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"Beatlemania" unleashed on a new generation

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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 on Wednesday as the Fab Four released a specially remastered edition of their albums, 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 first 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 Inc's MTV Games and distributed by Electronic Arts Inc, analysts say the game could sell 2 million units in the first month.

The re-engineered music collection is expected to boost sales of CDs in an era when more and more songs are downloaded online and fans can pick and choose their favorite tracks.

However, 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.

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 game, which offers 45 songs from the band's catalog, has won rave reviews from critics and analysts who see it tapping into a new, younger demographic for families.

"With all due respect to Wii Sports, no video game has ever brought more parents together with their teenage and adult children than 'The Beatles: Rock Band' likely will in the months and years to come," The New York Times said.

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 sharply in the United States, the makers of the game are aiming to appeal to older consumers who have not yet experimented with the format but may be attracted by their love of the music.

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.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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