5 - Apple and the Future of the Beatle Legacy
5 - Apple and the Future of the Beatle Legacy
The first instance of using Beatle songs to sell products was in 1985 when a version of the song Help! was portrayed in a car commercial. A few years later, Nike tennis shoes paid $500,000
to use the song Revolution in their TV ad.
After the commercial was broadcasted Apple filed a $15 million lawsuit against Nike because it claimed it had to license the song from Sony/ATV which owned the publishing rights – and not EMI- the owner of the recording rights. Nike said it negotiated and paid for all legal rights from EMI, which has the licensing rights to all the Beatles’ original recordings.
On July 18th, 1987, Apple declared its position on the issue in this press release: The Beatles position is that they don’t sing jingles to peddle sneakers, beer, pantyhose or anything else…..they wrote and recorded theses songs as artists and not as pitch-men for any product.
Yet a little more than a decade later after the rebranding and rebirth of The Beatles’ legacy, three of the four Beatles were busy selling out for cash.
In 2000 Ringo Starr appeared in a television commercial for Charles Schwab Investments. Ringo also lent his name and face for ads for Oldsmobile cars, a credit card company, and beverage companies in the US and Japan.
In 2002, Lennon’s son Julian promoted the insurer Allstate with When I’m Sixty-Four playing in the background.
Target Stores’ commercials used a version of Hello Goodbye – “Goodbuy” the ad proclaimed.
In 2005 McCartney was featured in TV ads for Boston-based Fidelity Investments in an effort to convince aging baby boomers that it’s the place to park their money. It was the first time he had personally endorsed a company.
In February 2010, Beatle fans turned on Yoko Ono for allowing John Lennon’s image, with dialogue dubbed-over by an actor, to be used to promote Citroen cars.
Did McCartney really need the extra money?
McCartney actually claimed he fully identified with the lofty goals of the mutual fund giant, writing in a press release:
“I’m really pleased to be working with Fidelity Investments. We have a lot in common – a commitment to helping people, a dedication to the arts, and a belief that you should never stop doing what you love doing.”
Why would someone worth more than $1 billion allow himself be used in such as crass and demeaning manner?
The backlash in the US began when Seth Stevenson wrote in Slate on Sept. 19, 2005, Paul McCartney? Is That You?
“What is he doing in that Fidelity ad? It’s pretty hard to distinguish among the massive financial-services firms, and this ad does help set Fidelity apart. But how did we go from marveling at the life of a billionaire genius … to setting up a retirement account?”
Stevenson said that while the US press was restrained, the British press was all over McCartney (even though the spot has not run in the U.K.). for tainting his legacy.
Like the Christian fundamentalists in the American deep south four decades before, perhaps his fans should have burned their Paul McCartney and the Wings records in protest.
Can the debasing of Beatle music be stopped?
While Apple has no right to stop Sony/ATV from using these songs for commercial purposes- they can hardly complain when three of the four owners of the company exploit the Beatle legacy and appear in ads in person to promote commercial products.
McCartney likes to take the easy way out – and say: It is out of our hands. What he forgets to mention is that whatever is paid by an advertiser to Sony/ATV to use the song – 50% goes into the pockets of McCartney and Lennon in the form of songwriter royalties.
The danger is that if their songs are used to sell consumer products it will only be a matter of time before the market will be over-saturated and the songs will be debased.
Yet there may be very little fans can do.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph in 2006, British music writer Ray Connolly claimed that the legacies of all great composers has been contaminated and, he opines, so it will be with the
The website PopMatters commented on yet another threat facing Beatle music in the future:
“Beatles songs are in danger of becoming simply the soundtrack to the story of their own rise and fall. The proliferation of an industry based on The Beatles’ celebrity status threatens to make their songs significant only in the context of the band’s history rather than standing
alone and being absorbed into the personal life of listeners. Instead of being tied to the listener’s specific memories, the songs tend to signify first and foremost The Beatles themselves.”
Unlike this three other bandmates, George Harrison never agreed to commercially exploit his Beatle identity. In the late 1980s, he remarked: “Every Beatles song every recorded is going to be advertising women’s underwear and sausages. We’ve got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it’s going to be a free-for-all. It’s one thing when you’re dead, but we’re still around! They don’t have any respect for the fact that we wrote and recorded those songs, and it was our lives.”
What Apple needs to start doing to support the Beatle legacy
Back in the late 1960s one of the corporate goals of Apple Corp. was to support aspiring artists. We all know how that story turned out.
Now it can be different if this goal were to be focused on the community of people interested in enshrining the Beatle legacy.
The problem with Apple is that they have no other corporate objectives other than to make money. The only time Beatle fans hear from them is in their press releases when they complain about an unauthorized use of the Beatle logo or other intellectual property. We never hear about Apple doing anything other than guarding corporate profits.
As a corporation with its primary objective to manage and monetize the Beatles music and legacy – Apple’s number one goal should remain to make money for its owners. However many corporations support non-profit entities out of their profits. Today, Apple is in a very strong position as the Beatles are a leading global brand- with a huge upside into the future. It has a direct corporate interest in promoting more Beatle education and backing serious and sincere efforts to enshrine the Beatle legacy.
Apple rarely if ever gives permission for Beatle songs to be used in movies. When they do – the criteria is usually how much money can be earned.
In July 2010 it allowed Fool on the Hill to be used as the song over the opening credits in Jay Roach‘s Dinner for Schmucks. Paramount/ Dreamworks reportedly paid $1.5 million for a license. One of the last guests on the last episode of The Tonight Show hosted by Conan
O’Brien in January 2010 was Tom Hanks who entered the studio to the tune of Lovely Rita. It was reported that the US network (andor Hanks’s wife Rita) paid $500,000 for the one time use of the song.
The late Neil Aspinall, who ran Apple for nearly 35 years, was adamant that The Beatles’ public image never be diluted or demeaned. It was an attempt to keep them in a separate class of their own. Yet by making the fee so astronomically high the public is being deprived
of authentic Beatle songs in great independent films and productions. In this way, many deserving artists and performers are simply written out of the equation.
Apple is already entrusted with the job of perpetuating their legacy and musical canon. For lack of another entity doing this job- it is up to them to support efforts worldwide to enable the public to remember and better understand the importance of their music.
Apple’s insistence on such a high price for the use of Beatle songs in films or other type of artistic productions means that most of them will be unable to participate in the effort to immortalize and enshrine The Beatles’ musical and historical legacy.
It’s time Apple came out of the closet and more actively performed its duties as the guardian of this great heritage for future generations to learn from and enjoy. From a corporate perspective,
whatever contributions they make from their existing profits to this endeavor will be an investment in future profits.
Supporting the efforts of others who want to immortalize the Beatle legacy makes good business sense.
Suitable projects Apple should promote:
**The first thing Apple could do is to have EMI release more audio and visual tapes that are currently sitting in the vault. There is no question there is a commercial market for seeing and hearing outtakes of songs, studio chatter, etc. Beyond pure entertainment value- they have historical and educational value for scholars.
**Future releases of albums could be based on a theme-for instance, a compilation of the Beatles 25 cover songs-could be accompanied by a book by a Beatle scholar to educate the public on the impact these songs had on the musical development of the group.
**Instead of only considering the licensing of songs to the highest bidder, each year a certain portion of free licenses should be given to small, independent entities to be used as part of projects approved by Apple.
**Apple could lead the effort to establish and provide financing for “The International Association of Beatle Studies” so they could arrange annual conferences for Beatles scholars worldwide to present their research. It could also endow chairs in Beatle scholarship at major universities and encourage universities to create “Beatle studies” courses and departments which study the Beatles from many different academic perspectives and disciplines. The website of this organization would publish research, essays, information on new books on the subject, lectures by Beatle scholars, which universities offer Beatle courses, etc.
**Apple could offer small cash grants for authors, researchers, documentary filmmakers, artists, and creators of special exhibits to help them finance projects that serve to enshrine the Beatle legacy. These modest financial grants to researchers would lead to the creation of much higher forms of written and visual content – created by professionals – that help the general public and other researchers to learn more about the subject.
**Apple could support entrepreneurs with low-cost capital financing to establish for-profit, professional “Beatle attraction” exhibits to enable the public learn more about the Beatle legacy and music.
**Apple could hold annual award ceremonies to honor the best Beatle Tribute band, the Beatle cover song/artist, contribution to Beatle scholarship, Beatle exhibit, the best book, etc.
**Apple can begin to lobby governments and educational institutes to include the study of Beatle history, music and legacy in their curriculums. Apple should be leading the campaign along with financial grants and/or low-interest loans to companies producing educational aids such as text books – which can be used to teach Beatle study courses at all age levels.
The relatively small investment Apple would make by offering these modest grants will ensure a strong future market for their global brand. From solely a commercial perspective, these “suggestions” could be used by Apple as a blueprint for growth in the next decade in the value of the Intellectual Property that the company’s revenue stream and value is based on.