The Beatles on iTunes: the tease goes on and on

I’ve come to a conclusion about this: The Beatles are messing with us all.

The surviving members and family of the band continue to inch slowly forward with some form of digital strategy, but we still can’t get The Beatles on iTunes, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Today sees Apple Corp’s announce a digital rerelease of some key albums taken from the entire Apple Records (The Beatles own label) catalog -- but there’s no Beatles in the mix.

It is nice that music from Badfinger, Billy Preston, Mary Hopkin, James Taylor and others has been digitally remastered at Abbey Road studios and then reissued on CD and digital downloads.

This activity has taken place with help from EMI, and it sees the digital download release of 15 albums from the catalogue. All of these will appear on September 14, 2010.

From the press release,

“Together, the 15 albums represent the first ever Apple Records releases to be available via digital download.”

Now, I can’t help but see this as a big step, particularly since a recently announced Lennon collection will also be made available as a digital download. (Though you can already pick up music by all the individual artists from services such as iTunes).

Today’s news is bound to spark a re-run of the every six-month-seeming rumor that The Beatles may one day make it to iTunes.

Sir Paul McCartney earlier this year laid the blame for the late appearance of music from the band straight at the feet of record label EMI, saying,

“There have been all sorts of reasons why they don’t want to do it.”
"To tell you the truth I don't actually understand how it's got so crazy," he said, speaking to the BBC. "I know iTunes would like to do it, so one day it's going to happen."

This led to EMI’s Ernseto Schmitt to say,

"Conversations between Apple and EMI are ongoing and we look forward to the day when we can make the music available digitally.

It is interesting that rumors claiming music from the band may make it to iTunes emerge in the weeks preceeding each Apple music event.

Last year’s event in September saw Sky News briefly run -- and then remove -- a report in which Yoko Ono was quoted saying that Beatles downloads would be announced for iTunes last September.

You can still see pictures of the Tweets that immediately flew after that statement here.

The relationship between the two Apple’s was always complex.

One senior Apple exec once joked that the relationship was a simple one, The Beatles Apple would sue the computer company every now and then, they’d end up in court, and then do it again a few years later.

Fast forward to 2007 and the two sides finally settled their differences in the UK courts, reaching an undisclosed settlement which eventually led to Apple Computer becoming Apple Inc., while Apple Corp. retained its own identity and brand.

A potted history of the label:

In 1968, things were swinging, flower power hadn’t died and The Beatles found themselves at the centre of a creative soup. They launched Apple Corp.’s and the Apple Records offshoot, and did their best to finance a creative explosion, losing a lot of money in the process.

They were utopians, and their label reflected this. “Diversity was celebrated, and artists were encouraged to record and release their music in a friendly creative environment.”

Despite the free and easy vibe of the original Apple Corp., when it comes to reaching iTunes the road to digital seems just fractionally too long.

But with these digitally re-mastered albums set to ship on September 24 (near Apple Inc’s customary music product refresh), tongues are bound to start wagging on this rumor once again.

After all, how popular would every Beatles track ever made be as streamed content via Apple -- and Google’s come to that -- future music services?

We’ll wait and see, but having written so much on the topic of Beatles on iTunes, I won’t be holding my breath. But I'll probably still be pleased -- particularly if the incredibly hard to find on DVD but still a classic, 'Yellow Submarine' movie is also made available online.

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