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Beatles take the music industry's sad song and make it better

Rock Band video game and remastered CDs prompt fans old and new to get back into the Fab Four's music.

September 10, 2009|Randy Lewis

The 2009 version of Beatlemania had no screams, no fainting and little hysteria. But there were plenty of smiles on the faces of fans indulging their fondness for the music of the Fab Four as the Beatles: Rock Band and a batch of new and improved CDs of their complete catalog went on sale Wednesday.

"I always liked the Beatles," said Theresa Gordon, 48, who trekked from Lake Arrowhead to a Best Buy store in West Los Angeles with her four children, three of whom made a beeline for the Beatles: Rock Band setup and tackled "I Am the Walrus." "But they're more into it than I ever was. These guys are nuts."

The release of the new Beatles products is crucial not only for the beleaguered music industry, which is in the midst of a long-term decline driven by consumers' switch to digital downloads, but also the video game business, which has seen its rapid growth of the last few years disappear in the current recession. The game in particular represents an investment of tens of millions of dollars by Viacom Inc. to boost the fortunes of its money-losing Rock Band brand.

About 30 people were waiting outside the store when it opened at 8 a.m., a Best Buy manager said. Just a couple of hours later, the store still had a few of the Beatles: Rock Band for Wii and Xbox systems on display, but customers had already snapped up all the Playstation 3 versions, she said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, September 11, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
The Beatles: Rock Band: An article in Thursday's Business section about the release of The Beatles: Rock Band and remastered CDs said that Best Buy customer Mario Moreno worked at a nearby truck rental firm. He works at a store that sells screenwriting and film production software.

Gordon's children -- Jessica, 21, Christy, 18, and Bobby, 16 -- left with the least expensive version of Rock Band, the one with just the software disc, because they already owned the game.

Christy Gordon said she had just snagged a complete set of the U.S. versions of the Beatles albums on vinyl LPs through Craigslist.

"The woman who had them went out on the first day every time a new album came out and bought them. She only played them once, to tape them or something, and then never played them again," Christy Gordon said. "They're perfect."

She took Ringo Starr's drum chair during the Rock Band session, while her older sister sang and Bobby, a left-hander, gleefully strapped on the replica of Paul McCartney's bass to accompany his sisters.

A spokeswoman for Harmonix, the division of MTV Networks that created the game, said the company wouldn't release sales figures. But a steady stream of customers at Best Buy indicated the new products were being greeted enthusiastically.

Customers came to Best Buy stores nationwide in "unprecedented numbers," said Gary Arnold, senior entertainment buyer for the chain.

Amoeba Music in Hollywood went through all 90 of its mono box sets by 1 p.m., after opening early for customers at 10 a.m. By late afternoon, the store had only 40 of its allotment of 200 stereo box sets. Such sales appeared to parallel those of online retail giant Amazon.com, where at different times during the day the entire top-10 list of bestselling music was Beatles albums.

Gordon said her family had hoped to arrive early enough to catch the early-morning activities emceed by "Breakfast With the Beatles" radio show host Chris Carter, but traffic was too heavy. Carter was also scheduled to host an evening event across town at Amoeba Music.

Mario Moreno, 29, of Los Angeles snapped up a handful of remastered CDs -- "Abbey Road," "Revolver," "The Beatles" (a.k.a. the White Album) and the "Past Masters" two-CD set of singles and non-album tracks -- on a 10-minute break from work at a nearby truck rental firm.

"The old ones always sounded kind of flat. I've been waiting at least 10 years for these," Moreno said.

Daniel Rutherford, 61, headed to the checkout counter with a copy of the new Beatles edition of Trivial Pursuit under his arm, having placed an order for the stereo box set of remastered CDs released Wednesday in conjunction with the video game. He recalled seeing the group live in Canada. "Aug. 22, 1964," he said. "I still have my ticket stub."

He wasn't surprised to see the new generation of fans displaying much the same zeal the Beatles unleashed in him 45 years ago. "I think it speaks to the quality of what was and to the quality of what is."

Marvin Trejo, 18, of Venice proffered his best rendition of "Helter Skelter" at the store's the Beatles: Rock Band floor display with a little help from his friends Noe Valle and Omar Gonzalez, both 18. "Awesome," Trejo said. "We're going to get this so we can play it in the dorms when we start college."

The enthusiasm they and other young customers exhibited dispelled any notions that the reignition of Beatlemania was merely an exercise in nostalgia for baby boomer fans.

At the Grove shopping center, oldies radio station KRTH-FM (101.1) held an early-release party in conjunction with disc jockey Gary Bryan's morning program. Beatles tribute band Paperback Writer played on a small stage in the middle of an outdoor plaza, and a nearby Barnes & Noble store did a brisk business in Beatles CDs and other merchandise, not including Rock Band.

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