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New Beatles Album Debuts To Brisk Sales

November 21, 1995

The first airing of the new Beatles song ``Free As a Bird″ touched off a second round of Beatlemania _ this time minus the screaming fans. The album arrived at stores Monday and were snapped up quickly by die-hard fans.

At Tower Records on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, only blocks away from the site where John Lennon was gunned down, the album went on sale at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and one was selling every 30 seconds.

``We get to replicate our parents’ experience,″ said 19-year-old Mary Lawless, a Harvard sophomore who purchased her recording by the Fab Four early Tuesday in Cambridge, Mass.

Radio stations, even all-news stations, aired the new song incessantly and many music stores across the country stayed open into the early morning hours to start selling the album on its official release date, Tuesday.

``A lot of Beatles fans have called to say how emotional it is to listen to it,″ said Andre Gardner, program director at New York City’s WXRK-FM, which played the song every hour. ``Even if they’re not Beatles fans, they’re calling to say it’s a great song.″

``I walked in the door this morning and had three calls before I could put my purse down. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since then,″ said Karen Aamodt, clerk at the Music Disc store in Denver.

About 25 people had gathered at Borders Books and Music in Farmington, Conn., by 11 p.m. The store was staying open an hour late _ until 1 a.m. _ and was promoting the event with a karaoke party and t-shirts give-a-ways.

``Free As a Bird″ was first broadcast Sunday night during ABC-TV’s airing of a documentary on the band, which split up in 1970. On the basis of overnight ratings, ABC estimated 47 million people watched the show. The Beatles’ first appearance on the ``Ed Sullivan Show″ in 1964 drew 73 million viewers.

The midtempo ballad was originally recorded on a home cassette player in 1977 by Lennon. Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr added their voices, instruments and new lyrics.

With Harrison’s slide guitar and production by Jeff Lynne, its sound owes as much to the Traveling Wilburys as the Beatles. The composition is reminiscent of Lennon’s 1970 solo song ``Love,″ and Harrison’s Beatles elegy, ``All Those Years Ago.″

Although a number of previously recorded songs have been released over the past 25 years, ``Free as a Bird″ was the first new Beatles song issued since the group disbanded.

Reaction was mixed among some longtime Beatles fans. Charles Rosenay, publisher of the Beatles fan magazine Good Day Sunshine, said he had hoped for something infectious and bouncy.

``It didn’t meet up with what I expected,″ said Rosenay, of New Haven, Conn. ``It wasn’t a mop tops song and it was probably naive to think that’s what it would be.″

Geoffrey Giuliano, author of several Beatles books, said the song was only a fragment of an idea that Lennon probably would never have wanted released.

``I feel betrayed by the Beatles. I think it was a horrible idea,″ he said.

The song is included on the two-disc ``Beatles Anthology I″ album. The highly anticipated album also features previously unreleased material from the band’s early days, such as the audition tape sent to a record company that turned them down.

Some 31,000 boxes of the album were distributed across the country Monday from the United Parcel Service center at Louisville, Ky., under tight security.

A convoy of trucks carrying the CDs from the Capitol Records factory in Jacksonville, Ill., had been tracked by satellite and radio as it crossed Indiana on Sunday. The record company had an exclusive deal with ABC-TV to air the song first and went to great lengths to prevent leaks.

``Even one of these things getting out would blow it,″ UPS spokesman Ken Shapero said.

But security apparently broke down Monday in some cities.

``Our corporate office in Minneapolis told us we could release a day early,″ said Kathy Salavar, a store manager at the Target department store in Albuquerque.

And so they did.

With the cash registers at Target ringing well before midnight, the Media Play next door followed suit.

``We had a customer come in and tell us they were selling it. We went right over and saw for ourselves, and then we put it out,″ manager Keith Allen said.

Media Play in suburban Atlanta also started selling the anthology in the afternoon after getting the OK from the head office in Minneapolis.

``Media Play supports an industry effort to maintain release dates,″ said spokeswoman Kathleen Davis in Minneapolis. ``However, if a major competitor breaks the rules, we will sell the release to maintain a healthy business and serve our customers.″

An informal survey of Albuquerque stores showed that by 9 p.m. more than 100 of the albums had been sold.

Music stores had eagerly awaited the album. They hoped it, coupled with other high-profile albums due out Tuesday by Garth Brooks and Bruce Springsteen, would improve a slow fall sales season.

``The world is going to come to a stop. We’re planning on that,″ said Tim Devin, general manager of a Tower Records store in New York City’s Greenwich Village, which stocked 4,000 copies of the Beatles release.

``I think this record is going to appeal to everyone across the board,″ Devin said. ``For nostalgia they’ll come out for it, for curiosity, just for the love of the music.″

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