The Beatles Remasters: Are They Really That Big A Deal In The Post-CD Era?

Apr 10th, 2009 // 38 Comments

Judging by the number of times it showed up in my RSS reader this week, the biggest music news of the past five days was the announcement that the Beatles‘ catalog would be remastered and reissued, with new versions of every one of their studio albums (as well as a couple of other titles) being made available on Sept. 9, the same day that their version of the Rock Band game comes out. (The date’s full of the number nine, don’t you know.) While the popularity of this particular story was no doubt due in part to the Beatles’ status in the classic-rock pantheon, which allows them to be well-known enough to transcend the “got arrested and/or pregnant” standard for making the wires, there was one question that was nagging at me every time I passed through another breathless announcement of the release. And that question is: Who, exactly, is going to buy these CDs?

That’s not a knock on the quality of the albums—they’re very good!—or even so much the economy. It’s more of a practical query because, well, there aren’t really that many places for people to buy CDs these days, and there will probably be even fewer some five months from now. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that there will be more stores across America selling the Beatles’ Rock Band than the albums the game is based on. Think about it: Virgin Megastores are closing; Borders is ditching most of its CD space; who knows whether or not Trans World will be able to survive the current recessionary moment. Even the big-box stores that have replaced your Record Worlds and your Coconuts as “the place in the mall to get records” are slashing floor space for music retail. Will they just clear out every other artist who has a name that begins with “B” in order to make room for all those new titles?

In a way I just feel like the factors that have all created the perfect, awful storm hanging over the recorded-music business—from filesharing to the economy to the way the music industry is hell-bent on shooting itself in the foot with dopey ideas like the ringle and Musicpass—have resulted in people, for lack of a better term, forgetting that they can use their disposable income on just plain old recorded music, and that even a $14.99 disc at Target is a better investment than, say, plunking down $10 to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop. You can see it in the slowly deflating sales, in the dipping numbers of the lowest-selling album on the Billboard 200 (this week: M. Ward’s Hold Time, which sold 2,800 copies). So you tell me: What do you think these albums will sell? I don’t think that making the remasters available digitally would even help goose those totals by a substantial amount, because I think the problem is more about people not wanting to acquire music—even music that’s not exactly new, that’s dear to their hearts—at all. They’ve fallen out of the habit.

The Beatles’ back catalogue set for remastered re-release [Guardian]

  1. Rock You Like An Iracane

    I’m thinking, though I have no way of knowing for sure, that this and the Rock Band combine to make the single largest multimedia release of anything, beating out the last Grand Theft Auto release.

    Say the economy’s done a little jag up, throw in what will be a lot of hype, and mix in boomer nostalgia, and you’ll have a lot of sales. Trust.

  2. Chris N.

    I know I’ll be buying them, although certainly not from a brick-and-mortar store. I’ve been waiting 20-odd years for decent Beatles CDs, and I shan’t be dissuaded now. I am a bit concerned that they’re going to jack up the loudness, as a lot of companies seem to be doing with remasters lately. (Because the music business hadn’t found enough ways to tell me it hates me.)

  3. iantenna

    like always the beatles are a few steps behind popular culture.

  4. Michaelangelo Matos

    The Beatles are pretty much recession-proof. They also stand apart from the industry as a whole in a way almost no one else does: Elvis’s coterie will keep that business afloat forever, but I haven’t met many casual music fans who think of his albums in any specific way, whereas the Beatles not only have general hits-package fans but casual fans who, say, really like the White Album. So I think they’ll do really well, especially with Christmas right around the corner from the release dates. (Which is obviously not a coincidence.)

  5. Anonymous

    @iantenna: Well, except for that one time.

  6. unperson

    @Michaelangelo Matos: I’m actually kinda surprised these are streeting before Thanksgiving.

  7. iantenna

    @K-Rex: “revolution #9″ really was brilliant, wasn’t it?

  8. Rock You Like An Iracane

    @unperson: They’ll just price-drop around Black Friday.

  9. Anonymous

    @iantenna: Not really, but they did some other stuff. Before they went indie.

  10. Chris Molanphy

    Agreed with what Matos and Rock You Like An Iracane said about the Beatles being recession-proof and the exception to everything. I for one will be asking for the box set for my birthday.

    And also, to get practical for a moment:

    Even the big-box stores that have replaced your Record Worlds and your Coconuts as “the place in the mall to get records” are slashing floor space for music retail. Will they just clear out every other artist who has a name that begins with “B” in order to make room for all those new titles?
    This is actually exactly what’s going to happen — Wal-Mart and its ilk pretty much only want to promote “event” music releases these days (cf. AC/DC last year), but when they do, they pull out all the stops. And they’re not the only place: I wouldn’t even be surprised to see these CDs in other forms of chain retail — clothing stores maybe? upscale housingwares? dept. stores? plus Starbucks — that don’t normally carry CDs at all.

  11. dreamsneverend

    @Cam/ron: Yep, let’s see if The Beatles are sickened by the “loudness” bug.

  12. Anonymous

    They have got all summer to hype it. And, should things turn around, people will be looking for something to buy.
    But, speaking of Beatlemania: Part 2…

    I believe they would best serve themselves and the public to release the albums staggered and chronologically. The first few in September, a few more in October, hit the really big releases around November and December.

    This would help buyers to budget their purchases while still having something “new” to buy.

    It would also sell a few more of their earlier albums.

    It helps prevent buyers from coming back to get more later.

    By re-introducing the Beatles with their earlier work we might be able to shift the standard public discourse away from the standard, and boring, classic rocker staus quo which makes so many of us hate the Beatles.

  13. Lucas Jensen

    @K-Rex: This perception, though, that there are tons of haters out there is just because the haters are pretty vocal. I really don’t think that most people beyond a micro-percentage consider the Beatles boring, classic rocker status quo. Those people hang out with the Syd Barrett Pink Floyders and the Brian Jones-only Stones fans and don’t really influence public opinion at all, I’d say.

  14. Lucas Jensen

    @K-Rex: Oh, but I think your idea, still, is a good one. Sorry. Meant to say that!

  15. KikoJones

    @Captain Wrong: “I don’t think it’s going to be Beatlemania Part 2 like some seem to think.

    Perhaps. But as some have stated here, because of the band’s mega status, the number of hard-core Beatlemaniacs is quite larger than most other artists’ devout following. Bet on ALL of those folks to buy the box set or a big chunk of the individual albums (Personally, I’m planning on buying A Hard Day’s Night, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s, The White Album, Abbey Road, and Past Masters, unless I go crazy and just get the box set!); and with the deluxe packaging and superior sound, there will be a fair share of folks upgrading that album or two they really love. (Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few boomers buy their teenage grandchildren some of these albums as Christmas presents.)

    With the number of record stores dwindling and these releases being such a big deal, even the hipper than thou indie stores left–Other Music in NYC comes to mind–will probably carry them as well.

  16. KikoJones

    @K-Rex: Great idea. Hopefully, they’ll do it that way.

    @Lucas Jensen: Do they hang out with the pre-Michael McDonald Doobie Bros fans; the Peter Gabriel era Genesis purists; the Paul Di’Anno-only Iron Maiden followers? (Actually the first two have a valid reason ha!)

  17. Anonymous

    They should have released an album a week in a runup to the game. Looking at sales these days, I think every single release would probably hit the top 5 on billboard.

  18. Cam/ron

    @Captain Wrong: Indeed, the late 80′s CD editions of “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper” are still good remastering jobs. I’m expecting to hear the “dog whistle” noise at the end of Pepper to be amplified 10 times on the upcoming remaster.

  19. DocStrange

    Don’t know. You all probably know by experience that Beatles albums are usually more expensive than other albums, and these will cost what, like $25?

    Anyway, the market is for three kinds of people: Beatles superfans, baby boomers who don’t know how to work the Internets and young kids who want to hear this old 60′s bands their parents and favorite bands go on about.

  20. Anonymous

    Hmm, from the stain I left on the couch after watching the promo for these reissues on, I would say, yes, I will be buying.

  21. ghostyhead

    @17Vargas17: Well, they can’t chart on any Billboard chart except the overall chart and the Top Catalog chart, as they are ineligible for the Top 200.

    And it would definitely make more sense to stagger them, like they did the first time around, which was genius. I mean, given the choice between Please Please Me and Revolver, if you can only buy one, is pretty obvious for most, but if all you can buy is one of the first 3 or 4 or however many, some will get caught up in the hype and buy ‘em anyway. Of course, that may not be the case at all in the “new climate” but it still seems smarter to me.

  22. Rock You Like An Iracane

    @Chris Molanphy: Where’s our chart overview? (I tease.)

    I agree with you; I had reason to be in and out of Wal-Marts all last fall, and couldn’t help but see AC/DC everywhere. I assume this is going to be enormous, too: Old Navy? Sears? Wherever games and/or music is sold, you might see this stuff.

  23. Captain Wrong

    I may be very surprised and very wrong, but I think you’ve summed up everything I’ve been thinking about this. And I’ll add to this the idea that while the whole mantra of the current CDs being horrible has become the conventional wisdom, for most people, the current issues are fine and I think a lot of people joining that chorus, weren’t even aware these CDs were (supposedly) so bad until they read it on the internet. So yeah, those folks will be buying, but I’m going to guess that the rest of the world might replace a scratched copy or buy one out of curiosity, but I don’t think it’s going to be Beatlemania Part 2 like some seem to think.

  24. doublewhiskycokenoice

    the beatles are a poor man’s semisonic. face it.

  25. Anonymous

    @Lucas Jensen: But it is fun when the Brian Jones-only Stones fans and the Mick Taylor-only Stones fans get together to taunt the fans of Mick Jagger’s solo records.

  26. KikoJones

    @clarknhilldale: “…fans of Mick Jagger’s solo records

    Do those people exist? Ha!

  27. Anonymous

    I wrote a post before basically denoting what was wrong with the original CD’s…here it is again…and BTW the MONO’s will rule! They are separate mixes done with the band in attendance…and it sounds much more like a band…no vocals in right channel and drums in the other…

    Here’s my post…and yes I will be purchasing these in September…all of them…

    Please Please Me
    With The Beatles
    A Hard Day’s Night
    Beatles For Sale – all played back on the wrong tape machine…mono tapes played back on a stereo unit and then summed to mono so everything is phasing and sounds like shit…
    Rubber Soul – digital remixes…meaning the original 1965 mixes haven’t been available since 1986…(except in Canada from 1989-1994 and that was a mistake! That’s why some of the CD’s are going for big bucks of that issue…)
    Revolver – played back on the wrong tape head – so it’s out of phase
    Pepper – the master was missing and a safety was used…
    MMT – not bad – probably the best here
    White – again not bad
    Yellow Sub – well “Only A Northern Song” is still fake stereo so that can’t be good
    Abbey Road – Ok, but they were getting into tape hiss fear which doesn’t matter with this music as there is barely any hiss on Beatles masters (except for I Want You and the hiss is MEANT to be there!)
    Let It Be – not bad..

  28. DJorn

    @KikoJones: Yes, his name is Jann Wenner.

  29. Lucas Jensen

    @KikoJones: I liked Wandering Spirit in high school. I have not heard it in some time.

  30. disinterested 3rd party

    So should I keep my 32 bit Ebbets mix and MFSL versions of Revolver or toss them for this version?

  31. bburl

    The sound quality should be decent on these. The main mastering guy said they tried to keep in most of the dynamics, applying some limiting to get rid of the statistical outlining transients. So I have high hopes that these will not be ‘loudness war’ victims. They will be nice and punchy, not like that god awful sound quality abortion “memory almost full” .

    As to who will buy them, I dunno. I’ve got the catalogue and am happy with the sq. Now if they remixed them so I could listen on headphones without getting pissed off at the dumbass “hey lets put the drums on one side and the vocal on the other”, then I’d be ready to buy. But if they price them nicely, at say 9.99, I can see a fair number of people picking up one or two of their favourite disks, especially if they have a best of on offer.

  32. bburl

    Oh, and I forgot to mention. They only used noise reduction on 5 minutes of the 545 minutes of music. So audiophiles should be happy that they’ll be able to hear some hisssss.

  33. KikoJones

    @bburl: I’d be ecstatic with just the harmonies on “Oh! Darling” being more prominent in the mix.

  34. Anonymous


    That would require a remix…

    The harmonies are just fine where they are…supporting the lead vocal…remember these guys pored over everything…and by that time there was only one mix (stereo) to worry about…

  35. KikoJones

    @sydbarrett05: Yeah, I know…but one can dream. And I respectfully disagree: those harmonies should be more prominent. Oh, well…

  36. cheesebubble

    I’m with Chris N. and will be shopping up a storm. One can’t have too many copies of The Beatles on CD and vinyl, I say! I’m gettin’ all excited about gathering up both the stereo and mono box sets. Furthermore, I really like K-Rex‘s suggestion for a chronological, staggered release. That would be the cherry on top.

  37. Thierry

    @cheesebubble: I agree that they really need to do a combination stereo/mono set, since people (like me) will probably want to own both. I haven’t gotten a chance to read much about this yet, but is there a chance that a “true” stereo mix will be released for the mono albums, a la Pet Sounds?

  38. Pablo

    Beatles Remastered are no victims fo the Loudness War

    I am agree whit this
    What do you think???

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