The Beatles mix has come to a screeching halt after I finally located the Ramsey Lewis Mother Nature's Son album. This thing is so dope, I'm considering using at least five of the eight songs. Ramsey was ill, but his work on the Moog on this record is incredible. It blows my mind that I haven't heard this record until now, really.
Just put on the White Album this morning. I've been thinking about the Beatles lately on my walks as I prepare, now, to break down this mix and begin at the 00:01 again. My criticisms of the music industry have been fairly well documented, but my specific concern about Apple, Capitol and the Beatles not so much. Nonetheless, I've found it absolutely shameful what Capitol/EMI has done with the Beatles' music. First, there was the sheer exhaustion over those Anthology pieces (three 2-disc sets) that retailed for almost $34.98 and still are near the same price some thirteen years later. There was the acoustic Lennon recordings which were forgettable at best. There was the limited (and numbered) repackage of the White Album which was really just a digipak with a few baseball-card sized pictures of the individual members. There was that dreaded version of Let It Be (the Naked version) which was completely unnecessary. There was the Grey Album fiasco when Danger Mouse mixed their White Album compositions with Jay-Z's Black Album acapellas. Sir Paul McCartney quietly but assuredly rushed to quell the leakage on that project even when Danger stood to make no profit from it. There was that horrid Love package where they let George Martin's son Giles obliterate the old recordings with his own sort-of "mash-up." I guess when it comes from the inside, Paul doesn't have a problem. Then they made a Vegas show out of it with people and pianos flying through the air. Then, there was Across the Universe. Whatever. The songs still aren't on iTunes which, I don't really care one way or another except for the fact that it's indicative of a model that has refused to move forward and, in today's market, either you move forward or move out.
In the Beatles case, it might be too late.
In the eyes of music distribution, there are few exceptions to the otherwise accepted truth that CDs are priced too high. And those exceptions have been traditionally Led Zeppelin, Metallica, the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, Pink Floyd and the Beatles. Over the last year, five of the six have been dealt quite aggressively...some at near 30% off of its everyday cost...in order to fuel sales at retail and to remain competitive with offerings at iTunes. Hell, that last Eagles album was an exclusive at Wal-Mart that was selling for $11.88 everyday. They're doing it, essentially, for survival of not only the physical good, but of the band themselves. Without the music, what are the Rolling Stones? The Beatles, however, are rarely dealt and, when they are, it's pennies and nickels in savings. The result, then, is the inability to price them cheaper than their tag price without losing money on every unit sold. In a market that has now proven that $9.99 is the going price on full albums, a $15.99 tag on Abbey Road is not only unreasonable, it's shameful. Hell, the White Album is still near a $35 tag price. You can get the first four Beastie Boys records for ten bucks cheaper than that including tax. The result is a hard and evident test of price elasticity. Look at the sales of CDs that have been "revalued" in the market place and dealt at aggressive prices to retailers so they can keep promotions healthy and those included titles go through incredible jumps. The aforementioned first four Beastie records were selling in our stores for $5.99 for a period of two months and the numbers we generated in that time frame outsold the previous four year-end totals...in just two months. When you hit the right price, people thank you with their pocketbook. Adversely, the Beatles are never promoted and the result is the opposite. Week-to-week sales are on a decline and Abbey Road is posting record lows every week. Is their reluctance to play along with the market going to inevitably ruin the Beatles? It could. And that's just the physical good. They're still not even available digitally (and legally) which means that Beatles fans have been hindered from fully making the leap into new technology because they're favorite group of all time are stubborn bastards who think they're better than everyone else and don't have to play nice.
You look at Beatles Soundscan from last week against the same week from prior years, Abbey Road sold only 1600 units last week. This same time last year, it was selling 2300 units. Not a huge downturn considering that the economy is in the toilet, but that's among it's lowest volume week ever during the Soundscan era. The White Album only managed 850 units last week against 1400 a year ago. Dark Side of the Moon sold 3200 units last week against 3600 a year ago. People are still buying Floyd, but they're among the groups that are usually dealt at 30% off of cost so that retailers can generate traffic. Master of Puppets sold 2200 units last week against 1700 from a year ago--actually selling more this year. Again, fueled by discounting. Three other hits packages are posting significant units: Guns N Roses, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Fleetwood Mac sold 5800, 5000 and 4400 units respectively last week. All of which can be purchased at $10 or less. Korn's Greatest sold 2500 units last week. Typically $10. Beatles 1 managed 2900 units last week. Would we consider CCR's best songs more valuable than the Beatles?! Well almost twice as many people did. The most staggering of all is Bob Marley's Legend that, even with a downturn in sales, sold 7200 units last week. Against the Beatles best, that's almost three times as many. Not all too concidently, it's a title that even with an exhaustion of Marley product available, usually sells for under $10 at most retailers because it's usually dealt at levels to allow such a sale price. Is it possible that, in the worst recession in recent history that price will determine taste? It seems so.
And, on 9/9/09, the Beatles will reissue once again, digitally-remastered versions of all of their studio records and guess the price...that's right: $18.98. You will still pay full price. And the old "unmastered" versions will be made unavailable--not discounted. Which means, really, you don't have a choice. You'll have to buy revamped versions of the old records at full price and most ears won't really be able to tell the difference. At least those belonging to original fans who are now 60+ years old.
Just so you know, the going price on used versions of Sgt. Peppers is $5.00. Don't pay full price for that record ever again--remastered or not. Oh yeah. And to completely exhaust September with the Beatles, they're releasing the Beatles Rock Band so you can play along to songs that probably represent technically the simplest in the Rock Band song selection. They're scraping for everything they can get at this point.
I remember my uncle turning me onto Abbey Road when I was young. It blew my mind that, among all the garbage I had ever listened to, I never heard Abbey and it was pure love from there on. I suppose that was a long time ago. And not that Abbey is any less of the record it was then or decades before, but tastes change. Music changes. How long can one hour of recorded music sustain its greatness against social, political, economic and artistic change? Will people still regard Abbey the way they used to, say, twenty years from now? Will each generation pass it on to the next? Will my kid tell his kid about Abbey? Will I remember to pass it onto Parker? If I don't, will anyone else do it in my place?
I suppose I'm doing this Beatles mix as a protest. You won't get the Beatles doing Beatles because that's simply too costly. You'll just have to shell out market value for that. What you'll get for free is hopefully a superior product of others doing the Beatles. Yeah, I'm a prick like that. I will say this, I got some funky treasures for you. Some you might have heard along the way, others that will be fantastically fresh to you. It runs the gammut: funk, jazz, blues, reggae, dub, salsa. And, the paramount piece of the project, Ramsey Lewis. Hopefully proving to be an affordable and tasteful alternative to the real thing. Something Giles should've thought of.
It's Friday folks. Good for all of you. Make sure you get that Black Moon mix if you're so inclined. And have a good weekend. Cheers and a goo-goo-g'joob.