NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As outlined in Part 1, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Beatles! and Part 2, Roll Up for the Mystery Tour, most of the Beatles legacy unfolded in the space of seven years, beginning with the band's arrival in the U.S. in February of 1964.
This Sunday's Grammy Awards tribute to the Beatles' landmark 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, "The Night That Changed America," will mark the beginning of a slew of possible 50th anniversaries for the rock band, winding up with the 2020 50th anniversary of the band's breakup in 1970. The special airs 8 p.m. EST Sunday on CBS (CBS) and will include a performance by surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, along with a Eurythmics reunion and appearances by Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and many others.
Over 73 million people watched that 1964 Ed Sullivan Show broadcast and the Beatles' popularity in the U.S. soared over the next few months and years. While the brand may have dimmed a bit in its appeal, the Beatles remain a huge moneymaker, with an album in the Top 10 Billboard charts as recently as last November (On Air: Live at the BBC, Vol. 2).
If you are chalking up the hoopla over this anniversary to the Baby Boomers reliving their collective childhood -- well, you're right, up to a point. But a new nationwide survey for TheStreet by GfK has found that a clear majority of respondents of all age groups feel that the Beatles remain relevant even for those born after 1980 -- the year John Lennon was killed. (Read more survey results: Science Has Determined the Best Beatle)
The Beatles For Sale
Pre-fame, Lennon pushed his bandmates to keep their spirits up, telling them repeatedly that the band was going to the very top of pop charts, "the toppermost of the poppermost." So successful were they that 50 years later, they are still there, at the very top.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, which certifies Gold and Platinum records on request from labels, the Beatles have sold 177 million complete albums in the U.S. alone over 50-plus years, making them the top act in history, in terms of album sales, to be certified Gold or Platinum. Nielsen SoundScan says that since it started tracking sales in 1991, the Beatles have sold more than 65 million albums, second only to Garth Brooks (with 69 million). The collection of No. 1 hits, The Beatles 1, is the top-selling album for the last decade. Additionally, the band sold 15 million digital songs.
Many Web sites estimate Beatles global all-time sales but those figures vary wildly depending on the source. The Web site StatisticBrain puts album sales alone at over 2 billion -- yes, that's "billion" with a "b".
Any way you look at it, that's a lot of selling. There are many out there who certainly won't pass up the opportunity to generate additional revenue from these upcoming 50th anniversaries.
Last month, Universal Music Group, a subsidiary of Vivendi (VIV), released The Beatles: U.S. Albums, a CD box set of the American versions of the Beatles recordings, with the early ones released on the Capitol Records label. That dropped Jan. 21, just in time for the Grammys and the tribute broadcast. The track order and mixes for U.S. issues of the early Beatles albums was slightly different from those released in the U.K. In this set of remastered recordings, the orders match the original U.S. pressings, but any original differences in the mix are lost.
The collection of BBC recordings, mentioned above, On Air: Live at the BBC, Vol. 2, was released in 2013, the 50th anniversary of the Beatles rise to stardom in Britain.
The first 10 Beatles albums were released in both mono and stereo versions, with slight differences between the two. The remastered recordings became available on CD in 2009, with the mono versions only available in a boxed set. A complete reissue of the stereo remasterings became available on vinyl in 2012 and remains a popular item.
It should be noted that vinyl collections are not intended merely for ultimate Beatles' fans, but for a much, much wider audience. The band's Abbey Road, on its own, was the top selling vinyl LP three years running, 2009-2011. The fading popularity of vinyl figured into that, as did the fact that Abbey Road was the only Beatles album being pressed on vinyl and available in the U.S. during those years. But what really drove this feat was the marketing for the remastered CDs, raising interest in the band's original recordings.
The Beatles Anthology from 1995-96 will no doubt become a popular item again this year. The package includes a boatload of unreleased material, packaged in three parts: a DVD box set from an eight-episode TV documentary, a three-volume set of double CDs with original songs, outtakes and other material and a book.
SOFA Entertainment controls the rights to the Ed Sullivan Show broadcasts. There were three in 1964 and more in subsequent years. A 50th anniversary set of three DVDs of those broadcasts is available for purchase and over the last couple years the company has made free copies of the performances on YouTube hard to find.
I would definitely look for a re-release of limited run of A Hard Day's Night in the theaters before the end of the year. The film is discussed in literature and in academic circles and influenced many other musicians, actors and filmmakers. Miramax and The Weinstein Company (of Harvey Weinstein, who founded Miramax) own the rights. It is currently available in a collector's edition on DVD and a BluRay version released in Canada can also be found online. Miramax restored the film, formatted for wide screen theaters and released it for a run in theaters in 2000. The 50th anniversary of its release pretty much guarantees it will get some renewed attention around the anniversary of its original release date in July 1964.
Similarly, look for renewed interest to develop in Let It Be (1970), one of the greatest rock documentaries of all time, culminating in a theater release sometime toward the end of the decade. Intended as a way to let fans see the band performing and recording in the studio -- doing what the Beatles did best -- it became instead an additional source of friction and a subtle chronicle of the stresses the led to the breakup.
There are hundreds of books about the Beatles and most of them aren't worth anybody's time. A few, on the other hand, are must-reads for any fan.
Once the only truly reliable history of the band, Hunter Davies' official biography, The Beatles, now appears stilted and sanitized. It is still a good book to own though and forms the basis for much of what passes for Beatles' research elsewhere. Shout! by Hamish Hamilton provides a much more unvarnished and colorful overview of the Beatles career.
Mark Lewisohn has emerged as one of the most important chroniclers of the Beatles career, with his earlier works, The Complete Beatles' Recording Sessions and The Complete Beatles Chronicles. His latest, Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years, Vol. 1, is the first of a projected three-part exhaustive biography of the band. The published volume follows the history up to 1963 and already has a prized place on critics' desks all over the world.
Lennon Remembers by former Rolling Stone writer Jann Wenner is a collection of frank interviews with the late John Lennon and provides some valuable insights into his thinking, particularly about the band's breakup, his longtime relationship with songwriting partner Paul McCartney and his post-Beatles career with Yoko Ono. Wenner doesn't press Lennon on difficult topics but the casual, sympathetic tone of the interviews invites remarkably candid responses.
"You have to be a bastard to make it," Lennon says at one point. "That's a fact. And the Beatles were the biggest bastards on Earth."
Apples to Apples
A lot of the money from a new Beatles push will be divided up between Apple Corps, the parent company of Apple Records, owned by the surviving Beatles and families of the deceased members, and Apple (AAPL), the owner and operator of iTunes. The Beatles finally joined the world of digital download sales in 2010 when the band's catalog appeared on iTunes. As of December 2013, the band had sold 585,000 albums and 2.8 million singles just on iTunes.
Not band for an act that broke up over 30 years before the iPod and iTunes were even invented.
Far from a dormant company, Apple Corps was voted No. 2 on Fast Company magazine's list of most innovative companies in 2010, mainly because of its release of The Beatles: Rock Band video game, but also because of the digital remastering of the Beatles catalog.
The Beatles: Rock Band has lost popularity in the last few years, but I would expect a reissue, maybe a mobile version. A new app, John Lennon: The Bermuda Tapes, with interactive games and featuring demo recordings Lennon made in 1980 prior to the release of his last album, Double Fantasy, is an indicator of the interactive territory yet to be explored. Proceeds from the Lennon app, will benefit the fight against world hunger through the organization WhyHunger.
Although Apple Corps hasn't signed any new artists since the early '70s, it still markets records made by other artists, including Badfinger and James Taylor. The Beatles reportedly made a collective 43.5 million pounds ($71.4 million) in fiscal year 2013 from Apple, according to MusicWeek, including record sales, game sales and other merchandise.
EMI Music, distributors of Apple Records, was bought by Universal Music Group in 2012. Universal Music Group's merchandizing arm, Bravado, in 2013 won the rights to handle Beatles merchandise, previously handled by Live Nation, in an agreement Apple Corps. The combination makes Universal the Big Enchilada in terms of Beatles revenue for the coming anniversary decade, with the ability to market both Beatles recordings and merchandise.
Merchandise brings in an estimated $10 million to $20 million each year and the deal with Bravado, who aggressively and successfully market dozens of other acts, including the Rolling Stones, could amp that revenue as it reaches into previously untapped markets.
Bravado CEO Tom Bennett was quoted in Music Week last year saying he intended to reach "as many key retailers as we can" with the Beatles merchandise.
Michael Jackson Weirdness
Who else is going to be making money off this ongoing 50th anniversary extravaganza? Michael Jackson's estate for one, at least for next five years. The late-singer held 50% of ATV/Sony, a joint venture that co-owned the publishing rights to the Beatles' output. As the result of a couple of rather questionable business decisions, the Beatles lost control of the publishing rights to their own songs (they still get songwriter and sound recording royalties).
The rights ended up owned by a company named ATV. Acting on McCartney's mentoring advice, the young Jackson developed an interest in acquiring song rights. In 1984, Jackson turned around and bought ATV's rights catalog at auction for $47.5 million. The move stunned McCartney, who felt the younger star had betrayed him. Jackson later merged ATV with Sony in a $95 million deal, while retaining 50% of the merged company.
According to the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, publishing rights to all songs written prior to 1978 revert to the original songwriter after 56 years. So McCartney, Starr and the estates of deceased Beatles Lennon and Harrison will start regaining the publishing rights to Beatles' songs in five years.
Tomorrow Never Knows
The GFK survey for TheStreet found that not only is there a great love for the Beatles now, 50 years after they first hit America, but a majority of those polled felt the Beatles would still be relevant 50 years from now. Included in that group were all age ranges polled, even the youngest, 18-24.
So Baby Boomers, hold on to your Beatles records. They are heirlooms for your kids and grandkids. Companies come and go, profits rise and fall, but those recordings and other Beatles artifacts are likely to continue to increase in value.
For more on TheStreet's Beatlemania, see:
- Ladies and Gentlemen, The Beatles!
- The Beatles, Part 2: Roll Up for the Mystery Tour
- Science Has Determined the Best Beatle
--Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York City and Asbury Park