Digital Reboots The Beatles, But Will iTunes Come Together?

It may be hard to avoid The Beatles this week. Digital technology and the passage of time to a new generation of potential customers is bringing a postmodern renewal for The Fab Four.

Coordinated for Wednesday (09/09/09), it’s a multimedia reboot, the latest reintroduction of the band since 1995’s The Anthology, but one that begins with the digital remastering of the quartet’s 13 albums. So far, so conventional – it’s the MTV/Harmonix game The Beatles: Rock Band that really promises a new creative interpretation of their work. For Paul McCartney, though, that’s still all about the tunes: “For us, let’s remember that the central thing is our music is getting played. That’s the bottom line,” he says in this excellent Observer Music Monthly package.

This Beatles week signifies one thing above others – that there’s value in shifting content from atoms to bits, if you can take advantage of those bits’ unique qualities. That same lesson has been learned from the migration from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray and from vinyl to cassette, CD, MP3 and beyond.

It’s the same effect seen in the perpetual availability of songs that long ago went out of print, in re-makes of old movies using up-to-date motion graphics – sometimes, it feels as though culture has ended and we’re living in a state of constant digital recycling.

But there’s one vital missing piece of this resurrection – the oft-fabled release of band’s tracks through online retail stores – and, in particular, that of the computer maker christened after The Beatles’ own label, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) Corps.

Apple Inc will this week stage its own event in San Francisco, and simulcast in London – one we know is music-related (the invite says “it’s only rock and roll but we like it”) and which is also scheduled for 09/09/09. Coincidence? Without wishing to jump the gun after years of false starts, the scheduling may rather suggest a coordination with what is otherwise essentially Beatles Day.

I would not be surprised to see Apple – which, unlike Harmonix, the MTV game studio that announced its title back in October, keeps its products quiet until the last minute – announce it has finally secured an exclusive release window on the Beatles re-releases for its iTunes Store, before the material is issued to rival retailers.

So what’s been the hold-up all this time? McCartney tells Observer Music Monthly: “We’ve been keen to do this for a while. I met Guy Hands on a plane once. His crew bought EMI. I refer to them as Terracotta but I believe it’s Terra Firma. I said: ‘What is the problem? I want to do it, we all want to do it.’ And he explained that in the deal that we want, they feel exposed.

“If [digitised Beatles music] gets out, if one employee decides to take it home and wap it on to the internet, we would have the right to say, ‘Now you recompense us for that.’ And they’re scared of that.” We’ll see…