and variations, which essentially opens the music of The Beatles to anyone and everyone, which arguably would diminish the value of the catalog. Almost 50 years after Decca Records rejected The Beatles, their power has yet to fade, but that’s now. There will come a time when the glory of The Beatles will be nothing more than a 20th century memory, and maybe a conspiracy theory will surface, claiming that The Beatles never existed, that the songs that have moved generations to listen to music differently, look at the world with broader strokes, and perhaps pick up an instrument or sing for the first time, were put together by session musicians from Los Angeles while waiting for Frank Sinatra to come in. Yet with all of the books, videos, and of course the music that exists, it’s all there.

If anything, it will become one of the greatest phenomenons of the 20th century, how four goofy kids from Liverpool were able to inspire with something as simple as music. Even when there’s nothing left, people will continue to ask for more. Since there is more left, give the fans what they want.

Here are some other resources you can take a look at for more information on some of the topics discussed in this article:

  • BeatleSource.com, featuring descriptions and photos of the many Beatles acetates that have surfaced over the years, along with promos, photos, and much more.
  • Beatle.net by Bruce Spizer, an author, fan, and collector of The Beatles whose many books on the band are criticially acclaimed and are considered essential by other fans and collectors around the world.
  • Recording The Beatles by Kevin Ryan and Brian Kehey, by far best and most in-depth book on The Beatles recorded legacy ever made, period.
  • Rare Beatles, a look at some of the more collectible Beatles albums, from records to ticket stubs and more.
  • Beatles Worldwide, a 2-part book showing the many variations of Beatles records around the world.
  • Doug Sulpy, one of the premiere Beatles collectors and scholars, founder of the 910 Beatles fanzine and author of a number of Beatles-related books