Dylan archive cashes in on baby-boomers market

Success of Beatles album prompts record companies to search archive mat erial to feed hunger for music legends
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The Independent Online
One of the most keenly anticipated albums for the best part of three decades - highlights from Bob Dylan's 1966 tour of Britain - is set to be released next year in the wake of the huge success of a release of 30-year-old Beatles' recordings.

Sony Music plans to issue a compact disc of part of the tour, on which Dylan played some of his greatest hits to a pounding electric backing from The Band and was booed and called Judas by members of the audience.

A tape of the Royal Albert Hall concert on the tour has been available as a cassette and vinyl bootleg for years. The driving music behind one of Dylan's most caustic and raw deliveries has made it the most treasured possession of many Dylanologists, whohave long urged that it be released on CD.

Sony's decision is another sign of the influence the baby-boom generation is having on record companies to release archive recordings of legendary artists. The astonishing success of The Beatles Live At The BBC album last month took the whole industry bysurprise, selling 180,000 copies in four days and leaving EMI having to apologise to retailers for not printing enough copies.

A look at the pre-Christmas albums chart shows an unprecedented mix of music from four decades which has made the music industry the most bullish it has been for years.

CD sales by the end of the year will be the highest ever, breaking the 100 million mark for the first time (last year's final figure was 92.8 million).

The current albums chart shows The Beatles, Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley and Pink Floyd, competing with albums from Sting and Queen, Eighties groups such as Bon Jovi and The Beautiful South (the surprise chart topper), and Nineties bands East 17 and Eternal.

Jonathan Morrish, head of corporate affairs at Sony, said: "Never has the chart been so varied. It's a struggle for newer acts to emerge because they are competing now with pop music's history. The Beatles only had to compete with their peers. East 17 have to compete with three different decades."

But, he said, the signs from the past year were that the array of top-class new acts such as Blur and Oasis - exciting new bands with roots in English guitar rock music of the Sixties and Seventies - would sell overseas, and record companies were investing with a new optimism.

Mr Morrish confirmed that 1995 would almost certainly see the release of part of Dylan's 1966 tour. "There are nuggets in our vaults," he said.

The nuggets, combined with new releases from groups that have sprung out of the baby-boom generation, have given another record company, EMI, one of its healthiest Christmas seasons, with chart albums by The Beatles and also Cliff Richard, Queen and evena pre-baby boomer, Louis Armstrong. The company's profits were already healthily in the black this year thanks to another not so new band, Pink Floyd, whose latest album, The Division Bell, sold 6 million copies worldwide, reaching number one in 16 countries. The group's worldwide tour was attended by 5.3m people. 1995 will be another lucrative year for The Beatles. As well as a television series on the history of the group, with which the surviving Beatles have co-operated, there is likely to be a triple CD of hitherto unreleased material to accompany the programme. Compiled in secret by the Beatles' producer, George Martin, it includes Lennon-McCartney tracks never before included on the group's albums.

Although EMI will say nothing officially about the album, it is understood that it will also include the release of a song recorded by John Lennon with the surviving Beatles adding harmony at the studio this year, thus making it officially the first new Beatles' song in 25 years. The prospect of the release of unheard Lennon-McCartney songs has been described by Record Collector magazine as "a collector's dream come true".