The Beatles In Billboard Over the Years, From Breakup to Blockbuster Business

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The Beatles broke up five decades ago — but they never went away. The group’s 1 compilation was the bestselling album of the 2000s; last year, the band took in $12.9 million, according to Billboard’s U.S. Money Makers list; and on Nov. 25, the Get Back documentary that director Peter Jackson assembled from footage of the Let It Be sessions will debut on Disney+.

“Because it was so close to The Beatles’ breakup, my impression of the [1970 Let It Be] film was of a sad moment,” Paul McCartney told Billboard in a Nov. 16, 2019, cover story. Now “the overall impression is of friends working together.”

“The Beatles, the symbol of the British influence on the global music industry and the catalyst of what came to be known as ‘the British Years,’ are no longer a group,” reported the April 18, 1970, Billboard, citing a McCartney statement issued by the band’s Apple label. Below that front-page story ran an ad for Ike & Tina Turner’s new single, a cover of “Come Together,” that testified to the breadth of The Beatles’ influence.

“A spokesman for Apple Corps Ltd. said that any individual Beatle cannot offer his services, appear alone, or with any person in any branch of the entertainment industry without the consent of Apple Corps. Ltd., and the other Beatles,” reported the April 25, 1970, Billboard. Capitol, the band’s U.S. label, told Billboard that the group’s contract covers “all recorded performances, not only by the group as a whole but by any of its individual members.” Maybe love isn’t all you need.

“Beatlemania is still alive and kicking,” noted the June 6, 1970, issue, as McCartney topped the Billboard 200 and business manager Allen Klein said that the Let It Be album had shipped 3.2 million copies in less than two weeks and catalog sales were booming. This was true even among the kids: “Two teen-age girls admitted that by bringing their Beatles tapes to the beach they could attract boys,” the May 9, 1970, issue stated.

Billboard praised McCartney’s “gentle, self-nourishing genius.” But the May 23, 1970, edition put the group under a microscope: A review of the Let It Be documentary griped about George Harrison’s “yellow teeth, caved across each other like fallen tombstones” and McCartney’s “vanities,” and concluded that the band had “ended in tragedy.”

Some “tragedy.” Before the first Beatles albums arrived on CD, the manager of a Tampa, Fla., music store told Billboard that customers were “signing up for all four disks” in advance, according to the Feb. 21, 1987, issue. When they arrived, a March 14 Billboard headline declared that 1987 “Looks Like ’64 In Beatles’ CD Chart Surge,” as the group’s first four albums all scored top 10 debuts on the now-defunct Top Compact Disks chart.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 28, 2021, issue of Billboard.

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