NEW YORK (Billboard) - One striking aspect of the newly available Beatles albums on iTunes is that they weren’t accompanied by the release of more digital bells and whistles.
When EMI Music reissued all of the band’s albums on CD last year, every title boasted improved sound, detailed liner notes, a generous selection of photos and mini-video documentaries about the recording of each album.
The iTunes versions don’t include a whole lot more, offering the same documentaries and other material in the deluxe iTunes LP format, along with a 1964 concert film available only as part of the $149 digital “Beatles Box Set.” (iTunes is also making a free online stream of the film available through the end of the year.)
Despite Apple Corps’ conservative handling of the Beatles catalog over the years, it has occasionally demonstrated a willingness to take creative risks, as it did with the Beatles edition of MTV/Harmonix’s “Rock Band” videogame and the startling mash-ups featured in Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” show.
That recent history and the protracted wait for an eventual retail partnership with iTunes — hey folks, it’s 2010! — seemed to portend a more ambitious digital download debut.
Now that the Beatles have finally embraced digital distribution, perhaps there’s more to come. In the meantime, here are five things we expected to see but didn’t:
1. A Beatles iPad
Back in 2004, Apple Inc., U2 and Universal Music Group collaborated on the release of the iPod U2 Special Edition. The black and red music player was engraved with the signatures of all four band members and came with a coupon that could be redeemed for $50 off the purchase of the $149 “The Complete U2” digital box set.
That seemed to provide the perfect model for a Beatles-branded iPad loaded with the Fab Four’s music. Tuesday’s Beatles-iTunes announcement included no mention of a hardware/music bundle.
One likely explanation: the Beatles album downloads are only available in the iTunes LP format, which isn’t fully compatible with the iPad.
2. A Beatles Mobile App
The iPhone has replaced the iPod as Apple’s cornerstone digital media player. So it was only natural to hope that the Beatles might offer a cool new mobile app that fans could use to interact with the band’s music. No such luck this time out, but this is surely a platform that Apple Corps is examining closely.
3. Higher-bitrate downloads
One of the biggest selling points of last year’s Beatles CD reissues was their sparkling, remastered sound. While the Beatles albums at iTunes are drawn from the 2009 remastered recordings, they are encoded at the same 256 kilobits-per-second bitrate as conventional iTunes downloads.
Higher bitrates yield better sound quality, albeit at the cost of larger file sizes. Most consumers probably can’t tell the difference. But higher-bitrate downloads might have provided an additional marketing angle, as well as a way to snare any audiophiles who haven’t already purchased the CD reissues.
4. U.S. versions of Beatles albums
One of the tricks of selling consumers the same music they already own is mixing things up a bit. To enhance the appeal of the Beatles iTunes downloads for American consumers, Apple Corps and EMI could have included downloads of the band’s Capitol albums, like “Meet the Beatles,” “Something New,” “The Early Beatles” and the U.S. configurations of “Help” and “Rubber Soul.”
EMI never released those titles as individual CDs, making them only available in two boxsets it released in 2006. Consumers under the age of 40 wouldn’t have cared, but boomer-age U.S. Beatles fans might have appreciated reminiscing over the iTunes LP-enhanced artwork of those Capitol albums.
5. Download debuts of other previously released material
“The Beatles Anthology,” the comprehensive 1995 TV documentary series about the Fabs, featured footage of promotional clips that the band shot for “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “We Can Work It Out,” “Rain” and other songs. But none of them has ever been sold as individual video downloads.
Also missing: “The Beatles At the Hollywood Bowl,” a 1977 live LP of performances recorded in the mid-‘60s, which has never been released on CD or as a digital download.
More surprising in their absence: the three double-CD “Anthology” collections of demos and rarities and the two-CD set “Live At The BBC.”
Editing by Zorianna Kit