The Beatles fix a hole for iTunes and EMI
After a long and winding road (ouch), the Beatles, EMI and Apple have come together (sorry) to bring us… digital versions of melodies that most people over a certain age have had burned into their musical memories since birth.
Sure, as this official announcement from Apple makes clear, the Beatles’ back catalogue was a major gap for the iTunes store that has now been filled. I’m off to download For No One for €1.29 to get me through the melancholy day that’s in it. But frankly, the only way it’s possible for me to get excited about anything connected to the Beatles – whose cultural supremacy has long been supported by the economic weight of the baby boomer generation – would be if Steve Jobs invented a time machine and transported us back to a time when A Hard Day’s Night sounded fresh again.
Still, despite my personal Fab Four ennui, the assertion of EMI chief executive Roger Faxon that “the Beatles and iTunes have both been true innovators in their fields” does rather stick in the craw. I’m not sure anyone who screamed their way through Beatlemania could ever have imagined their artistic contribution would be reinterpreted as the business jargon of “innovation” and placed in the same sentence as a logistics company like Apple (notwithstanding the many nerdgasms Jobs may have generated over the years).
For EMI, the Beatles-iTunes deal comes at a critical time for the debt-saddled music label, which as of now is owned by the private equity group Terra Firma. It bought EMI at the peak of the market in 2007 in a move it now regards as a big mistake. Guy Hands, Terra Firma’s chief executive, recently lost a court case he took against Citigroup in which he claimed his long-term Citi banker duped him into buying the label (by pretending, estate agent-style, that there was another bidder on line two). Having breached the terms of its debt agreement with Citi, Hands – who was never much loved by EMI’s artist roster – is now fighting to keep control of the label.
Flogging a few Beatles tracks on iTunes will probably come too late for Terra Firma. But it’s feasible that the licensing deal will eventually clock up the cents for EMI and the Beatles alike – there may indeed be a HMV-shy generation out there who will be moved to find out who this “Ringo” is that their grandparents start banging on about whenever they indulge in a little arrhythmic Rock Band drumming.
Now: which Beatles song for the Christmas number one?