I don’t know about anyone else, but when I pulled up the iTunes store today, I just about spit out my coffee (or rather, I would have if I was drinking anything). Instead of the usual loud and colorful parade of album art that cycles itself before your eyes, the homepage was a strikingly monochrome sight, and only four men’s pictures graced the window. Their names are John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The Beatles, previously one of the only household-name bands in the world not to do so, are now in the iTunes store.
Let me preface my discourse by saying that the Beatles have been in my life since, well, before day one. My parents danced to the Beatles at their wedding, and from the time I could talk my mom would put on one Beatles album or another quiz my sister and I on Beatles trivia in the car for hours. We still have old Beatles cards in the attic and old records too, and senior year of high school I took an independent study in Rock history partially so I could write essays in my free time about the Beatles influence on modern music. They have been a presence in the soundtrack of my life for more than my 18 years and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you ask me, the Beatles are the most influential band in the history of modern music. Am I biased? Definitely. But even fans like me have had mixed feelings about the release of the Beatles discography on iTunes.
My first thought about the release goes to Apple Records, the project of the late Beatles that carried their own music and the music of artists they personally brought to the label. It had a utopian mission directed towards developing a diverse community of real artists who were devoted to their work. Apple Records was very much entrenched in the ideology of the 60s, revolutionary and free-spirited, and very much in contrast to such a big corporate giant as iTunes and Apple. I think that it’s legitimate to take into consideration Apple Record’s mission as part of the band’s ideology, and be upset with the release of their music on such an institution of music distribution.
However, this point of view seems to ignore the fact that, though John Lennon and George Harrison (RIP) are sadly not with us anymore, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still living musicians who should have some moral bearing on how their band’s iTunes release should be reacted to. Both Paul and Ringo have released music on the iTunes platform, and shouldn’t their actions justify the Beatle’s iTunes debut?
Personally, I’m fine with the Beatles on iTunes. There is something about the Beatles being available online that means their music can reach an even wider audience of people, which is ultimately the point where the ideology of the Beatles and the internet cross paths, isn’t it? The internet is, at its core, about anyone and everyone having access to information, about being able to have a voice and contact people on the other side of the world with the click of a mouse. It doesn’t matter who you are. Part of what makes the Beatles so influential in their art is that it reaches across lines of gender, nationality, class, age, and even genre to create a whole library of music from one band that hundreds upon thousands upon millions of people know and love and relate to. Their music communicates beyond simple economic markets and touches on something innately human, so that whether you’re in England or Japan or South Africa doesn’t matter, you can still play the opening notes of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and people will smile. Putting the Beatles on iTunes just makes their music more available than before, so even if the era of exclusivity that CD-only format lent the Beatles discography is over, now it just means that more people can discover and rediscover the music that means so much to so many. I only hope that this move from CD to mp3 means that, somewhere out there, a mom can put on the Beatles for her daughters in the car, and quiz them about Beatles trivia all drive long.