The Beatles finally enter the CD age February 26 with the release of the group’s first four albums – Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles for Sale – in their original British formats on compact disc. The CDs, which will be issued on the Parlophone label, are the first installment in the comprehensive reissue of the Beatles’ entire catalog on compact disc by EMI Music Worldwide.
“What we are doing is going through the releases in chronological order,” said Bhaskar Menon, chairman and chief executive officer of EMI Music Worldwide. “By October, we will have covered all the U.K. releases in their original form,” including such pop milestones as Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road. Subsequent solo albums by the individual Beatles are not yet scheduled for CD release because “we wanted to put the maximum emphasis on the original 12 or 13 albums.”
Menon noted that all Beatles CDs will be “an absolute replication of the masters approved by the Beatles and George Martin when the records were first put out.” For the first four CDs, EMI used Martin’s mono mixes from the original British LPs. Although Martin, the Beatles’ producer, is not overseeing production of the CD releases, Menon said EMI is actively seeking his advice on the project. “Any remix that is required on any of these,” he said, “we will request him to undertake them for us.”
The initial batch of Beatles CDs marks the first time any of the group’s historic EMI recordings have been officially available in the United States on compact disc. Attorney Leonard M. Marks, who is representing the Beatles and Apple Corps Limited in their current lawsuit against Capitol/EMI Records, claimed the company had been delaying the release of Beatles CDs as leverage for a settlement of the suit, which includes claims of fraud and a dispute over royalties. “They have an absolute obligation under contract to exploit the Beatles material to the fullest,” he said. “They were deliberately withholding Beatles CDs from the market in such a way as to punish the Beatles.”
But Menon insisted the litigation with the Beatles and Apple “has got absolutely nothing to do with CDs.” He added that current negotiations with Apple for a settlement of the suit have included discussions on a special CD royalty rate to be paid to the Beatles.
Menon explained that the lengthy delay in issuing Beatles CDs “has been entirely due to the fact that there has been insufficient manufacturing capacity. Because of the importance of the Beatles catalog, we obviously do not want to bring out a certain amount of them and find them running out of stock. We wanted to have a reasonable assurance of continuity of supply.”
Menon would not reveal how many copies of each Beatles CD EMI would initially ship, but he said he expected demand to be overwhelming. Some retailers are predicting that sales of Beatles CDs could reach the million-unit mark, although Barrie Bergman, president of the 130-store Record Bar chain, says initial orders for his stores are a bit more modest. “One of the reasons is what Capitol’s releasing first are not the great Beatle albums. We’re guessing that demand for these albums will be like a new superstar album. The later ones, like the ‘White Album’ and Sgt. Pepper, will be considerably more than that.”
In addition to releasing Beatles albums on CD, EMI plans an extensive CD reissue of other catalog products by such artists as Pink Floyd, the Band, Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys. Sinatra’s 1955 and ’56 albums In the Wee Small Hours and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers have been restored to their original lengths of 15 songs apiece for release on compact disc, while the 1957 LP Close to You and 1962’s Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session each feature three bonus tracks from the original recording sessions. Other imminent releases include the Beach Boys’ mid-Seventies double albums Endless Summer and Spirit of America (each squeezed onto a single CD), the Band’s classic Music from Big Pink and Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother, A Saucerful of Secrets and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.