Fans in a rush for Beatles album

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Hundreds of fans and keen collectors queued outside record stores in Liverpool and London early yesterday to be the first to buy copies of the first Beatles recording in 25 years.

More queues formed as shops opened at their normal time in the rush to buy the double CD, Beatles Anthology I, but store chiefs said business was brisk rather than overwhelming.

The 60-track anthology was launched world-wide in an enormous wave of publicity yesterday. It includes "Free As A Bird", a new recording made by the three surviving Beatles with a demo tape of the late John Lennon, to be released as a single next week.

The song was made odds-on favourite to top the Christmas charts before anyone had even heard it. Many critics have confessed to being disappointed with the "plodding" production and others even ventured that Lennon's 1977 reject should, as he intended, never have seen the light of day. However, fans who have waited 25 years may be more grateful, and screening of the definitive documentary linked with the record, starting on Sunday on ITV, is expected to keep interest high.

A spokesman for the HMV record chain said: "Our main Oxford Street store in London sold nearly 200 units in the first hour or so after opening today."

Interest seemed equally keen in other cities, and he estimated the chain would sell about 50,000 units this week, making it sure to top the album charts on Sunday. "It seems as if a momentum has been established because of all the hype," he said. But it was not selling as fast as this year's biggest album, Morning Glory, by Oasis.

Virgin Our Price reported similar levels of interest in the Beatles anthology on anecdotal evidence. A spokesman said that its Oxford Street store sold 350 copies when it opened at midnight.