Without announcing a deal, Apple CEO Steve Jobs today dropped broad hints that an agreement could be imminent to distribute the songs of the Beatles on his company's iTunes music download service.
In a media event titled 'The Beat Goes On', Jobs made several coy references to the Beatles, but without mention of the download deal which is rumored to be in the works. At one point Jobs played a snippet of the John Lennon song, 'Give Peace a Chance', suggesting it as a suitable iPhone ringtone for NBC, which recently withdrew its music from the iTunes store against Apple's wishes. Later his demonstration of the company's new iPod and iTunes interface included a Beatles album.
Unlike the work of all other major artists, songs from the Beatles, widely regarded as the most popular band in music history, have never been legally sold online. However, solo work from former Beatles members is available on iTunes.
Jobs did make several key announcements, including a new thin Wifi-enabled iPod, the iPod Touch, with an iPhone-style multi-touch interface; a more compact version of the iPod Nano (see photo below) with a larger screen; and an iTunes software update for the iPhone which makes it possible to buy songs directly from the phone. Price reductions were also announced, with the iPhone, currently available only in the US, falling to $399.
Although the Beatles broke up almost 40 years ago, they remain one of the biggest selling acts – even compared to contemporary artists. Over the past two decades, the Beatles have been the second biggest selling musical artists in the US, behind Garth Brooks, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which gathers the sales data used to compile the Billboard music charts.
The announcement of the Beatles' formal break up in 1970 ended with the words ' The beat goes on'.
Relations between Apple and the representatives of the band have been complicated by the fact that the first famous company to be named 'Apple' was the Beatles' own record label – established in the late 1960's, some ten years prior to Apple Computer. Apple Records first took legal action over the name in the 1980's. Apple Computer then made an undertaking to stay away from the music business, but this was abandoned when it launched the iPod and iTunes download service in 2001.
Correction Sept 05: The original version of this article referred to 'Give Peace a Chance' as a Beatles song. It was recorded and released by Lennon in 1969 (while the Beatles still existed) as a solo effort credited to Lennon and fellow-Beatle Paul McCartney.