McCartney to release Beatles back catalogue on iTunes

It may be almost 38 years since they officially split but the ability of all things Beatles to shake the world continues unabated.

If proof were needed, reports yesterday that Sir Paul McCartney had given the go-ahead for the Fab Four's back catalogue to be made available on iTunes and other digital download services "within months" made front-page news and set fans' internet chat rooms buzzing.

Official "no comments" that anything was imminent from both Apple Corps, owners of the Beatles' legacy, and Apple, the creator of iTunes, which dismissed suggestions as "rumour and speculation," could do little to dampen the excitement.

The bookmakers Ladbrokes responded by offering odds of 3-1 on "Yesterday" becoming their next number one after a "flurry of bets" prompted by the reports while retailers began anticipating yet another boom in demand for the group.

But there is little doubt that the Beatles debut on-line is poised to happen.

The question now is not if but when. EMI, which owns the band's recording rights, is understood to be keen to get their music on-line and is currently in talks to confirm the details of the deal and eager to set a firm date. Industry analysts have long considered the release of the complete works to be the last great event in the digital music revolution.

Some estimates suggest that the release of the world's most acclaimed pop albums, including Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver and the White Album, could be worth up to £200m and most likely see the band occupy all top 20 positions in the UK chart – the first time such a feat has ever been achieved. But a series of bitter legal actions waged by Apple Corps against the computer giant of the same name, now the most powerful player in the music industry, and then record label EMI, owner of Parlophone, did little to hasten the anticipated release. The release of the individual band member's personal repertoires on iTunes removed the final obstacles while the final settlement in Sir Paul's £30m divorce wrangle with Heather Mills later this month will also concentrate minds.

An HMV spokesman, Gennaro Castaldo, said: "This move has been the Holy Grail of the music industry for a long time now and they will want to get the timing exactly right.

"It will generate renewed interest and value in Beatles products, which are being re-mastered. Anything to do with the Beatles generates massive excitement and interest and this will be a key iconic moment."

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