The volume is valuable to the Beatles fan because it contains a song none has heard before: a track titled Free As A Bird recorded by the late John Lennon on a mono-cassette recorder in 1977. The song was reworked earlier this year, with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison actually participating in the performance.
Things threatened to turn awry when Apple Corps, which compiled The Beatles Anthology 1, decided to impose an arbitrary clause on EMI, a licensee of the company, whereby they reportedly asked EMI to shift their manufacturing units to the areas where the anthology had to be marketed.
The consequence: the double cassette set, priceless for the Beatles fan, has failed to reach India where HMV has exclusive copyright to release all Beatles cassettes, simply because EMI does not have a production unit in the country. And if the cassettes are to be shipped from the UK directly—the Apple condition shoved down EMI's throat—they will hit the market at a price which will make them inaccessible to the average Indian buyer.
Some industry sources put the blame squarely on Lennon's estate: "It is Yoko Ono who was responsible for the disintegration of the group. And now again, it is Lennon's family that's playing such dubious games." Although the allegation can't be confirmed, one thing is certain: HMV, who had earlier done a remarkable job with the Beatles releases, are losing due to Apple's wily manipulation.
The only way the release has reached India is through a double-volume compact disc set, shipped straight from the UK and costing Rs 1,300 per set. But what's been held up is the release of the cassettes, which HMV had decided torelease in its Sheer Magic range at Rs 200 per set and at Rs 130 in a regular package.
These plans have now collapsed. Says a source at HMV: "This anthology is not selling as well as Live at the BBC did." What the company is now hoping for is Apple's deviation from its present stance and allowing EMI to give manufacturing rights of the Beatles' albums to HMV within the country.
The logic is simple. If HMV has to buy a cassette for Rs 450, which is its current option, how much will it sell it for? Their source is optimistic: "We are waiting for them to deviate, and we are sure they will. If the product is not selling in India they will require somebody to service the product in the country."
Free As A Bird may not be phenomenal as a musical composition. But nostalgia has a strange relevance for the music lover. At present, HMV is preparing itself for the release of the anthology's second volume on another compact disc again priced at Rs 1,300. But for good reason. The disc is imported, and there is nothing the comp-any can do to lower the price.
More importantly, the price deters music companies from setting a sales fig-ure beyond a certain target. And for the album to sell, it is the cassette that needs to enter the country. But with Apple's obstinacy and EMI's helplessness, such a prospect seems beyond reach.