After a long wait, the Beatles, the most popular band in history, is finally available for commercial digital distribution on iTunes. But is that really a good thing?
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iTunes is a singles machine. While the easy availability of band's catalog will almost certainly increase the amount of Beatles listened to in the world, and thus make the world a better place, most of that Beatles will probably come in the form of $1.29, single tracks, not albums.
Early songs like "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" are quick, clean, pop masterpieces and they're ready made for insertion into the world's iPod playslists. But in my opinion, Beatles albums, not songs, are their true masterpieces. Later works like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Let it Be and Abbey Road have great songs on them, of course. But they aren't collections of singles, they're 45-minute-long symphonies.
Abbey Road ends with seven distinct tracks as the iTunes flies, all but one under 2 minutes long. The last track, "Her Majesty," is only 23 seconds long. No savvy iTunes shopper is going to shell out that $1.29 for a 23-second track, but it has to be there. If a new generation of Beatles fans grows up without hearing "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight," "The End" and "Her Majesty" all in a row, then they haven't heard Abbey Road.
It should be noted that iTunes does offer the whole album at a discount, and also that if new fans were required to buy the whole album, they might not hear it at all. But most will buy tracks. Albums might be an antiquated way of organizing music, but they're still worth it. And for music produced without the iTunes format in mind, they're vital.
As it turns out, AC/DC, now the biggest name amongst iTunes holdouts, has kept their music off of Apple's digital marketplace for just that reason.
"We believe the songs on any of our albums belong together. If we were on iTunes, we know a certain percentage of people would only download two or three songs from the album," lead guitarist Angus Young told The Telegraph in 2008. "We don't think that represents us musically."
The first non-Beatles CD I ever bought was Barenaked Ladies' Stunt in 1998. "One Week" had been going around on Total Request Live, and to get the song, you had to buy the album. But when I listen to it now, I find myself skipping over "One Week" in favor of other songs like "It's All Been Done" and "Alcohol." I never would have heard those songs in the age of iTunes.
The world moves quickly. At age 23, I'm officially talking about the good old days.
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