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The Downside of the Beatles on iTunes

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Over at The Atlantic, Dave Thier says, "The Beatles on iTunes means your kids may never hear 'Her Majesty.'"


Thier explains:

"Early songs like "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" are quick, clean, pop masterpieces and they're ready made for insertion into the world's iPod playslists. But in my opinion, Beatles albums, not songs, are their true masterpieces. Later works like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Let it Be and Abbey Road have great songs on them, of course. But they aren't collections of singles, they're 45-minute-long symphonies.

"Abbey Road ends with seven distinct tracks as the iTunes flies, all but one under 2 minutes long. The last track, "Her Majesty," is only 23 seconds long. No savvy iTunes shopper is going to shell out that $1.29 for a 23-second track, but it has to be there. If a new generation of Beatles fans grows up without hearing "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight," "The End" and "Her Majesty" all in a row, then they haven't heard Abbey Road."

This, Thier points out, is why AC/DC has resisted the siren song of iTunes:

"We believe the songs on any of our albums belong together. If we were on iTunes, we know a certain percentage of people would only download two or three songs from the album," lead guitarist Angus Young told the Telegraph in 2008. "We don't think that represents us musically."

This is something I was discussing with a friend up in Toronto a few weeks ago, as we sat around in front of his saltwater fish tank late at night, sharing a six-pack of Molson and listening to Fair Warning by Van Halen.

I remember when the album came out in 1981. I was 11 years old and spent every penny I earned delivering groceries and washing dishes on records. After CDs hit the market, I was amazed at the convenience of not having to get up at the end of a side, walk over to the record player, flip the platter over, walk back to where I was sitting, and listen to the second half.

While one could still listen to a full album, it was all too easy to skip past a song you might not like the first 45 seconds of--just point your remote control at the CD player and move on. But there was something else that was missing:

Sides A and B.

Albums, particularly rock albums like Fair Warning, were designed to be listened to in two acts. Fair Warning opens up with "Mean Street," followed by "Dirty Movies" and "Sinner's Swing!" before closing out the "first act" with the slower, yet still hard-rocking "Hear About it Later," which is the perfect song with which to lower the curtain for a quick intermission.

Act two, or Side B, opens with the bombastic "Unchained." The rest of the side follows a nice ebb-and-flow before closing with the raucous "One Foot out the Door," a incredible close to an incredible show, er, album--which, incidentally, was the worst-selling album of the David Lee Roth era, for some unknown reason.

Will the Beatles on iTunes be good for the world? Sure. It'll expose many more people to a seminal group that changed music forever.

Now music has changed once again, not due to a band's influence, but due to technology's influence. It's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just different. And that's okay. But I'll always have my Fair Warning 12-inch when I need it.
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