Beatles for Sale (Again)
It's an event that happens once a generation. If you'd had a child in 1987, the last time the Beatles catalog was re-mastered for release (on CD, for the first time), the kid wouldn't be a kid anymore. Voting rights? Check. Able to purchase alcohol without a fake ID? Check and mate.
On September 9, at long last, the re-mastered (again) catalog was released on CD, this time in conjunction with the release of The Beatles: Rock Band video game (how very 21st century). It includes the Beatles' 12 albums as originally released in their native UK, along with Magical Mystery Tour and non-LP song collections "Past Masters Vol. I and II," which have now been combined as one title.
The CDs have been released in three ways: "The Stereo Albums" box, containing the 14 titles on 16 discs, the individual releases of those 14 titles, and a limited-edition box called "The Beatles in Mono." This box presents 11 titles (omitting Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road, and Let It Be, which were never mixed in mono) in their original mono mixes, which was the preferred mix at the time the original recordings were made. Collectors will note this results in the CD debut in stereo for the first four records and the CD debut in mono for six other albums. The packaging includes faithful reproductions of the original vinyl album sleeves and inserts, and the stereo discs include QuickTime files of mini-documentaries on the making of each album — these are conveniently collected on a single DVD in the "Stereo" box.
Listening through the re-mastered discs, two things become plain: 1) The Beatles really are the greatest band of all time (if one needed reminding), and 2) This is the best-ever sonic presentation of their music.
Experiencing the albums in order of release, even being well versed in each disc, it's still startling to hear the artistic leaps and bounds the band made in just eight years. From the vivacity of the early records to the songwriting growth of the middle-period (Rubber Soul has now edged Revolver as my favorite) and from the breathless eclecticism of Sgt. Pepper and the self-titled "White Album" to the gorgeous career denouement of Abbey Road and Let It Be, The Beatles were, and remain, in a league of their own — unmatched, and unmatchable, in their combination of critical esteem and commercial success.
Meanwhile, the band's music has still not been released via download services, although rumors abounded that Apple — the computer manufacturer, not the record label — might've announced something in that regard on September 9 (after this issue of New Times went to press). The official press release accompanying the CD reissues states: "Discussions regarding the digital distribution of the catalog will continue. There is no further information available at this time."
I hope the Beatles catalog is never released digitally! Suck it up, kids, buy the CDs and spend a few moments loading the music onto your computer and then onto your iPods. While you're at it, consider that previous generations had to record their vinyl albums onto cassette tapes in real time to make this music portable. Then they repurchased the albums on CD in '87 and they're probably repurchasing them on CD yet again on this go-round.
Obviously, the greatest musical catalog since the invention of sound recording is worth the time, money and effort. And, if patterns hold, we'll all have the span of another generation to save our money and purchase it again.
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