Rhodri Marsden: Why do we want the Beatles' back catalogue on iTunes anyway?


At 6pm today the technology world will briefly focus on some arts centre in San Francisco where Apple will make one of its regular product announcements. You can usually feel these events looming as the web is overrun with speculation – I call it guessing – about the possible revelations. It's as traditional as the Queen's Christmas message for at least one writer to predict the long-awaited appearance of the Beatles' back catalogue on iTunes, but that's reached fever pitch today thanks to the simultaneous release of the Beatles' remastered catalogue on CD and The Beatles: Rock Band for Xbox 360, Wii and PlayStation 3. Oh, and Apple has chosen to trail the announcement with the tagline "It's only rock'n'roll, but we like it" – a direct reference to the Beatles. What? Oh, the Rolling Stones. Right.

Anyway, the reason why it's taking so long for Beatles recordings to appear in a legally downloadable format isn't that mysterious (inevitably money, coupled with a history of slightly tedious antipathy between the Beatles' Apple Corps and Apple Inc); what's more puzzling is why anyone cares. Unsurprisingly, it's not difficult to get hold of recorded material by the Beatles. Those with fleeting interest can pick up Beatles albums second hand for much less than an iTunes album, and the number of ways you can download Beatles material illegally are almost hilarious in their number. Meanwhile, the Beatles nuts and audio purists who complain that the currently-available Beatles CDs (digitised in the mid-1980s) are of less-than-pristine quality are hardly likely to be interested in Apple's downloads; they're going to be buying the newly-remastered stuff along with glossy booklets and extended liner notes, and then rip the CDs to their iPod if they feel like it. (This still isn't strictly legal, incredibly, but Yoko won't be setting her lawyers on anyone.) So who exactly is waiting for this, aside from excitable technology writers?

The release of a moptopped Rock Band game is far more interesting. It's not, as The New York Times put it, "the most important video game ever made" – a bit of an oxymoron, surely – but it does demonstrate that the surviving members of the band have no hangups about their music keeping up with the pace of technology. And best of all, it lets us engage with said music on a whole new level, either by showcasing our inferior bass-playing skills on "Taxman", or showing up Ringo's lopsided beats in "Ticket To Ride" for the disjointed mess that they are.

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