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Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Beatles on CD

It took the advent of the compact disc for the Beatles to regain control of their own destiny.  Before EMI could begin to re-release the group's catalog on this new format, they had to obtain permission from Paul, George, Ringo and Yoko.  The surviving members had not been happy with the many compilations issued between 1973 and 1982, and took this opportunity to make a few demands.  First and foremost was that they would now decide what was and was not going to be made available to the public.  And Sean Egan surmises in The Mammoth Book of the Beatles that they probably also renegotiated their low royalty deal - pathetically low considering that they had been the biggest act in the world.

All of this took time.  A lot of time.  The first commercial music CDs in the world were issued around 1982.  By 1985, David Bowie had re-released his entire catalog on CD, and still there was nothing from the Fab Four.  Oh, there were the inevitable bootleg CDs in circulation, including a version of Abbey Road that I recall seeing, but fans were waiting with bated breath for the real thing.  Of course, producer George Martin took advantage of the delay and remastered every title ever officially issued by the group.  Finally, in 1987, we were rewarded for our patience.

The first four albums - Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night and Beatles for Sale - were finally released on CD on February 26th, 1987.  To the dismay of many undiscerning fans (and I must count myself among them at the time), they were issued in mono.  But remember that up through 1968, Martin and the Beatles themselves always concentrated on the mono mix - stereo was an afterthought to them.  The case can therefore be made that until the CD version of Abbey Road, only these four were issued as they were truly meant to be heard.

The public's voice was heard, and when the next batch - Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver - were released on April 30th, they were now only available in stereo.  Sgt. Pepper, as befitting its status, was issued alone on June 1st, the twentieth anniversary of its original release.  One surprise occurred when Magical Mystery Tour appeared (out of sequence, in fact, after The Beatles and Yellow Submarine) in its American version, but the Capitol album had always been preferred over the Parlophone double EP even by British fans.  This was Capitol's one and only victory in 1987, but even that would change with time.

When Abbey Road and Let It Be came out on October 19th, the collection of albums by the Beatles on CD was at last complete.  But many of the group's singles had never appeared on albums in the UK, and they were still nowhere to be seen.  How would EMI and the Beatles handle the release of the thirty or so titles yet to be issued?  With two of the most incredible packages ever assembled, of course.

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