POP / Dead, but not deleted: The Beatles will re-form around the recorded voice of John Lennon. Who's next? asks Jim White

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IT IS now official. The Beatles will re-form, with John Lennon. A previously unheard Lennon recording has been digitally re-arranged around contributions from McCartney, Harrison and, to a lesser extent, Starr. It will appear as part of the Beatles extravaganza due out next year, the 15th anniversary of Lennon's murder.

In the rush to condemn the project as tasteless, the major point about the enterprise has been lost. What it means is, for the first time, Paul McCartney will be in complete control of a Beatles record. John really isn't in any position to argue about who plays the tambourine, or to object to some saccharine treatment of the piano part. Paul will be calling the shots. Which is the great thing about performing with dead people: they don't answer back.

Natalie Cole started the trend. She did a duet album with her more-famous father, hoping some of his gloss might rub off. It worked; new technology ironed out the join perfectly. She even attempted a tour of the collaboration. At the Royal Albert Hall, as she sang 'Unforgettable', a video screen emerged from the gods, on which Nat King Cole was seen performing the same number. All was going well until, halfway through the song, a technical hitch left Natalie addressing her contribution to an empty screen. Which rather reinforced the point that her dad was, well, dead. Nevertheless, Natalie garnered half a dozen Grammies more than her dad.

It makes you wonder who will be next to raid the past for unwilling accomplices. The possibilities are endless: Lenny Kravitz enlisting Jimi Hendrix's services on guitar; Steve Marriott exhumed to add modernist credibility to Blur's next album; Michael Jackson dropping the wife's name to land a deal with Elvis: a remake of 'Don't Cry Daddy' perhaps?

And the really good news about the technology is that living artists - with all their absurd notions about integrity - need not be involved. Now all anyone wanting to cash in has to do is get a few of the dead guys together.

A supergroup could be formed: Freddie Mercury on vocals, Kurt Cobain on guitar, and on drums John Bonham (already a spectral presence in a drum machine near you). Bass guitar would be a bit of a problem since bassists, the quiet ones, tend not to die young. But Bill Wyman is the next best thing; and he's not got a lot on at the moment. Their various contributions could be morphed, melded, sampled into one seamless album. Think of the possibilities. Think of the publicity. Think of the lack of royalties.

What's more, a whole Forrest Gump-style rockumentary could be made to accompany the album, complete with concert footage and behind-the-scenes moments: Kurt and Bill discussing nihilism; Freddie receiving deportment tips from Janis Joplin; Jimi dropping by for a chat. Everyone a household name. And only Bill requiring a fee.