The Beatles’ new remixed White Album box set is a marvel

Ever wondered how the Fab Four might have made their White Album with today’s technology? Wait no longer

We live in the golden age of remixed and remastered box sets, with the doyens of classic rock leading the way. In the past few years alone, music lovers have been treated to deluxe editions from such stalwarts as Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. As it happens, the standard-bearers in this evolving cottage industry may just be the Beach Boys, who have all but emptied the vaults in order to quench their fans’ unchecked desires for new content. In 2011, Capitol Records released the Beach Boys’ “Smile Sessions,” which features nearly 400 minutes’ worth of archival material and outtakes. A completist’s wet dream, “The Smile Sessions” include nearly two dozen variations of megahit “Good Vibrations” alone. Talk about getting the excitations, indeed.

But then there is the glaring issue of the Beatles. When it comes to these latter-day forays into lavish repackaging, the Fab Four have been notoriously late to the party. While the Beatles produced one landmark, world-breaking album after another during their 1960s heyday, they have taken a consistently cautious approach when it comes to sharing their blue-chip wares in the digital age. In 1987, the group finally released their original albums on compact disc, belatedly bringing their catalogue to the marketplace some five years after the CD paradigm shift had assaulted the record industry. By the time the Beatles showed up, nearly all of the band’s classic rock peers had made the transformation and reaped the attendant benefits.

Years later, when the industry had shifted yet again, transitioning from physical product to music streaming services like iTunes and Spotify, the Beatles pointedly lagged behind once more, with untold millions of downloads occurring outside of their ken. Finally, in October 2009, the Beatles released remastered editions of their entire back catalogue and made their digital streaming debut on iTunes — some six years after the online music store had opened up shop.

While the Beatles’ tardiness may seem like a blunder of monumental proportions — and there’s little question that significant profits were lost to pirates during the early years of the 21st century — the group’s longstanding restraint has also been the result of a well-honed strategy. By waiting out their competitors, the Beatles have created an event culture in which the chestnuts of their catalogue are reintroduced to the marketplace on a grand scale. With each new format change, Apple Corps is able to ensure that the Beatles enjoy an uncluttered stage in which their masterworks shine brightly, unchallenged by competing artists for their exalted place in the spotlight. If anything, their slow road to the world’s virtual sales floors may have served to heighten their mystique.

And the results speak for themselves: In 1987 and 2009, several of the Beatles’ CDs succeeded in penetrating the upper reaches of the Billboard album charts. In May 2017, when the Beatles released a deluxe edition of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” newly remixed in celebration of the album’s bravura 50th anniversary, they finally joined the box-set revolution. In addition to the remixes, “Sgt. Pepper” was released with an assortment of outtakes and sketches on the road to finished masterpieces. For Beatles fans — long used to scouring bootleg releases for these snapshots of the Fab Four’s creative process — the “Sgt. Pepper” bonanza was literal music to their ears. In short order, the new edition swiftly became an international bestseller.

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