By Joel Francis
Hold tight to your pocketbooks; 9/9/9, the inverted day of the Beast draws neigh.
As any Beatle fan will tell you, Aug. 9 is not only the day Beatles edition of Rock Band lands in stores, but when the remastered Beatles albums will finally be released. On CD, that is, not to iTunes.
That information has been second only to anything related to Michael Jackson or Jack White in the online news hemisphere. The buried story, however, is that the Beatles trail only KISS in their devotion to part fans from their money.
Earlier this week, Paul and Ringo teased the public with their “Box of Vision,” an LP-sized storage container-cum-book for the upcoming remasters. The $90 artifact contains full-size replicas of all the original LP artwork, spiffy new sleeves to house the disc and a “Catalography” guidebook. Inventing new words doesn’t make this a better value.
Basically what you get with this set is a guidebook of discography information readily accessed online, blow-ups of all the artwork that will accompany the CDs and a mega-expensive flip-book. To top off the insult, the flip-book contains slots not only for the traditional catalog (i.e. “Please Please Me” through “Let It Be”) but posthumous releases like “Live at the BBC,” “Love,” and the “Anthology” series. That’s fine, but why are there spaces designated for the red and blue albums and “1” collection? That material is already presented throughout the rest of the catalog.
It’s easy to be cynical and say this move is designed to rankle completes and make them buy redundant collections. It’s easy because even a quick glance at the Beatles online store will jade the most intensely optimistic fans.
When the 40th anniversary of the White Album hit last summer, the Beatles did not release the long hoped-for remastered edition. They offered a $530 white pen. Last year also marked the 40th anniversary of the “Yellow Submarine” film, which one could commemorate with a $200 9-inch figurine or a $65 Yellow Submarine “musical globe with Nowhere Man base.” (I wonder who decided they could get more for a Nowhere Man base over a Blue Meanie base.) Oh, and don’t forget to get a jump start on the 45th anniversary of “Help” buy grabbing the $121 deluxe edition DVD with a reproduction of the script and 60-page book with rarely seen photos.
Official band stores are rarely a bargain, but asking $33 for “Live at the BBC,” $30 for the red and blue albums and $35 for the “Anthology” entries is insulting, especially since all these items may be found on Amazon for about $10 (some are significantly cheaper). You can find a used version of the “Help” deluxe edition for $25 there, too.
The Beatles have a big and diverse enough fan base that more than a few of their admirers can afford to spend extravagantly. But shouldn’t they be getting more bang for their buck than $1,000 album cover lithograph collection? (I wonder if there’s a connection between these prints and what appears in the Box of Vision.) Is a Beatles edition of Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit really worth double the price ($40)?
Instead of wasting fans’ time and money with worthless trinkets, the band giving the fans what they want. The remastered CDs would have meant something if they appeared six or seven years ago when the upgraded Bob Dylan and Rolling Stones catalogs were introduced. And instead of hoarding the non-album and alternate cuts until the Past Masters and Anthology releases, they could have been sprinkled on the intended albums, creating a sense of context.
Ironically, by trying to dictate the conversation and sell overpriced novelties, Paul and Ringo have inadvertently left piles of cash on the table. Unable to find legitimate remasters, the “purple chick” bootlegs appeared. Unable to legally download the catalog, torrents and illegal MP3s proliferated the Web.
If Paul and Ringo really wanted to create a stir and control the game, they would mine the Apple vaults and create something as innovative, comprehensive and entertaining as Neil Young’s “Archives” box set. Instead, the pair end up looking as backwards and out-of-touch as all the bands that tried to keep up them back in the ‘60s.