From Apple Records to Apple’s iTunes or Why the Beatles and Steve Jobs Decided to Come Together and Let it Be Downloaded

Well, that only took seven years.

After what seemed like an eternity of behind the scenes wrangling, the endless speculation of when the Beatles’ timeless music will finally be delivered digitally has finally been settled, with the most amazing back catalog in the history of recorded music – and that’s no hyperbole – now available to be downloaded by anyone with a computer and some cash to spare.

A tepid Beatles cliché courtesy of Apple honcho/Beatles nut Steve Jobs was used to recently announce the deal that will stock the virtual shelves of the company’s iTunes Store with the Fab Four’s entire back catalog (“It has been a long and winding road to get here,” Jobs was unfortunately quoted as saying) after Apple’s homepage showcased some wildly overstated — and grammatically-challenged –hype the previous day. (“Tomorrow is just another day.  That you’ll never forget.”)

Be that as it may, the Beatles are here!  Or there.  Or everywhere. (See, Jobs doesn’t have the exclusive on bad Beatles puns.)  More than 200 tracks, each available for $1.29 a pop. (Shouldn’t they charge less for “Her Majesty”?  Come on, it’s only 23 seconds long.)  Single albums sell for thirteen bucks, double albums go for twenty, and the whole shebang, aka The Beatles Box Set, can be had for $149.  Purchase the box and you’ll score an exclusive: the Live at the Washington Coliseum 1964 film, a raw, powerful and highly entertaining document of the Beatles’ first U.S. concert.

But the question remains: does anyone still care?  The Beatles ceased to be a functioning band some 40 years ago, right?  What’s the big deal?

The big deal is this: it’s the Beatles, folks.  We’re talking the greatest rock and roll band ever, hands down.  Do you think that it would be front page news if holdouts such as AC/DC, Kid Rock (ugh), Tool (ew) or Bob Seger (Lord, help us) suddenly signed deals with iTunes for digital distribution of their product?  Um, no.  This is different.  This is the Beatles.  Everything they’ve touched as a collective unit has turned to gold since 1964, so why should this be any different?  Music, movies, merchandising, video games, and now digital downloads via iTunes – people still love and want more and more of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and you know that can’t be bad. (Speaking of bad, are you counting these horrible Beatles puns?)

It’s more than a safe bet to say that iTunes will now assist in introducing the classic tunes we all know and love to new generations of budding Beatles fans, building upon what the Beatles Rockband game started last year.  The facts are clear: brick and mortar CD shops are quickly going the way of the dinosaur and most young people now purchase their music in the digital format.  Combine those two points with the timelessness of Beatletunes and the constant clamoring for them to show up on iTunes, and you can see why the time was right for Jobs and the Fabs to play Let’s Make a Deal.

“It always surprises me how many young people are hip to the Beatles,” said Ohio-based music fan Steve Potocin.  “This iTunes deal will further cement many people’s opinion that The Beatles are by far the greatest band ever, and their music will be around and listened to and be relevant for a long time.  The deal is historic. This is how kids get their music and they’ve been denied The Beatles thus far.”

“It does possibly signify the reality that fixed media as a commodity is about to cease,” said Beatles collector/musician Michael Simmons.  “I miss records, but the kids don’t. Historically, this probably marks the last format in which these songs will be sold.”

The surviving Beatles seem to be pleased with the deal, but for different reasons.   Paul McCartney’s response to the news was typically classy: “It’s fantastic to see the songs we originally released on vinyl receive as much love in the digital world as they did the first time around,”  he said.  Ringo Starr, however, danced to the beat of a cranky drummer: “I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes.”  Ouch! (Thought we’d throw in a Rutles pun to keep you on your toes.)

Whether this does truly signify the end of an era for the music industry or the beginning of a new chapter in Beatles history (or both) has yet to be determined, but one thing is for certain: people both old and young will now be able to continue to enjoy the music of the boys from Liverpool for years to come.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

John M. Borack is an Orange County, California-based music journalist whose new book, John Lennon: Life is What Happens (published by Krause Publications) is available online and in bookstores now.

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