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14 Music Week 28.09.12


‘We’re lucky if we last three months’... he should have known better

“YOU CAN BE BIG-HEADED and say, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna last 10 years.’ But as soon as you’ve said that you think, ‘We’re lucky if we last three months.’” So John Lennon remarked back in 1963 about the potential

shelf life of The Fab Four as the first wave of Beatlemania screamed its way around the UK. But nearly half a century on the group remain one of the hottest commercial properties in popular music. Our analysis of The Beatles’ 21st-century album sales puts

into real context just how valuable these four Liverpudlians continue to be to the music industry with only a handful of contemporary acts able to match or better their retail presence. That is pretty conclusive proof of the endurance of their music and how it continues to cross social, country and generational barriers. It is little wonder then Universal has been so desperate to get hold of the catalogue. In hindsight it is, of course, very easy to conclude that the

group’s popularity would always prevail, but when Lennon made his remarks it was not out of modesty but realism. No one knew how long rock music would last back then, let alone The Beatles, and around this time he and Paul McCartney were already contemplating their next career move when their current success would – inevitably – come to an end. Why the group continue to sell records in the quantities they

do is in many ways a question that is very easy to answer. Through their sheer class, the songs and recordings have robustly stood the test of time and are of such high quality that they can appeal to someone hearing them for the very first time as equally as continue to thrill another who heard them all orginally. Another important factor in their continuing ongoing appeal

is the manner in which the catalogue – in the last two decades anyway – has been looked after by Apple Corps and EMI. The market is not flooded time and time again with cash- in releases, but instead the issuing of new product is very carefully controlled, showing respect for the catalogue and guaranteeing when something does appear it is an event rather than yet another album. Compare, for example, how many new Elvis best-ofs there have been since the turn of the century to The Beatles. Even the temptation to follow up 1, the century’s top album globally, was resisted, although a second collection including tracks missing from the first such as Strawberry Fields Forever and Here Comes The Sun would have sold millions of copies. In a strange twist of timing ahead of the 50th anniversary of

the release of the first single Love Me Docomes the EC’s approval of Universal’s takeover of The Beatles’ record company home EMI. Universal offered all sorts of concessions to get this difficult

deal through. One, however, the major was not prepared to make was giving up The Beatles because it knew how essential they were to EMI. That would be like buying Manchester United and not getting

Old Trafford. Paul Williams, Head of Business Analysis Do you have views on this column? Feel free to comment by emailing


As debut single Love Me Do approaches its 50th year, Music The Beatles are still this century’s – never mind the last’s –m



he Beatles’ debut single Love Me Do hits 50 next week, but it is arguably the Fab Four’s contemporary commercial power that

deserves most celebrating. Five decades after – on October 5 to be precise –

that historic seven-inch went on sale the group remain one of the biggest-selling acts around. A Music Week analysis of UK album sales in the

21st century so far reveals just five artists have outsold them over this period. All of them have the advantage of having been active since the millennium, putting out a string of brand new albums, while The Beatles’ post-2000 sales have all had to come from existing albums or repackages of their back catalogue.

Their modern success, more than 43 years after

the four members recorded together for the last time, is vindication why Universal made such a play of separating the group from any disposal of their record company Parlophone to satisfy EC regulators in its $1.9bn (£1.2bn) EMI takeover. According to the Official Charts Company, the

group have sold 8.2 million albums in the UK this century, a total beaten only by Robbie Williams (14.1 million), Westlife (11.7 million), Take That (10.7 million) and Eminem (8.8 million). Michael Jackson (8.1 million) is just behind John, Paul, George and Ringo with his tally having increased significantly since his 2009 death while also quickly catching up is Michael Bublé (7.9 million) thanks to seven-figure sales of his Reprise/Warner Bros sets Crazy Love and Christmas. Not surprisingly, The Beatles’ runaway top seller


THE BEATLES’ 21ST-CENTURY POPULARITY in the UK is more than matched overseas with the 1 album alone having shifted more than 30 million copies globally. That makes it the world’s biggest-selling album since 2000 with more than a third of its sales having been realised in the US where it is also the period’s top seller. According to Nielsen SoundScan, it had sold nearly 12 million copies Stateside by the end of last year, having received another notable boost when it returned to the weekly Billboard 200’s Top 10 (as it did in the UK) in September 2011 following the release of a remastered version. Although 1 has been by far the

biggest contributor to the group’s US album sales post millennium, their other titles have collectively sold in the millions in this period and played a leading role in what in the year’s opening six months was the first period ever when US

The only other veteran act in the Top 10 were Pink Floyd in 10th place with 37.2 million, although they had the advantage over The Beatles during this period of having out brand new recordings, including in 1994’s The Division Bell their last studio set. As in the UK, the 2009 album

catalogue album sales outsold frontline titles. In the first decade of the

century Nielsen SoundScan stats show only Eminem (32.2 million units) had sold more albums than the Fab Four (28.2 million), while across the whole of the SoundScan era from March 1 1991 to the end of last year the group were outperformed by just country star Garth Brooks, having shifted 63.3 million albums compared to Brooks’ 68.6 million.

remasters and 2010 iTunes debut have sparked renewed demand for the group’s catalogue with the remastered albums in the States alone achieving 3.6 million sales during their first year of availability. Going by EMI figures put out at the time, within the first few days of going on sales the albums – individually and as expensive stereo and mono boxed sets – sold 2.25 million copies in North America, the UK and Japan. In the first 12 months of the

group’s recordings going on iTunes, more than 10 million individual tracks and 1.8 million digital albums were sold.

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