With no publicity or promotion, 59 Beatles tracks appeared for sale Tuesday on iTunes under the moniker "The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963." The collection, consisting largely of coarse-sounding recordings for the BBC, is retailing for $39.99 in the U.S.
But for how long?
Reports of the set being for sale around the globe began surfacing early Tuesday. A sense of mystery surrounded the project, as it was said to have disappeared and reappeared in some regions. Although it's currently for sale in the U.S., distributing label Universal Music Group declined to comment on the record or its existence.
Sources familiar with the project but not authorized to speak on it publicly would state only that it would remain available for "the foreseeable future." It is not believed it will be sold anywhere other than iTunes, at least in its current state.
The release is widely believed to be related to copyright law in the European Union, for which there is what is referred to by the Intellectual Property Office as a "use it or lose it" clause. Essentially, a copyright holder will have the rights to a recorded work for 70 years -- as long as it was published within 50 years from the time it was made.
The unreleased songs on "The Beatles Bootleg Recordings 1963" were, therefore, in danger of expiration in the EU after Dec. 31. Regularly reissued works such as the Beatles' 1963 album "Please Please Me" were exempt.
Among the 59 tracks are 17 studio outtakes or demos, including an early version of "One After 909" and multiple takes on "There's a Place," with the occasional stop-and-start. Sample, for instance, "From Me to You," which is abruptly cut short and features some back-and-forth among band members. The studio tracks are of significantly higher quality than many of the BBC cuts, many of which are a little hazy.
Although this set may have caught some Beatles fans by surprise, expect a proper promotion for next month's Beatles reissues. As previously reported, on Jan. 21 (Jan 20 outside the U.S.), the U.S. versions of the Beatles' albums will be reissued individually and in a 13-CD box set. The collection is being released in conjunction with various commemorations of the group's arrival in the States 50 years ago.
The group's earlier albums were originally issued in the U.S. in drastically different form than the U.K. versions, in many cases with different album artwork and song lineups as well as added audio effects that were roundly criticized by the Beatles and their longtime producer, George Martin.
Among other activities marking the 50th anniversary of the eruption of Beatlemania in the U.S., the Recording Academy and CBS-TV recently announced that they would air a two-hour special, “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles,” on Feb. 9, 50 years exactly after the group’s premiere performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”