The Beatles are fab for business
The band's sonically upgraded CDs sold 235,000 copies during their
first two days in stores.
By Randy Lewis
September 16, 2009
When Beatlemania was first at its height, John Lennon, Paul
McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr often said they had no
idea whether their popularity would last for another six months or
even as much as a year or two.
"It's not worth missin' your sleep for, is it?" Harrison said in
1963. Added McCartney: "We just hope we're gonna have quite a run."
This week, almost 40 years after the band split up, Beatles titles
dominate the latest rankings of the nation's bestselling albums,
signaling a new, if less hysteria-driven, wave of popularity for the
Fab Four. The spike in popularity owes, of course, to the release
last week of sonically upgraded CDs of all of the group's studio
recordings and the arrival of .
The new and improved Beatles CDs sold 235,000 copies during their
first two days in stores, and total first-week sales of the
individual CDs and two box sets of the group's recordings were
projected to be 500,000 to 600,000 copies, possibly higher.
That's welcome news for a beleaguered music industry, whose last
significant uptick in sales came in the wake of Michael Jackson's
death in June.
Beatles titles occupy nine spots in the Top 10 of Billboard's Pop
Catalog Albums chart, which encompasses albums originally released
more than 18 months ago (Jackson's "Number Ones," at No. 6, kept the
Fab Four from a clean sweep of the Top 10); of the Top 20, 15 are
When the tally of current albums is announced today, Jay-Z's "The
Blueprint 3" and Miley Cyrus' "The Time of Our Lives" are expected to
hold the No. 1 and 2 slots on Billboard's Top 200, with Beatles CDs
taking four or five spots on the Top Comprehensive Albums rankings
that combine current and catalog releases.
Many experts attribute the group's extraordinary longevity to one
thing: the music.
"I would say first and foremost you have to credit the two main guys
as songwriters," said "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell, one of
today's leading arbiters of what flies and what doesn't in pop music.
"That's really where it all stands up. This music has crossed every
single generation, and doesn't sound like somebody that was locked in
a certain decade. It still feels relevant."
"American Idol" has saluted the Beatles in past seasons, challenging
contestants' interpretive abilities with songs that also have become
fodder for serious academic exploration.
"Both John and Paul, and George for that matter, were extraordinary
students of songwriting," said Chris Sampson, director of USC
Thornton School of Music's new baccalaureate degree program in
popular music. "You can tell in their writing they understood song
form and songwriting craft from the Tin Pan Alley days, as well as
early rock 'n' roll. They created music that drew from these
traditions, but was capable of transcending them."
Few pop entertainers have maintained vibrant careers for much more
than a decade. Yet the Beatles are expected to generate tens, perhaps
hundreds, of millions of dollars in revenue from the CD reissues and
the video game.
Their record in business matters has been far from perfect: When the
group created Apple Corps in 1967 as a combination record label, film
production company and merchandising operation, its retail store in
London went out of business within a year, at a substantial financial loss.
Despite writing many of the most enduring songs of the 20th century,
Lennon and McCartney discovered too late that publishing rights to
most of the music they'd created had been sold out from under them.
They were sold again in the 1980s to Jackson, whose estate still
holds half interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Annually, Beatles
songs generate millions of dollars in publishing royalties.
There've been other missed opportunities: There was no 40th
anniversary commemoration of the landmark "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely
Hearts Club Band" album, and many believe the remastered CDs should
have come out well before the format became an endangered species.
"I would have digitized the catalog years ago," said Jack Oliver,
Apple Records president from 1969-71. "They could have made a billion
bucks by now, couldn't they?"
Still, enough smart decisions were made by and for the Beatles that
the four working-class lads from Liverpool became, and remain nearly
half a century later, one of the most respected and profitable
entities in entertainment history.
Savvy strategizing is evident from the group's beginnings. Early on,
their manager Brian Epstein demanded a provision in their record
contract requiring renegotiation of the terms whenever a new form of
music playback technology emerged. Epstein also insisted that EMI
Records, parent company of the label that first signed the Beatles,
never sell their recordings at discount. Epstein had run a record
shop before signing on as the Beatles' manager, and "he hated budget
records," said Tony Bramwell, a key Beatles' associate for the length
of their career. "He only stocked proper full-price releases, so that
his customers would get their money's worth."
Consequently, "No Beatles release was ever sold at mid-price," noted
Martin Lewis, who worked on publicity and marketing campaigns for the
"Live at the BBC" and "Anthology" projects and the 2002 DVD reissue
of "A Hard Day's Night." "He held out on that one thing, and he's
proven to have been right. When Beatles material has been reissued,
it has never seemed like it was cheap product."
The Beatles' entry into the digital world came relatively late, in
1987-88, but the release of the back catalog on CD effectively
introduced the band to a younger generation of music consumers and
resulted in a flurry of sales similar to what's happening with the
remastering program. Since that time, various reissues have kept the
band's legacy alive and commercially vibrant among longtime fans and
Three double-CD "Anthology" sets returned the Beatles to the No. 1
position on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart in 1995 and 1996. "After
'Anthology 1' came out," Lewis said, "they did a quick survey of the
people who had purchased it, and much to the label's astonishment,
something like 40% had gone to people under 40. They expected 10% to
Many younger fans have been introduced to the Beatles by their
parents, or even their grandparents, but others discovered for
themselves what Lewis calls the "exuberant optimism" in their music.
"In a world where most of the entertainment -- movies, TV shows,
music -- is pretty soulless and created for the sole purpose of
making a buck," Lewis said, "the Beatles offer something joyous,
something exuberant and, at its heart, noble, and kids are savvy
enough to sense that and say 'This is real.' "
In 2000, a new Beatles hits collection, "1," became one of the
biggest sellers of the year and has since sold 11.5 million copies in
the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"They've shown tremendous business insight," said USC's Sampson.
"Whether they labeled it as such, they knew that they could build a
brand, and sustain it. They've been nurturing this brand extremely
effectively for 40 years now."
The Beatles-based Cirque du Soleil show "Love" in Las Vegas, for
instance, has drawn just under 3 million people since it opened in
2006, putting the quartet's life story, images and songs before
significant numbers of people who weren't previously committed fans.
Likewise, licensing their music for The Beatles: Rock Band puts the
band in step with the latest in entertainment technology and its
predominantly young audience, while also giving older Beatles fans
motivation to try their hands at video gaming.
"Over the last several weeks we've had the demo for Rock Band
available in over 800 Best Buy locations," spokeswoman Erin Bix said,
"and parents and their children are experiencing the game together.
Rock Band is introducing the Beatles to a new generation of fans."
"They were very smart to combine the Rock Band with the CDs," said
Chris Carter, host of the long-running radio show "Breakfast With the
Beatles" that airs Sunday mornings on KLOS-FM (95.5), along with
another version now on Sirius XM satellite radio. "You're hitting
both generations and blending them together."
Bruce Spizer, author of several highly regarded Beatles chronologies,
said, "If you look back at the Beatles' career, there's always a
great synergy between Beatles and whatever was happening in the culture.
"The Beatles didn't invent drug culture," Spizer said. "The Beatles
didn't invent the peace movement, but the Beatles gained things from
that and then put back things into it. Here again, the Beatles aren't
going to save the gaming industry, but they are giving it a nice shot
in the arm. The record industry too: Once again, they're doing a lot
to help keep it alive."
The Beatles Turn U.S. Charts Back to 1960s
September 16, 2009
LOS ANGELES - The Beatles boasted some of the best-selling albums on
the U.S. pop chart on Wednesday after nostalgic fans scooped up the
Fab Four's much-hyped reissues.
In all, the Beatles sold 626,000 albums during the week ended
September 13, according to tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan. Until
last week, they had sold 635,000 copies this year, a low tally by
their standards as buyers held out until the 09-09-09 release date.
Their best-seller last week was 1969's "Abbey Road," which moved
89,000 copies, making it the third-most-popular album in the United
States. "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band," the 1967 release
that often tops lists of the greatest albums of all time, was No. 5
overall with 74,000 copies.
But don't look for either album to appear on the benchmark Billboard
200 chart, which generally ranks only those albums released in the
last 18 months -- not catalog items.
On Billboard's Top Catalog Album Chart, the Beatles claimed 15 of the
top 18 places with their 13 studio albums, the "Past Masters"
compilation reissue and the 2000 "1" compilation. Michael Jackson was
at No. 6, No. 15 and No. 16.
Behind "Abbey Road" and "Sgt. Pepper's" were "The Beatles" with
60,000, "Rubber Soul" with 58,000, and "Revolver" with 46,000. All
were among the 10 biggest albums in the United States. The
least-popular Beatles reissue was "Yellow Submarine" with 14,000 copies.
The Billboard 200 was led by rapper Jay-Z, who sold 476,000 copies of
"The Blueprint 3," his fifth No. 1 album. The only other act to reach
the top more times is the Beatles with 19.
Disney starlet Miley Cyrus was No. 2 after selling 120,000 of "The
Time of Our Lives" in its third week of release.
The Beatles managed to log two new entries on the Billboard 200 --
the boxed sets containing all their albums. The new packages were
offered in stereo and mono configurations, stirring up an intense
debate about which one was better.
Consumers cast their votes for the stereo version, which sold 26,000
copies and landed at No. 15. The mono version, preferred by purists,
ranked at No. 40 with 12,000 copies. Each boxed set counts as one unit.
The stereo version has 13 CDs plus "Past Masters," while the mono
version omits "Yellow Submarine," "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be," which
were recorded in stereo.
The Beatles albums were released in the United States by Capitol
Records, a unit of private-equity partnership Terra Firma's EMI Group Ltd.
Beatles' music crosses generations
Reissues will introduce new generation to tunes
By MARTIN LEWIS
Aug. 24, 2009
The upcoming and very welcome reissue of the Beatles' canon Sept. 9
in digitally remastered form is an inspiring event -- and, to borrow
the words of President Obama, presents us with a "teachable moment"
about one of the unspoken prejudices that still plague us. We have
rightly refuted racism, sexism and ageism. But still rampant in
society is the pointless notion that judges the value of a work by
when it was created as distinct from its inherent value. I call this
The entertainment industry's obsession with the youth market and its
misperception that the young will only like things that are new can
be mostly blamed -- this in the face of overwhelming evidence that
what today's savvy kids are drawn to does not necessarily carry an
expiration date. Try telling a teenager that he/she shouldn't be
listening to Hendrix or Zeppelin. This especially applies to the Fab
For the work of the Beatles -- like all great creations from
Shakespeare's plays to Dickens' novels to Beethoven's symphonies --
should be appreciated for its intrinsic qualities and not whether it
seems "old-fashioned" or mired in "nostalgia."
I first became aware of dateism when I was hired as U.S. marketing
strategist on the Beatles' "Live at the BBC" and "Anthology" albums
-- projects that reunited me with my first employer and mentor, the
late Derek Taylor (who prior to my working with him in the early
1970s had been Apple's inhouse publicist for the Beatles). Taylor had
been re-engaged by Apple in the early 1990s to work on the new
Beatles releases. In our first conversation, Taylor's expectation of
me was quite simple: "To educate the American record company."
But why on earth would I need to educate Capitol Records about the
Beatles? They had been successfully releasing Beatles records in the
U.S. since 1964. But Taylor explained that both Beatles distributors
-- EMI in the U.K. and Capitol in the U.S. -- suffered from the same
syndrome: Their senior executives were baby boomers who had grown up
loving the Beatles but were loath to be viewed as enthusiasts of
Promoting the Beatles as nostalgic gold to fellow baby boomers might
have been a no-brainer, but to treat the band as appealing and
relevant to a younger market? That would be tantamount to a parent
trying to inflict his/her tastes on a teenage child.
As Taylor wrote in his liner notes for the 1964 album "Beatles for
Sale" and Beatles manager Brian Epstein evangelized in his
autobiography "A Cellarful of Noise" the same year, the Beatles were
never about the 1960s; they were of that era, of course, but there
was a spirit about them even in those earliest days that was truly
timeless and universal.
When I first conveyed this to the then powers-that-be at Capitol,
there was a lot of skepticism. Despite my protestations, their
initial campaign focused primarily on boomers. Imagine then the shock
at the results of the survey Capitol commissioned after releasing
Volume One of "Anthology" that revealed approximately 40% of album
sales were to consumers under age 40.
In those pre-Internet years, my team used the unplugged predecessor
to viral marketing -- a seemingly now forgotten tactic called "word
of mouth," enlisting young enthusiasts at Beatles fan conventions to
become our foot soldiers. We encouraged them to form groups at their
schools and among pals to "spread the word." And it worked.
Actress-filmmaker Drew Barrymore, who didn't breathe her first breath
till five years after the Beatles broke up, appeared on my radio show
many years ago when she was barely out of her teens and waxed as
eloquently about the Beatles as the most perceptive cultural anthropologist.
"My muse in life is the Beatles," she claimed. "Every song spoke to
me. Their evolution was so inspiring.
"There's nothing better in life than to live to the Beatles. You can
eat with them ... you can make love to them ... you can talk to your
best friend with them ... you can be heartbroken ... you can be the
happiest person in the world -- but their music always applies."
There are three undersung heroes of the forthcoming releases, whose
work over the past 50 years has contributed to the evergreen
qualities of the Beatles' catalog:
Neil Aspinall, the loyal caretaker of their empire from 1970 until
his retirement in 2007. While his painstakingly slow pace frustrated
many fans, his renegotiations with EMI in the 1980s and 1990s gave
Apple a creative control that saved the Beatles' oeuvre from becoming
overexposed or diluted.
Apple's new chief executive since 2007, Jeff Jones, has skillfully
ushered the Beatles canon and business dealings into the digital era
without compromising their zealously guarded reputation for excellence.
And most importantly, their discoverer, Brian Epstein -- often
unfairly maligned for what Beatles producer George Martin points out
to anyone who will listen were simply errors of naivete (in what were
then totally uncharted commercial waters) that pale into
insignificance when contrasted with his immeasurable achievements.
Epstein insisted from day one that no original Beatles album would
ever be reissued at a budget or midprice release -- a prescient
condition that safeguarded the value of the catalog.
Once you've been reissued into those cut-price bins at retail, it's
hard to revert to demanding full price from the customers. Amid all
of Epstein's myriad other triumphs of advocacy for the Beatles, that
insistence has paid them one of the richest dividends.
The young kids at those fan conventions (that I gladly continue to
host) now treat me as though I am the Pat Morita character in "The
Karate Kid" -- an elder from that halcyon yesteryear whose message
resonates in the vacuum of today's False Idols (American and other).
For kids, of course, are ultimately much savvier than the latest pop
peddlers and puppeteers.
So when the remastered original catalog arrives on CD or vinyl and
through the present-day configuration of Rock Band, don't be
surprised at the hoopla and the sky-high sales figures. And don't
fall prey to the mutterings of the cynics about it simply being a
baby-boomer replacement spree. The massive sales to the under-40s
will demolish that canard.
Martin Lewis is a Beatles scholar who produced the DVD edition of "A
Hard Day's Night," coordinated "The Fab 40," the 40th anniversary
celebrations of the Beatles' first U.S. visit, and instigated the
beaming of the Beatles song "Across the Universe" into outer space by
NASA in 2008.