Monday, July 28, 2014

Beatles History Lesson...You Do The Math

For half a century (!) Beatles' fans have been debating the fact that Capitol Records released different versions of the Beatles' recordings than their British counterpart Parlophone Records, a practice that lasted through the release of Revolver.  Capitol generally released albums with fewer songs, combined songs from different UK albums or EPs or created completely different compilations of songs.  First generation American fans are still jarred when they hear the British versions of albums like Help!  and Rubber Soul. On the other hand, this practice led to some purely American classics like the Beatles’ Second Album and of course Yesterday and Today.

            I've always subscribed to the theory that this practice was motivated by pure greed, i.e. Capitol could sell more records if they offered less songs per album than the British company.  I think that my theory has been slightly modified by the esteemed Bruce Spizer.  As an aside, all Beatle fans owe a debt of gratitude to Spizer, a New Orleans tax attorney who has published a series of fascinating and detailed books on the history of the Beatles' recordings in both the United States and England.  Although expensive, his books are well worth seeking out.

            In his book The Beatles Story on Capitol Records Volume 2, Spizer points out that in 1964 the statutory mechanical royalty rate (i.e. the amount the record company had to pay the music publisher per song per record) was 2 cents.  By contrast the rate today is 9.1 cents.  To quote  Spizer "although this may sound trivial today a reduction in the number of tracks on an album could cause significant savings when considering the value of money at that time."  Spizer goes on to say that by putting 12 songs on an album instead of 14 (as most British labels did) the company could save $40,000.00 per each million records sold and they could save an additional $20,000.00 by reducing the number of tracks to 11 (Spizer, P. 24).

            That's obviously a lot of money in 1964 dollars – according to the consumer price index calculator $60,000 in 1964 would be $461,309 today.  Of course all of this sounds silly when you're talking about the Beatles catalog but remember that no one in the record business in 1964 figured that this music would still be around in 50 years (or  that we would be gladly buying the records over and over) It's even more interesting to look at the Beatles' artist royalty rate on their early recordings, but that's another story.


Skrangus said...

Another excellent piece Trip! Growing up in the US in those days it seemed like every label (not just Capitol) put out 12 song albums. I remember when I first started seeing the UK albums I was stunned by amount of songs.

Bobby Sutliff

Sir Richard The LionHeart said...

Ok - so how is this still not 'greedy'? There were still selling a full price album with fewer songs. Capitol did do some things I liked however, and 'I've Just Seen A Face' will always be part of Rubber Soul for me, though the removal of 'If I Needed Someone' robbed fans of the Byrds. The echo on 'I Feel Fine' was a rare improvement on the dry original as well.

Trip Aldredge said...

Not saying it wasn't greedy, just a more sophisticated kind of greed.