At 12:01 am this morning, the world was gifted by The Beatles’ music appearing on virtually every available streaming service. This actually means that for once, the legendary and long-passed band* weren’t too far behind in terms of jumping onto the latest wave of music technology, after being behind the curve versus other historical acts in terms of releasing albums onto CD, bringing out unreleased material, allowing track and album sales digitally, and digitally remastering their music.
*Or at least the band’s main trust, in the form of Apple Corp. and the four people who have to sign off on these things: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and the widows of John Lennon (Yoko Ono) and George Harrison (Olivia Harrison)
But here we are, as a early present for Christmas 2015, with Beatles music available for streaming, and with a tremendously quick timeline between rumor (a couple of weeks back), confirmation (a couple of days ago), and availability (today).
After this almost Beyoncé-level surprise drop, two real questions remain: What EXACTLY have we gotten (and haven’t gotten) from the Beatles in this streaming agreement, and how does it sound? Let’s take these two subjects in order:
WHAT YOU GET:
-The original 12 British albums from Please Please Me to Abbey Road.
-The U.S. full-length LP of Magical Mystery Tour (the British version of this was an extended EP with only the songs from the movie).
-The Past Masters collection (first released in 1988), which filled in the gaps of non-album EPs and singles (at least through 1970–I’ll speak more to that crucial point later).
-Both of the 1973 greatest hits albums–known as the “Red Album” (1962-1966) and the “Blue Album” (1967-1970), AND the 2000 “1” compilation of all 27 songs that hit #1 in the U.S. and/or the UK (the streaming 1 is the remixed version from this year that came out as part of the “1+” set that could be purchased along with a DVD of Beatles videos).
WHAT YOU DON’T GET:
-Basically any albums officially released by the band for the first time after 1970 (with the exception of 1988’s Past Masters and various Greatest Hits albums from the 1970s and 2000s. They contain only material first released before 1970, and thus have been cleared and released for streaming).
Specifically, this means you don’t get:
-Either volume of the Beatles Live at the BBC
-Anything from any of the three volume Anthology series, including the last two official Beatles singles: the plodding yet emotional “Free as a Bird” and the underrated “Real Love”.
-The Yellow Submarine Songtrack, which was released with remixed versions of all the songs that appeared in the Yellow submarine cartoon movie (not just the few on Side A of the original soundtrack album), and which leaves off the George Martin score excerpts on Side B.
–Hey Jude, a 1969 Apple release that is supplanted by the Past Masters volumes (both are single/non-album track compilations), but is still interesting for its official status, its photography and artwork, and track sequencing.
–Love, the Beatles mash-up album that went along with the Cirque du Soleil performance of the same name.
–Let it Be Naked, the official CD release a dozen years back of the original Let it Be album (with minimal track changes), but with the orchestral and choral parts added by Phil Specter removed–in other words, the closest we’re ever going to get to an official release of the Get Back album that morphed over time into Let it Be.
-The U.S. Versions of the albums, which include different songs, track listings, and whole different albums in some cases. These were finally released on CD a few years ago as part of a box set and can be purchased as CDs or digitally on iTunes.
-Mono versions of any albums, which for the Beatles completest, is significant, since all the albums through The Beatles (The White Album) had both stereo and mono mixes and releases, with sometime significant differences between each version (and also, the Beatles themselves tended to prefer the mono mixes). The mono versions, like the U.S. albums, were also released around the same time as part of a box set.
HOW IT SOUNDS:
Depending on how much you like the sound quality of streaming services, that’s basically what you’re going to get out of this. For those who like to dig into the nooks and crannies of the Beatles’ arrangements and mixes, using a streaming service on the lower default setting is probably going to seem disappointing, especially for the more complex arrangements of Revolver onward. Even on the highest playback you can get for your services, it still might sound a bit “off” at times: When I streamed Spotify at its highest rate of 320kbps (available only via Premium subscription), occasionally the sound (vocals especially) seemed a little bit thin and/or fuzzy. Even though these were the recent remastered versions of the albums, they didn’t sound as good as the CDs themselves (or the FLAC/no-loss CD rips I’ve heard). For those that are used to listening to their music on the go and through small headphones or earbuds, this won’t make much of a difference, but for those who really want the full grandeur of the music (and when it comes to The Beatles, I would think a number of people do), it may not be worth it to plunk down at least ten dollars a month specifically so that you get The Beatles’ main albums commercial free in yet another new, but not exactly better format.
Finally, in terms of issues users might have with the services beyond possible sound quality, there’s the fact that due to limiting the material here to only music first officially released (almost entirely in stereo) between 1962 and 1970, not only are the last two Beatles singles not available, but on the flip-side-because of the various Greatest Hits being released-there are some tracks which appear on three of the albums available for streaming (or in the case of both Yellow Submarine and All You Need is Love, four). In addition, it seems that the masters/mixes are very much alike for each appearance of the song across the different albums. This is somewhat inexplicable when combined with the fact of all the significant Beatles material that has been released on CD but is not part of the streaming agreement. Hopefully, though, the release this morning will turn out to be just Stage One of a larger project, and more official Beatles works will be made available at a future time.