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Love Me Deux

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Forget about love: When it comes to the Beatles, all you need is product. Although the Fab Four’s new hits album, 1, boasts exactly zero minutes of new material, it has become a surprise blockbuster. Following its mid-November launch, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and has moved a reported 12 million copies worldwide and 3.3 million in the U.S. in its first five weeks. (That’s already more than Help! has sold here since its 1965 release.)

Help is not something 1 needs a lot of. ”Everyone’s buying it,” says Steve Watson, senior buyer for L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard Virgin Megastore, who notes that at his store 1 is ”blowing away” the latest discs from ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. Why the new Beatle invasion? Credit deeply discounted prices at stores like Wal-Mart (where 1 goes for $11.88 versus an $18.98 list price) and a smart marketing campaign that included direct-response TV ads and remastered sound to lure audiophiles and completists. ”We had three weeks of big 800-number [TV]spots setting people up the same way as airplay would for a single, creating a consciousness,” says Jeff Ayeroff, the former Virgin Records president who’s overseeing 1 marketing (the album is on the group’s Apple label through Capitol). ”There are 27 No. 1 songs on it, so this is probably the best buy of any greatest-hits record.” Though many chart watchers were stunned by the Fab Four’s staying power, Ayeroff scoffs, ”It’s not like Herman’s Hermits did good. It is the Beatles, after all.”

The album’s biggest asset, however, might have been some very savvy timing. 1 hit stores at a moment of renewed Fab fervor — with a Nov. 17 ABC special (the two-hour show drew 8.7 million viewers), the heavily hyped Beatles Anthology firmly on the best-seller lists despite its $60 price tag (more than 1 million copies sold so far), a fresh print of 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night in theaters, and the Nov. 13 kickoff of the Beatles’ first-ever official website (www.beatles.com). Not to mention, of course, that the album arrived just before the 20th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, an event commemorated by hundreds of fans Dec. 8 at Strawberry Fields in New York City’s Central Park.

So what do they do for an encore? The Beatles’ camp is mum about plans for other albums (2, anyone?), and a reunion concert of the surviving Beatles seems about as likely as Paul McCartney joining ‘N Sync. But there are projects in the works from each of the members.

— PAUL McCARTNEY Lately, he seems more interested in painting (and in his new squeeze, Heather Mills). But a source close to the ex-Beatle says Sir Paul, 58, will be back in the studio soon for his first album since 1999’s ode to old-time rock, Run Devil Run. ”It’s planned for sometime in 2001,” says the insider. ”He’s just starting to get to work on it.” Also taking flight in 2001: a Wings anthology, tentatively titled Wingspan, and a Wings-related TV show, about which nobody will say, say, say anything just yet.

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