Beatles on iTunes: Here's why it matters

Beatles on iTunes
Beatles on iTunes: the death of the compact disc?

My colleague and esteemed virtual mate Gary Marshall asks why we should be bothered about The Beatles appearing on iTunes. He thinks it doesn't really matter.

But he's wrong.

If you're a real fan, you may well have all the fab four's music on vinyl and cassette, on CD and remastered CD. You've probably also got a lock of Ringo's hair in a tin and a piece of toast that Jane Asher once looked at.

But The Beatles are a special case that transcends conventional fandom. They are part of the fabric of musical history and of popular culture. This release is not really for fans - it's for everyone else.

It's for you and your mum and your kids. Everyone who's ever thought, "I fancy listening to that long chord at the end of A Day in the Life" or who wanted to put on Yellow Submarine to placate a toddler's tantrum.

It's for everyone who felt like vaccing the living room to She Loves You, but who couldn't download a copy the same way they can download Britney or Kylie or Queen.

New context

In this digital era, you can't look at The Beatles in their original context - as an album band from the black and white days. This is a different time, where people no longer buy albums. But isn't that the point?

Because instead of buying albums, folks download single tracks now for 99p a pop. And this is the first time you've been able to do that with a Beatles song. A peerless back catalogue that transcends its time and origin. That's a pretty big deal.

It's not just old people that like and listen to these songs either. A quick look at Last.FM statistics shows that the biggest fans of The Beatles are still the kids, scrobbling playlists as they shake their heads and play air guitar to Twist and Shout.

Flawed argument

There is an argument that anyone who's been waiting for a digital copy of The White Album could have torrented it a long time ago.

Well, you could say that about any single artist, couldn't you? It's like asking, "What's the point in iTunes? What's the point in paying for music?" It's like saying, "What's the point in paying for that cheese when I could have just put it in my bag?"

People do pay to download music. Millions of them, every year. Some of them even pay for music they could have pirated for free.

There's a much bigger significance to The Beatles on iTunes, though. The CD format has always been more functional than popular, a transition between vinyl and virtual that is now coming to the end of its life.

This is about much more than a band and a download service. It's about a tipping point. It's about the end of tapes and discs and the mainstreaming of bits and bytes. The Beatles on iTunes sends a clear message. These are the last days of the compact disc.

And we won't mourn its passing, because The Beatles are back.