The Fab Four are keeping their legacy alive -- and then some

By Rob Brunner
Updated December 29, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Beatles: Bruce McBroom/HA/LFI
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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”’s 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 bestseller 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. 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.

? GEORGE HARRISON The reclusive guitarist, 57, made headlines last year when he was stabbed by a crazed intruder (found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity last Nov. 15). While there’s no word on when he’ll record a new disc — his last studio album was 1987’s hit ”Cloud Nine” — he is revamping his landmark 1970 solo work ”All Things Must Pass,” due Jan. 23. The remastered two CD set will include outtakes, alternate versions, and a newly recorded rendition of ”My Sweet Lord.”

? JOHN LENNON The legacy lives on. In November, Capitol reissued two of his best non- Beatles albums, ”Plastic Ono Band” and ”Double Fantasy,” both remastered and with bonus tracks. (A similar upgrade for the rest of Lennon’s catalog remains a question mark.) While consumer response hasn’t come close to ”1”s — imagine that — the first two reissues ”flew out the door,” says Tony Castillo, the pop/ rock CD buyer at a Manhattan Tower Records. ”Collectors are collectors: Give ’em extra tracks or original artwork or remaster it and people will buy another copy.”

? RINGO STARR Even Beatle fanatics might have missed ”I Wanna Be Santa Claus” — the 1999 album from the rhyming Charles Schwab pitchman — but they may be more excited about the 60 year old’s three CD boxed set documenting the past six tours of Ringo’s All-Starr Band (due in early 2001). ”The Anthology?So Far” will include Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton, Levon Helm (The Band), and Jack Bruce (Cream), as well as Ringo faves like ”Yellow Submarine.” Also in the works: an All-Starr Band DVD with live performances and backstage footage, as well as a new tour in 2002. ”He’s performed for over a million people in the last 12 years,” says Dave Fishof, producer of all the All-Starr tours. ”Somebody once asked him why he does all of this, and he said, ‘Because I’m a drummer!”’ And we thought he was just a Beatle.

(Additional reporting by Chris Willman)

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