9-9-09 marks the start of Beatlemania 2009. The Fab Four has been reduced to the Fab Two but they are determined to make sure the mystery tour lasts another 40 years.
The entire remastered Beatles catalogue (available at 7-Eleven, Starbucks, and Whole Foods), a dedicated Rock Band game, and boatloads of merchandise all land in stores. Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis and Disney have announced plans to remake the group's '68 animated movie Yellow Submarine just in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. It's a marketing orgy years in the making and gives new meaning to the word Revolver. The Beatles keep coming back.
In reality, the never-ending Beatles marketing campaign hasn't stopped since Paul McCartney filed for his Beatles divorce in 1970. The band's company, Apple Corps, has been the keeper of the band's name, music, image and legacy. Unfortunately, Apple Corps doesn't call all of the shots. Nearly all of the songs written by Lennon/McCartney are controlled by the music publishing company Sony/ATV (co-owned by the Michael Jackson Family Trust) and The Beatles' former label, EMI, shares ownership of the recordings. Each has a say - and a stake in Beatles, Inc.
Surprisingly, this three-way marriage has managed to protect the Beatles' brand with largely good taste. In fact, The Beatles have arguably guarded their legacy with the highest standards of any musical act in history (action figures and bobble head dolls aside). However, there have been some notable missteps and questionable alliances from both the band and the individual members. As we prepare for the 2009 Beatles British Invasion, I offer you a look at some other Beatles-sanctioned marketing and nostalgia foisted upon a blindly adoring fan base.
"REVOLUTION" NIKE COMMERCIAL
The first Beatles sacrilege was committed in 1987 when Nike used "Revolution" to advertise their Nike Air shoes. The Beatles label, EMI apparently licensed the recording without permission from Apple Corps. The Beatles sued Nike, the label, and the ad firm for $15 million. A statement from their attorney said, "The Beatles position is that they don't sing jingles to peddle sneakers, beer, pantyhose, or anything else. Their position is that they wrote and recorded these songs as artists and not as pitchmen for any product." Guess they forgot about the song they licensed to a Ford car commercial two years earlier.
EMI countered by saying that Yoko Ono, an Apple partner, agreed to the song's use. Nike dropped the ads less than a year later and Ono - who's cool with her husband peddling sneakers - let Nike use John Lennon's solo recording "Instant Karma" in 1992.
In 1995, The surviving Beatles launched their first united full-scale marketing blitz. The DVD, TV, coffee table book, and album release marked the first public reuniting of the surviving Beatles since their break up - nearly 15 years after Lennon's murder and seven years after McCartney snubbed George and Ringo at The Beatles 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Initially called The Long and Winding Road, the mammoth career survey was overseen by the band's former road manager, the late Neil Aspinall (who went on to helm Apple Corps until 2007).
The centerpiece of the three-volume CD series contained demos and outtakes previously only available to bootleggers. And the centerpiece of the entire campaign was a "new" Beatles single, "Free as a Bird." The song began as a 1977 John Lennon cassette demo given to McCartney by Yoko as her opportunity to "bring them back together." It was completed by the remaining Beatles during a 1994 receding session at McCartney's home studio. Unfortunately, longtime producer George Martin was replaced with ELO founder and Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne. While the songs was better than nothing, it was nearly impossible to meet expectations for the first Beatles single in 25 years. Not surprisingly, reviews were mixed at best.
RINGO'S PIZZA HUT AD
While The Beatles were prepping a real reunion for the Anthology project, Ringo pretended to reunite that great fake Beatles band, the Monkees, for a Pizza Hut commercial. While the idea is pop culture genius, I'm not sure what's worse: seeing the Monkees crowd around Ringo's classic Ludwig drum set or seeing him recite the lines, "time to eat our pizza...crust first." God knows, Ringo doesn't earn much in publishing royalties but it's still a pretty disheartening sight.
LOVE THEATRICAL PRODUCTION & ALBUM
George Harrison and Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté began discussing a staged version of Beatles' songs in 2000. It took three years of legal wrangling to finally get all parties to agree. Harrison died of lung cancer in 2001 and wasn't able to see the show's 2006 premiere (attended by the surviving members along with Lennon and Harrison's wives).
Beatles producer George Martin and his son, Giles created a giant Beatles mash-up for the show and accompanying album. The show and album received near unanimous praise from critics and fans alike. Two years after the show's opening, the 2008 "American Idol" finalists tried to sell themselves as a Fab Four with a contrived and offbase media stunt involving their attendance at a Love performance. A smart way to remind viewers that The Beatles were waiting for their business in Vegas but a bummer for David Archuleta and The Beatles to be mentioned in the same breath.
BEATLES TRIBUTE BANDS AND SHOWS
And in the end, are the Beatles tribute bands and shows that keep the flame alive more than any officially sanctioned re-release or Vegas show. From the late '70s "Beatlemania" Broadway musical (shut down by Apple Corps in a 1983 lawsuit) to the global army of tribute bands, they are the best marketing campaign Apple Corp could have. A search of the Yahoo! directory alone results in 34 Beatles tribute bands, including the Fab Faux which features Will Lee from "The Late Show with David Letterman." The band is dedicated to playing note-for-note reproductions of The Beatles recordings. They do the one thing, no amount of officially sanctioned Beatles merchandise can do... bring The Beatles music back to life.