You may have heard: the Beatles’ albums are being re-released.
On the surface, it’s a Beatle fan’s wet dream: the new discs have awesome packaging, (apparently) superior sound, and best yet — there will be mono releases, just like fans have been wanting for years! It’s a dream come true!
Being the hardcore fan I am, I’ve been salivating over these new remasters…but also dreading them. Dreading them because I know Apple Corps and EMI would not waste such a glorious opportunity to stick it to fans with outrageous prices, and I’m glad (?) to see I was not wrong: the new CDs will retail at the same old, gouge-tastic $18.98 MSRP the old, circa 1987 Beatles CDs were priced at. Oddly, though, The Beatles (aka The White Album) gets $10 knocked off its MSRP, and is now $24.98 (also, Past Masters is now a single, two-disc set that also retails for $24.98). So, I guess $35 for two CDs is ridiculous to Apple Corps, but $20 for one CD isn’t. Gotcha.
There are also two box sets being released: one with all the stereo CDs, and one with the albums in mono (God forbid they actually put the stereo and mono albums together, like with the recent Capitol Albums box sets — the only albums you couldn’t do that for are The White Album and maybe Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). In true, Beatle-price-gouging fashion, the stereo box set — 16 discs in all — is barely worth it: at $260, it’s only $17 or so less to buy the box set than to get all the albums individually (though this is better than the first Beatles CD box set from the late 1980s, which actually cost more than if you bought all the CDs separately…which would seem to defeat the purpose of a box set in the first place).
As for that mono box set, filled with mono mixes fans have been anticipating? It’s the only place you can get those mono albums — no single discs will be available. Better yet (?), the mono box set is limited to a whopping 10,000 copies, meaning the majority of fans who wanted these mixes most likely won’t get them (not in a store, anyway — watch Apple Corps claim piracy is killing the music industry when fans start trading the mono tracks online because they can’t buy them in stores). Better still (?), the mono box set will retail for…$300! No, I’m joking — it actually retails for only $298.98. What a bargain! But wait — not every Beatles album was mixed into mono, so the mono box set will only have 12 CDs in it. So…a 16 disc stereo set retails for $260, but the 12 disc mono set is $40 more. That makes perfect sense! It is a limited edition, after all!
I was pretty angry when I first read about this, because I wanted the mono versions of the albums…but for $300, Yoko, Paul, Dhani and Ringo can keep them. I’m sure $300 is a drop in the bucket to the Beatles — billionaires all — but to those of us living in the real, recession-hammered world, it’s not such a light sum of money. Eventually my anger subsided, and now I just feel sad. Sad because I’ve forever read about how the Beatles — in the 1960s — were always conscious of giving their fans “excellent value for their money.” Sad because that obviously no longer holds true — today, the Beatles & Apple Corps are just as money-hungry and greedy as everybody else in the business. Who cares if one in ten people in the U.S. doesn’t have a job — this is the Beatles! Sell your car, jackass! Sell your kids! They’ll understand! This is THE BEATLES! No price is too much for the greatest music ever recorded!
I’d seriously love to meet Paul McCartney and ask him to his face if he really thinks, say, Yellow Submarine is really worth $20. $20 for four Beatles songs, essentially, because “Yellow Submarine” (the song) and “All You Need is Love” are on other albums, and no one really cares about the George Martin orchestrations on the second half of the album. Is that excellent value for my money, Sir Paul? Is Let It Be — an album you have ripped quite a bit over the years, and which the other Beatles have all said is lackluster — worth $20? Are your mono albums really worth $25 apiece, which is flat-out ridiculous, no matter how you look at it? Is Apple still being run like in the ’60s, with people walking out of your offices with supplies left and right, and this is the only way to stay in the black? Whose idea was it to make the mono albums a limited run? If Apple wants money so badly, you’d think they’d offer the mono albums as separate, non-box set entities, if only to get your devoted faithful to buy the same albums over and over and over again. But that might be pushing it, right?
And before anyone brings it up, yes, I know the stereo CDs all have QuickTime documentaries about the making of each album on the disc. And the album art will be faithfully reproduced…blah, blah, blah. That doesn’t matter. I’d rather have (reasonably priced) mono/stereo two-fers than a freaking QuickTime documentary. And CD packaging isn’t that expensive. I’ve read various interviews with people associated with the Beatles and Apple Corps, complaining that the Beatles are losing money in this age of digital music. Whose fault is that? Who are the ones reacting so slowly to changes in the music industry (the Beatles are still one of the few major acts to not be on iTunes, largely because Apple feels Beatle music is worth more than 99 cents a track), slavishly clinging to the old way of doing things? We’re no longer in the bubble economy, guys, and if you think the Beatles name is enough to get people to plunk down $600 on your CDs, no questions asked, I have a feeling you might be in for a bit of a surprise.
It used to be about the music, guys.
PS – I really feel sorry for whatever schlub decides he (or she) wants to buy both CD box sets and The Beatles: Rock Band on release day (9/9/09!). All You Need Is…$850 or so. Unless you want to get the replica John and George Rock Band guitars too, in which case add another $200. Or you could take that $1100 and put a down payment on a car to enjoy your old Beatles CDs in while driving (or not, because you probably couldn’t get financing to buy the car).