[8 September 2009]
The Beatles’ history is intertwined with one pop-culture landmark after another.
The appearance of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964 proved the power of then-fledgling rock ‘n’ roll. Their 1965 concert at Shea Stadium ushered in the era of stadium rock. And their quick-cut, effects-filled musical comedy “A Hard Day’s Night” inspired a generation of music videos.
Will the release of “The Beatles: Rock Band” on Wednesday provide another landmark — an event that will introduce a huge percentage of baby boomers to the video games they have been buying their children and grandchildren for years?
“If anything could, it’s The Beatles,” says Becky Ebenkamp, senior editor for Adweek Media. “Interest in them really is multigenerational.”
Harmonix and MTV Games, makers of “The Beatles: Rock Band” and the entire Rock Band series, are certainly doing what they can to make it happen.
Two years in the making, the game was created with the input of McCartney, Starr, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, and with Giles Martin, who co-produced The Beatles’ “Love” project with his father, longtime Beatles’ producer George Martin, handling the production of the music tracks for the game.
“The project is a fun idea which broadens the appeal of The Beatles and their music,” McCartney said in a statement. “I like people having the opportunity to get to know the music from the inside out.”
That idea isn’t new, and it’s certainly already popular, as the Guitar Hero series from Activision and the Rock Band series have shown for years. And for many teens and young adults, the allure of the game isn’t the music, but the gameplay and the first-rate art direction and animations, not to mention the high-end peripherals that include replicas of McCartney’s Hofner bass guitar, the Rickenbacker 325 guitar made famous by Lennon, Harrison’s Gretsch Duo Jet guitar and a Starr-inspired Ludwig drum set complete with a replica Beatles kick drum head. Those stylish add-ons are a long way from the early plastic guitars with the multicolored buttons, though those will work with the game as well.
But for those who grew up with The Beatles’ music, the idea of interacting with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Here Comes the Sun” in a new way will be the prime selling point.
“It will be a way for families to bond over music,” Ebenkamp says. “Kids can teach their parents how to play the game, and parents can teach their kids about the music. It will really work both ways.”
The video game industry, which has been struggling this year as a result of the economic downturn, hopes “The Beatles: Rock Band” not only changes family dynamics, but purchasing patterns as well.
According to Anita Frazier, industry analyst for NPD Group, the industry is down 14 percent through July compared to the same period last year. The music-related video game segment, which includes everything from Rock Band to Dance Dance Revolution, has been hit the hardest, she says, with revenue down $390 million through July. However, “The Beatles: Rock Band” could help change that.
Frazier says video gamers older than 50 currently represent about 18 percent of spending on games this year, and targeting that age group could bring in new business.
“I think ‘The Beatles: Rock Band’ appeals to a broader audience than just those over 50,” Frazier says. “While that may be the age range of original Beatles fans — or even 60s, right? — the band is a cultural icon, and even my kids, 12 and under, know a lot of Beatles songs. But I do think there is continued effort on the part of the industry as a whole to recruit new audiences to play games in order to fuel industry expansion.”
The game itself is already fueling expansion of a sort, as unconventional chains, such as Restoration Hardware and Bloomingdale’s, are signing on to sell the video game and its accessories, while traditional game-sellers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy are looking at unconventional ways to showcase the game in their stores. Harmonix and MTV Games have even launched a program called “Rock Band Bar Nights” that helps owners host evenings themed around the video game and released a five-song sampler of “The Beatles: Rock Band” to the bars Monday before it’s available in stores.
The marketing push behind the game will continue long beyond this week. Plans already are in place to release the entire “Abbey Road” album on Oct. 20 to be played through “The Beatles: Rock Band,” with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” to follow in November and “Rubber Soul” in December. “All You Need Is Love” will be available for download through the game on Wednesday, with all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders.
Time will tell how well “The Beatles: Rock Band” will hit its lofty artistic and economic targets among fans. However, for some involved with the game, it is already a success.
“(John Lennon) would have loved it,” Yoko Ono told WENN Entertainment News. “‘The Beatles: Rock Band’ is about to create another revolution.”
YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTIONARY GAME
Picture yourself in a boat on a river. Or onstage in the middle of a Shea Stadium filled with screaming girls. Or on the roof of Abbey Road Studios, surrounded by blue skies.
All that and more becomes possible through The Beatles: Rock Band.
On one level, The Beatles: Rock Band is like the rest of the MTV Games/ Harmonix’s Rock Band series, giving gamers the chance to re-create the songs of their favorite band by taking over the vocals, guitar, bass and drums. But one look at the game, and it becomes clear that saying The Beatles: Rock Band is like any other video game is like saying The Beatles are like any other band. It’s just not true.
Between the painstakingly re-created soundtracks — some of which required a rerecording process to separate guitar sounds from drum sounds on the original tracks — and the lush, detailed animations that accompany each of the game’s 45 songs, The Beatles: Rock Band is in a league of its own.
Part history lesson, part art project, part interactive music demonstration, the game does its best to explain what it was like to be a Beatle during their career by putting you into their musical shoes.
You get an idea of how potent Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s vocals were when you try to match them, holding the notes for as long as they did, bouncing through the lyrics as quickly as they often did. You get an idea of how intricate their three-part harmonies were with George Harrison when you follow them, making the game the first to not only include three-part harmonies, but also to include a tutorial that shows how to sing them. And you get an idea of how important Ringo Starr’s unique drumming style was to The Beatles’ sound and how McCartney’s bass lines were more complicated than they seemed as you see all those notes roll by in the game.
The Beatles: Rock Band takes players through the band’s career, from the early days in the Cavern Club, through their American debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” to historic concerts at Shea Stadium and Budokan and through Abbey Road recording sessions, finally ending on the studio’s roof.
Generally, the point of view you get when playing is one from the stage, with the backs of the Fab Four in front of you. But during the Abbey Road sessions, the action gets a bit more psychedelic, as the band moves through fanciful animations inspired by the music.
Unlike the other Rock Band games, there’s no need to play the game for hours to unlock new songs and new levels. All 45 songs are available from the beginning — a nod to newcomers who might have their first video game experience with The Beatles. But game play is still important because it unlocks photos of the band and the photos, in turn, unlock band videos.
It’s one more way The Beatles: Rock Band sets itself apart, one more way it excels like the band that inspired it and one more way their music will inspire new generations.
A DIGITAL MASTERY TOUR DE FORCE
“The Beatles: Rock Band” won’t be the only Fab Four technological advance debuting this week.
After a painstaking four-year process, the entire original Beatles catalog has been digitally remastered for the first time and will hit stores Wednesday. It also marks the first time the first four albums — “Please Please Me,” “With The Beatles,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Beatles for Sale” — will be available as full albums in stereo on CD.
Each album will feature the original art from its British release, original and new liner notes, and a brief documentary about its recording. The albums also will be collected in a box set, “The Stereo Albums,” that includes “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Past Masters, Vol. 1 and 2.” A separate box set, “The Beatles in Mono,” will collect 10 albums in their original mono mixes and two more discs of other material mastered in mono, as well as the stereo mix of “Rubber Soul,” which has not been previously available on CD.
With all these advances, though, the remaining Beatles still haven’t reached an agreement about distributing their catalog as online downloads, though they say discussions continue.