Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Beatles: Getting Greedy or Just Smart Marketing?


Tonight in Las Vegas, the Beatles’ “Love” show from Cirque du Soleil celebrates its fifth birthday. Paul, Yoko, Olivia, and Dhani Harrison, as well as George and Giles Martin are showing up to give it a promotional push. The show is great, I saw it again this winter. It’s pretty much the only reason I would ever visit Las Vegas again. But are the Beatles doing too much promotion? After years of staying quiet, the Beatle brand is getting exploited. Their late great general manager Neil Aspinall would be apoplectic if he read today’s Hollywood Reporter. There’s a plan afoot for a film about Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager. The producer says he’s secured the rights to a bunch of songs–not the master recordings, but songs someone else will sing in the movie if it’s made. (The script looks turgid.)

Aspinall never approved master recordings rights for Beatles songs in movies. Years ago when Wes Anderson tried to get “Hey Jude” for “The Royal Tennenbaums,” he was shot down immediately. Mark Mothersbaugh had to record an instrumental version in its place. But this year we’ve already had “Baby You’re a Rich Man” turn up in “The Social Network.” More recently in Cannes, we heard “Two of Us” in Gus van Sant’s “Restless.” Of course, each of these is a Sony movie, and Sony/ATV Music Publishing controls the rights to Beatles songs. In the former case, the film paid over a million bucks to get the rights. For “Restless,” I’m told, it was much less.

And then there’s the whole ITunes thing. In the last couple of weeks, the Beatles put all three “Anthology” albums on ITunes, joining them with all the other Beatles albums that went there last year. And a low rent show of Beatles music, called “Rain,” a sort of “Beatlemania II,” is playing on Broadway, Luckily, a planned live action version of the classic “Yellow Submarine,” has been scrapped by Disney. Julie Taymor‘s “Across the Universe” was enough for the Beatles on imaginative new film.

Is it too much? Does it dilute a great brand? Yes, and no. While it’s important to keep the 250 or so Beatles songs alive, it would be wise for Apple Records (not Apple computers) to be circumspect in how the music continues to be disseminated. More interesting is an idea for Sony/ATV to release its own CDs of artists covering the songs. A long awaited Roberta Flack album of Beatles songs is…long awaited.

Everyone tries to use the Beatles for their own purposes. Case in point: disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner told a magazine back in the late 90s that he thought his greatest accomplishment was that he was born (September 4, 1964) on the same day “I WAnt to Hold Your Hand” was released. I guess the magazine had no fact checkers. The record was actually released in November 1963 and entered the US charts in January 1964. Weiner may have wanted to hold something else, but that’s another story.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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