Correction Appended: Sept. 10, 2009
In a 40th-floor studio above the MTV offices in Times Square, the Beatles were together again, playing '60s hits like "A Hard Day's Night" and "Day Tripper." It wasn't exactly that final rooftop 1969 gig at the Apple studios in London, and these weren't the original moptops. They were us three generations of Beatles fans sitting in for you and getting to be them.
The occasion was an unveiling of The Beatles: Rock Band, developed by Harmonix with MTV and Apple Corps, the Beatles' music company. As with other music video games in the Rock Band and Guitar Hero series, this one invites players to take the musical parts of their favorite groups, playing replica instruments and scoring more points as they reach higher levels of dexterity. But winning is not the goal, as our group, whose ages ranged from 28 to ... quite a bit older, discovered. The idea is to form a musical community with your friends in the basement and the bands you venerate even if, like most of our group, you've never played a video game before.
On Sept. 9 (09/09/09, for you "Revolution #9" fans), the Rock Band format takes a giant leap, as fans achieve something novel and, in a way, precious: not just meeting the Beatles but getting a taste of how John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr felt performing their work onstage or in the studio. In the process, antiquated Beatlemaniacs may be able to forge a bond with kids who just like good music.
Rock Band is just part of the Sept. 9 Fab Four onslaught. Apple Corps/Capitol is issuing a box set of all 13 original Beatles LPs, from Please Please Me to Let It Be, plus the Yellow Submarine movie score and the two-disc singles set Past Masters. They all sound great in versions remastered for the first time since the 1987 editions (which are still fine). Each CD comes with the original album art, a booklet of new information and rare photographs of the quartet and a minidocumentary on the making of each album. For truly obsessive completists, there's also The Beatles in Mono. If you want to hear how every Beatles song (except for those originally mixed only in stereo) sounded on your or your dad's or granddad's car radio in the '60s and have a spare $298.98, this is the one for you.
Rock Band, though, is the big news for anyone who wants to get inside the top pop quartet of the 20th century, whether you're an experienced gamer or not. It arrives with the blessings of McCartney and Starr, the group's surviving members, and of Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison; all were on board to expand and exploit a form that didn't exist when the Beatles were shaking up the world. Harrison's son Dhani, 31, helped bring Apple and Harmonix together; Giles Martin, son of Beatles record producer George Martin, devised intros for the songs culled from the band's studio banter. Like the Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas Beatles show Love, on which both Martins worked, this Rock Band is a grand, meticulous production meant to keep the flame burning and the profits soaring. Both MTV and the music-video-game industry could use the boost: sales in the format are down 46% this year.