BEATLES BY THE NUMBERS:
ARTISTS, NOT RIPOFF ARTISTS
When the Beatles' two Capitol Albums box sets were released a couple of years back, a surprising number of our customers stayed away from them, accusing the surviving Fabs and EMI of needlessly milking their legacy. Never mind that ever since we'd been in music retail, we'd been turning away customers who came in looking for those American Beatles albums that had never been officially available before. When Love was released in November, a lot of people bought it. But there were a fair share of naysayers too, who claimed it was a ripoff without ever hearing the mashed-up, remixed and remastered music that was hailed as revelatory by a good number of fans, us included. Now, rumor has it that the entire Beatles catalog is going to be remastered this year for the first time since their albums came out on CD in 1987. And of course there are the usual number of moans and groans from people who are crying "Ripoff!" yet again.
You know what, people? You're WRONG.
Let's look at it by the numbers. Starting with Hey Jude, a collection of stray tracks and singles that was released shortly before the band's breakup in 1970, EMI has released 23 Beatles compilations, not counting the straight CD reissues of the original British albums. Of those, six consist partly or entirely of previously unreleased music. Four are collections of singles and rarities that weren't included on the British albums. Four are generously timed, well thought out hits compilations.
Which leaves a grand total of nine questionable Beatles releases in 37 years. Among those are the Capitol Albums sets, which diehard fans had been requesting for years, and the first Beatles album Tony ever owned, the excellent 2 LP set Rock & Roll Music. And not a skimpy, ten song budget collection in the batch. By comparison, in the '90s alone, RCA released over 50 Elvis CDs, a good chunk of 'em short collections of random hits, and Frank Sinatra's various labels put out over 30 "new" collections of his -- some essential, many pointless.
So why do the Beatles get such a bad rap for supposedly abusing their legacy? Maybe it's because, when they put out a "new" record, it's handled with enough care, as far as production, packaging and promotion are concerned, that it inevitably sells well. Elvis and Frank Sinatra, the only artists of comparable stature, can have half a dozen comps sneak out under the radar, without anyone apart from obsessive fans knowing they exist.
Even something as inessential as the Yellow Submarine Songtrack, released in 1999, had a lot going for it. Not only did it expand an album that was originally six songs and a side of George Martin's orchestral music into a tasty 15 track collection, but it also was remixed and remastered so that it had the best sound of any Beatles CD to date. And as a result, it made the Top 20 of Billboard's album chart.
Hopefully, when one of our newsletters trumpets the impending arrival of the Fabs' newly remastered catalog, you'll remember this little math lesson -- and give a last listen to your crappy-sounding, 1987-vintage Beatles CDs -- before you go around poo-poohing the news.