But on Wednesday the Fab Four will be thrust into the 21st century with the release of The Beatles: Rock Band, a video game that will allow players to control eerily accurate computer-generated marionettes of the group, tap along to their hits using replicas of their signature instruments fitted with five brightly coloured buttons and even attempt to sing the famous four-part harmonies.

It will feature 45 of the band’s songs – a first for a game – and will tell the story of the Beatles, starting off with gigs at the Cavern Club, following the group through their epochal shows at Shea Stadium or Budokan in Japan and then ending with the famous swan-song performance on top of the Apple headquarters in London.

The game will even capture the psychedelic sessions that gave birth to Sergeant Pepper, with the walls of Abbey Road studios melting away to reveal a series of trippy “dreamscapes” designed to reflect the strange themes of the music.

Incredibly, the notoriously sensitive fan community have taken the game to their hearts, with some Beatles aficionados reportedly bursting into tears at the sight of the band back from the dead and in full fettle – if the player’s good enough, of course. Even Yoko’s happy with the result.

But who could blame her? Music games have broken records for computer games sales, with Guitar Hero, a game where players strap on a tiny guitar and rock out to hoary rock hits, selling 5.5 million copies worldwide since its 2005 release and becoming the first game to earn over $1 billion.

The Beatles’ take on the genre is expected to smash even these records, pulling off the double whammy of drawing in older people who would not normally buy computers games whilst encouraging younger people to purchase remastered Beatles albums, cannily released not long after the game.

HMV is reported to be employing 2000 extra staff to cope with the rush on the games, which they predict will be a huge Christmas seller.

The job of producing the music for the game fell to Giles Martin, son of George Martin, who was the studio whiz lauded as the fifth Beatle. “This is not my birthright,” Martin explained. “I’m not some sort of guardian of the Beatles flag, marching my children to school and saying you must listen to the White Album. This is not part of the Beatles legacy, it’s just a way of having fun with the music.”

Martin has a privileged position as the only man allowed to tinker with the Beatles’ music. He remixed their songs for the album Love and, for the computer game, was given access to hours of previously unheard outtakes and snippets of the band’s studio banter, which he wove into the game to give fans truly exclusive material.

He suggested that the game would encourage players to really think about the music and appreciate its virtuosity. There is proof that such games actually encourage musicianship.

Martin added: “This is the only form where kids listen to songs over and over again. We live in an iPod world, where people hear music but don’t listen to it. This is a way that you can figure out how your favourite songs work, from a musician’s point of view.”

Ringo and Paul have both been involved from the start, with McCartney so delighted with the results that he now uses footage from the game as a backdrop at his gigs.

But dealing with Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono – the other shareholders of the Beatles’ back catalogue – has been a different and more sensitive matter. Martin revealed that the pair found it “hard” watching their dead husbands bought back to life, but nonetheless they were both intimately involved in trying to portray them as accurately as possible.

Josh Randall, project leader and creative director at Harmonix, the company that developed the game, met both widows. Yoko was drafted in to help refine the 3-D version of Lennon and made sure the “strength and heroism” of the man was captured, based on the performance at Shea Stadium in front of 50,000 people. “Yoko really digs the game now,” said Randall.

George Harrison’s wife Olivia also invited them to the family house, where she showed them his guitars and scrapbooks of personal photos.

The Beatles even age accurately,

turning from innocent mop-tops to acid-fried hippies and finally onto the long-haired, bearded experimenters who produced the White Album.

The effect is so powerful that it has moved several Beatles fans to tears, Randall revealed. “People have actually wept and I’ve never seen a computer game do that. It just how intense the love for these guys is.”



It’s the biggest musical reboot in history and one that looks certain to extend the popularity of a band whose influence is greater now than it was even in their 1960s heyday.

If you think you know every nuance of every hit from Please Please Me to Let It Be, from Day Tripper to Strawberry Fields Forever, prepare to have your senses jolted into a new sonic stratosphere.

The reason will become clear this Wednesday – 09.09.09 – a doomsday-style palindromic date that has been ringfenced for months by Beatle fans as the release day for the remastered CD versions of the band’s entire back catalogue dovetailed with the simultaneous launch of The Beatles Rock Band.game.

No matter where you are in three days’ time, you’ll find it almost impossible to escape The Beatles online, on the radio and on TV. Two diverse platforms, one juggernaut brand and a generation game that shows no sign of being pulled.

For hard-core fans, however, the music will continue to be at the heart of their devotion and that is why the remastered CDs allow John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to finally be heard the way sonic nature intended.

The remasters, showcasing the 12 studio albums recorded at breakneck speed between 1963 and 1969, are being reissued in two formats, stereo and, perhaps more interesting for obsessive audiophiles, in glorious mono as befitting the way the pre-Sergeant Pepper albums were originally recorded.

Amid the hype and the hoopla, though, two questions – why bother re-releasing songs that millions of people already have either on precious vinyl or on existing CD format and will you require the hearing of an Alsatian to be able to tell the difference?

The answer to the first question has its roots in 1987 when the Beatles’ albums first burst into the public domain on compact disc. They were supposed to represent an evolutionary jump in record listening and consign to history the almost prehistoric techniques used to capture on vinyl the band’s sound in Abbey Road’s studio two.

Instead, fans were appalled to hear vocals as tinny as the flimsy CDs themselves and instruments, especially Starr’s drums and McCartney’s bass, almost buried in weedy mixes. Lennon, one of rock’s true powerhouse vocalists, sometimes sounded like he was singing in the face of a force-10 gale.

Over the years, music-industry clamour for the CDs to be given a major revamp has been picking up speed, more so since new techniques to transfer analogue recordings to digital tape guaranteed improved fidelity.

But in the Beatles’ world, nothing moves fast. Apple, the management company they set up in 1968 to manage their affairs, is a multi-headed monster where consensus among the main parties – McCartney, Starr, Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono and Harrison’s widow Olivia – is often reached at snail’s pace.

Chinks of light, however, appeared with the 1999 release of the Yellow Submarine Songtrack in 5.1 stereo surround. Two years later, the same team of Abbey Road engineers began remixing Lennon solo albums as well as producing the Let It Be ... Naked album.

But the real breakthrough came with the 2005 album Love, a stunning nu-wave mash-up of hit singles and album tracks segued together to commemorate the Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas showcase of the same name.

Produced by Giles Martin, son of the band’s legendary producer George, it showed exactly what could be achieved using new digital techniques to clean up the tracks, dust down the unwanted studio hiss and buff up the songs to an unprecedented aural sheen.

And so started a four-year project to painstakingly upgrade the songs on every album from the debut release ,Please Please Me, to the band’s 1969 studio swansong Abbey Road.

A Pro Tools workstation was brought on board to ensure peak digital enhancement and remove the build up of film from the master tapes, and the latest de-noising techniques were also used.

And the results are simply amazing. The key word here is clarity. Suddenly, a whole new vista has been opened on the Beatles musical landscape.

From the punchy 1-2-3-4 intro of I Saw Her Standing There to the ghostly intimacy of Lennon on A Day In The Life, The Beatles have never sounded better. You could easily believe you’re in the same room watching the songs take shape.

Other tracks, like Rubber Soul’s libidinously-charged Girl and Revolver’s landmark denouement Tomorrow Never Knows, come to life in a way I never imagined possible.

The main beneficiaries of this new musical upload are McCartney and Starr. At long last we can knock on the head all the cracks that Ringo was a duff drummer. The new CDs show he was a master of timekeeping on every album. And on Abbey Road, you can finally hear his driving beat as the powerhouse stomp behind the lengthy suite that is the album’s famous finale.

The remastered tunes also prove that McCartney was one of rock’s true innovators on the bass. Finally, we get to hear in all their clarity the melodic lines fused on his Hofner and welded onto Harrison’s sinewy guitar leads.

Perhaps the best example can be found in Lennon’s prototype punk track from Abbey Road I Want You, She’s So Heavy, which undergoes an astonishing metamorphosis in the new format.

Across the Fab Four universe, Beatle fans are notoriously demanding, but it seems that this time Apple have come up trumps. The stereo box set is retailing at £169.99 and the mono one at £199.99, which some cynics think amounts to just another Beatles cash cow. Well, it could be but you can spend your hard-earned on individual albums rather than plank the whole lot on one giant outlay.

And the truth is you get a lot of hi-fidelity bang for your buck. All the stops have been pulled out by wrapping each album in its original artwork with each CD an authentic reproduction of the original vinyl record, complete with Parlophone labels and rare photographs. Also included are fascinating mini-interviews with all four Beatles.

Ken McNab is the author of The Beatles in Scotland, published by Birlinn Polygon,£19.99.