In typical Apple/music press fashion, the Internet is hugging itself over the notion that all of the remastered albums in The Beatles’ catalogue – the U.K. studio albums, the U.S. version of Magical Mystery Tour, the Past Masters compilation and the Red and Blue albums – are now available for digital download. Much of the coverage is laughably hyperbolic, considering there’s not much more to say other than what the first sentence of this post said three times. Fox News’ Web site labeled The Fab Four as “Manchester’s favorite mopheads” (wait, what?) while others are sharing via Twitter what their first Beatles song purchase is going to be or already was.
Allow me to throw some cold water on the celebration. Do you know what my first Beatles purchase on iTunes is going to be? Nothing. Last year, when EMI remastered and reissued all of the band’s albums – in stereo and mono – I bought them all. Of course I did. Of course you probably did. Of course anyone who had a heightened sense of what The Beatles meant for popular culture did. Why in heaven’s name will being able to purchase compressed downloadable versions of these songs be a game changer – particularly to the legions of writers and fans who urged everyone to go out and buy the CDs last year?
Look, having The Beatles’ catalogue on iTunes is “good.” For people who dare not forsake the convenience of sitting on their asses and clicking “Buy Song” for a few digital files at $1.29 each, it’s “good.” For the few smart kids who might use iTunes as a stepping stone to something more tangible in terms of collecting and listening to music, this is “good.” But the remasters weren’t niche titles. Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and the others stocked them on their shelves and endcaps, gave them space in the weekly ads, the whole nine yards. To put out the catalogue on iTunes as almost an afterthought, after a day of breathless hype, is disappointing on multiple levels.
And couldn’t it have been “better”? Had the entire remastering happened with simultaneous physical and digital releases, that would have been better. (It also would have more accurately been “a day you’ll never forget” – by design, I’m going to remember that the remastered CDs came out on 09/09/09 a lot easier than I’ll remember that 11/16/10 was the day they came out on iTunes.) Had The Beatles’ catalogue been announced in tandem with a cloud or subscription service, where users could discover The Beatles (and a whole lot more) for a premium monthly fee, that would have been “better.”
Please remember this is not a debate about the worthiness of digital music or the future of an injured industry, but more of a critique of our culture of disposability as it pertains to music. By tomorrow this story will be old hat, because that’s how news works nowadays. Didn’t The Beatles deserve more than that? I think so. I think they – like us, the fans who continue to buy music even as it seems unfashionable to do so – deserve more days we’ll never forget.
Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.