Step aside, Pink and Britney. The toughest competitor is "in the zone," to borrow from Britney Spears' latest album. The financial zone, that is, as Apple Corp. Ltd. issues a new album for the holidays and the British invasion continues.
With a Beatles rerelease titled "Let it Be ... Naked," the recording industry is showing its lack of imagination. Confronted with plunging CD sales, the industry has increasingly turned to contrived reissues from the vaults rather than nurturing new talent. New and unimproved versions of Johnny Cash and Jimi Hendrix are everywhere. Tribute albums proliferate.
Warmed-over material is being marketed in the most cynical manner possible: The Rolling Stones' new DVD boxed set of concert footage is being sold exclusively by the Best Buy discount chain. Who cares about the independent retailers that have sold Rolling Stones music for years?
The suits who run the music companies seem to have taken Pink Floyd's injunction, "We don't need no education" to heart. Given the lack of new acts, will the Beatles win the Grammy award for album of the year?
The Beatles may have officially split up in 1970, but that's only a minor inconvenience for the music business. Year after year, a Beatles anthology appears before Christmas to appeal to aging baby boomers and a younger generation starting to learn that the Fab Five are really the Fab Four, and they aren't gay fashion advisors.
Like all musicians, the Beatles had their ups and downs. As the group was falling apart, the Beatles produced a mishmash of songs that they handed over to legendary record producer Phil Spector, who threw in celestial choirs and Mantovani-like strings. The sales angle of this year's "Let It Be" is that consumers are getting the authentic, "naked" version. Well, maybe.
Whatever the merits of the new album, the recording industry is abiding by one of the Beatles' early lyrics, "Give me money, that's what I want." The longer it plunders the past as a substitute for creativity and sustained investment in fresh talent, the gloomier its future will look.