Apple’s It’s Only Rock and Roll Event: The Beatles? The Stones? Or…?

Though Apple has kept mostly tight-lipped on the subject, “Beatles on iTunes” rumors have been circulating for years, and there have been numerous hints that it was actually going to happen. Back in 2007, Apple and The Beatles’ company Apple Corps settled their long-running legal issues, soon after which Paul McCartney appeared in an iTunes commercial, and then stated that digital distribution of the catalog (read: iTunes) looked likely to happen in 2008. Later, a posthumous John Lennon release (Lennon Legend) became a surprise third replacement for the album art featured on iPod touch boxes. After all that? Silence.

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At least, on the topic of iTunes. Fans of the band know that some very significant Beatles-related events took place in 2009: first was the announcement that the band’s remastered albums were ready for a CD release on September 9, 2009—“number 9, number 9, number 9,” as the ugh-worthy song Revolution 9 puts it—which many began to take as a highly likely prelude to digital distribution. Then, there was the formal debut of the video game The Beatles: Rock Band—during Microsoft’s E3 2009 press conference with McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, and Olivia Harrison in attendance. Between the newly enhanced music, the rock royalty on stage, and the demonstrations of the amazing graphical work done by developer Harmonix, The Beatles could hardly have had a bigger debut for their title; it was the sort of grins-everywhere press event that everyone had pictured Apple holding, rather than Microsoft.


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The old Beatles/iTunes rumors started swirling again a few weeks ago when the unofficial media countdown began for the now traditional “new iPods” event. Apple was mulling the 8th or the 9th, said the reports; it was readying iTunes 9, they claimed; Apple and Beatles fan Steve Jobs would never miss out on the significance of the date as an opportunity to announce The Beatles coming to iTunes… right? But if Apple waited until the 9th, wouldn’t it miss out on download sales from all of the people who had pre-ordered the remastered CDs? Might it be seen as stepping on the band’s toes by holding its own event, effectively counter-programming what might otherwise be a day of Beatles news dominating the airwaves? Then the invitations went out, taking the 9th while specifically referencing a Rolling Stones lyric. Wait a second, weren’t the Stones rivals of The Beatles?


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Not really. As with all of the media hubbub that’s surrounded The Beatles and the iTunes Store up until now, that’s much ado about nothing. It’s fairly obvious at this point that The Beatles were waiting for these remasters to be finished before they got into the digital downloading business, lest they suffer additional curses from fans who bought the older versions of albums in 2007 or 2008 only to find them replaced a year or two later. And on the 9th, our impression is that all of the other lingering questions regarding The Beatles on iTunes will most likely be resolved. For instance, it’s not counter-programming if the event serves to accentuate The Beatles’ announcement—with a “guess how else you can get the new albums” pitch—rather than to take away from it. It could easily be elevated further with an announcement of The Beatles: Rock Band for the iPhone and iPod touch. Or a Beatles iPod, pre-loaded with the band’s music; the only thing holding Apple back from doing this was its earlier agreement with Apple Corps, which has been replaced.


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Of course, none of this could happen, too. Perhaps all we’ll see is iTunes 9, modestly refreshed iPods, and a performance by the Stones… or maybe Randy Newman, again. But that just doesn’t seem likely—a Stones lyric in the invite seems like a red herring to preserve the element of surprise. Since we’ll be in San Francisco for the event at the time our remastered stereo Beatles box set is scheduled to arrive, the big question on our minds is whether we’ll actually be opening it when we return home. Perhaps Apple found a way to offer something even better than the set, such as a package with all of the band’s new tracks, stereo and mono, or an even more massive one with the prior and obscure versions of the tracks as well. Or perhaps not. We’ll just have to see.


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What do you think will happen? If you’re a fan of the band, do you care? Let us know in the comments below.