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"Beatlemania" strikes with CDs, video game launch

 People play
People play 'The Beatles: Rock Band' game during its launch in New York, September 9, 2009. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
— image credit: Reuters

By Farah Master

LONDON (Reuters) - A wave of "Beatlemania" struck Britain's streets as a specially remastered edition of the Fab Four's albums was released on Wednesday, complete with an interactive video game for a new generation of fans.

The Beatles collection, launched worldwide on 09/09/09 and priced at 180 pounds ($300), is expected to dominate the charts in the United States and Britain, bringing a windfall to the group's label EMI Music and the Beatles' company, Apple Corps.

While queues formed at major music stores in London, there was also Beatles nostalgia across Europe and parts of Asia.

A front page cartoon in France's Le Monde newspaper showed France's divided opposition leaders dressed as Beatles. "It would be nice if we played the same music," says one. "All you need is love," replied another.

In Ireland, a radio station hosted a karaoke event with people invited to sing and play Beatles tunes on guitar.

Ahead of the launch, Beatles singer and songwriter Paul McCartney wrote a letter to Britain's biggest selling daily newspaper saying how he once imagined the band, which changed the face of popular music in the 1960s, would only last a couple of years.

"Now it feels like the Beatles will go on forever," he wrote in The Sun, nearly 50 years after the group was formed.

While the remastered catalog, its first overhaul since 1987, is seen appealing mainly to Beatles' fans who would appreciate subtle variations and improvements, most excitement surrounds MTV's video game, "The Beatles: Rock Band."

"I'm buying the game," said Stefan Krupicki, 32, who queued for an hour at the launch at the HMV store in central London and declared himself more a fan of Metallica than the Beatles. "I just want to try the game and see how it is going to work."

Developed by Harmonix Music Systems, published by Viacom's MTV Games and distributed by Electronic Arts, analysts say the game could sell 2 million units in the first month.

In New York's Times Square, Ken Zemsky, 56, picked up several copies of the game for his three children aged 12 to 20. "It's going to be a Christmas present," he said, after waiting in a short line at Toys "R" Us. "I thought I'd get it early in case the game sold out."

Although Zemsky said he rarely played video games, "I may play this one a little, but I'll really enjoy listening to the music while I watch them play."

QUALITY IMPROVED

The new music collection -- with its hefty price tag -- comprises 16 Beatles albums in stereo, with track listings and artwork as originally released in Britain, and "Magical Mystery Tour," which became part of the Beatles' core catalog when the CDs were released in 1987.

Allan Rouse, who oversaw the remastering, said improved computer software had allowed his team to improve the quality and sound of the Beatles' catalog, including the removal of bad edits, electrical clicks and sibilance.

The release should boost CD sales in an era when songs are often downloaded online and fans can choose their favorite tracks. But the Beatles appear set to move into the digital age -- with some of their music likely to be made available as downloadable content for the video game.

"I'm probably not going to buy the album. I'll probably download it because it's free," said Robert Gold, 21, who works at a clothing store in central London.

Fans of arguably the world's most successful pop band, with album sales of more than 600 million worldwide, have waited for years to be able to download the Beatles' coveted body of work, but have been frustrated partly by a trademark dispute.

The game, which offers 45 songs from the band's catalog, has won rave reviews from critics.

Gennaro Castaldo of HMV said the significance of the Beatles release was the introduction of a new generation of fans worldwide to the group's music.

"Music-based franchises such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero now sell in the tens of millions and have huge family appeal," said Castaldo, "which is why the release of Beatles Rock Band, combined with the simultaneous release of the remastered Beatles albums, promises to be such a global event."

With video game sales falling in the United States, the makers of the game hope to appeal to older consumers whose love of the music may draw them into gaming.

However, Jeff Howells, a 36-year-old civil servant, said he was at the launch to get the discs.

"I'm not interested in the game; quite a few people are not, I suspect. I think most people will be interested in the music. The game is just a nice little fad -- I don't think it will last."

(Additional reporting by Paul Thomasch in New York; Editing by Steve Addison and Richard Chang)

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