For a band that last recorded together four decades ago, the Beatles keep tugging on our ears – and wallets.
First there were the records, then the CDs, as well as various compilations, the rollicking live BBC sessions and the mid-1990s Anthology rarities trilogy, featuring the posthumous “reunion” singles, “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.”
Now we’re going to get to hear it all again, only clearer: the group’s catalogue of original British-issued albums has been digitally remastered for CD and will be released in September.
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At first glance, the reissue many seem a cheesy way to make yet another buck off the band that sang “Can’t Buy Me Love” -- and other songs that helped sell more than 600 million albums worldwide.
But if the remastered set lives up to expectations, it will be worth every cent to listen to the Beatles the way they were meant to be heard.
Fans know all too well the group’s sorry CD history: the albums, whose digital versions were released beginning in 1987, are a muddy mess for the most part, with a sound quality far less sharp than their wax predecessors.
Like much of the group’s post-breakup, you-never-give-me-your-money legal battles, efforts to remaster the albums were tangled for years in corporate conflicts with Apple and EMI. Some fans got so frustrated they put together their own digital remixes, trying to echo the warmer, less tinny sound of the original recordings.
The remastering project, a not-so-secret four-year undertaking at the famed Abbey Road Studios, employed a combination of vintage and state of the art equipment aimed at recapturing classic sounds: the jangling Rickenbacker and Gretsch guitars on early cuts; Paul McCartney’s bouncing, melodic bass lines; Ringo Starr’s steady, underrated drumming, which got often buried under digital white noise.
Not to mention those crisp harmonies that stayed tight, even when personality and business battles were tearing the band apart.
We heard the tantalizing possibilities of digital magic on the “Love” album, the Beatles-sanctioned mash-up soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas tribute show. On some cuts, particularly the chilling “Because,” you can close your eyes and pretend you’re sitting in Abbey Road’s Studio Two.
The upcoming remastered albums will be more than just collectors’ items or some geeky audiophile’s fantasy – they represent musical history, cleaned up, restored and burned for frequent playing.
The Sept. 9 CD releases will coincide with debut of “The Beatles: Rock Band” video game, another attempt to bring the songs that span generations to a new audience.
The natural next step in keeping the legacy going is making the Beatles’ catalog available for digital download -- which, barring the odd outtake release or the much whispered about completion of the John Lennon tune “Now and Then” -- would seem to be the group’s grand finale.
At least until the next digital revolution.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.