Years of speculation over whether the three surviving Beatles would ever get together again to make music ended yesterday when Paul McCartney released a statement announcing that he has recorded several new songs with George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
It has been no secret that the surviving Beatles have been at work for some time on a 10-hour TV documentary, called "The Beatles Anthology." News of the project first emerged last February, with reports following that the three were working with an unfinished John Lennon demo to create a Beatles recording (Lennon died in 1980). But McCartney's announcement was the first official indication that the three had plans beyond that one song.
McCartney issued the statement by way of apologizing for being unable to attend the launch of a talent drive for the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts, which he helped found.
"I'm sorry I can't be there with you but I've got the best possible excuse -- I'm working in the studio on a couple of tracks from a '60s beat group you may have heard of, the Beatles," the message said. "These tracks will be released at the end of this year as a couple of cherries on the cake of 'The Beatles Anthology.' "
One of the tracks is an unfinished John Lennon song called "Free As a Bird." According to press reports, a demo recording of Lennon performing the song was provided by his widow, Yoko Ono. The three surviving Beatles then dubbed their own parts onto the song to make a "new" Beatles record.
Beyond that, nothing is known about the other songs the surviving Beatles have recorded. According to a spokesman, both the Beatles' British and American labels had no comment on McCartney's statement.
What this portends for music fans is hard to say. Had a Beatles reunion -- or even a partial reunion -- been announced 15 years ago, it would have knocked the music world on its ear. Back then, each of the four Beatles was a star in his own right, with John Lennon just returning to the music business after a five-year hiatus from recording. Moreover, there at that point hadn't been any new Beatles albums since 1977, when Capitol released the 1965 concert recording, "Live at the Hollywood Bowl."
Now, however, it seems as if the Beatles' legacy has lost a little of its sparkle. When the much-anticipated "Live at the BBC" set was released last December, its sales were impressive -- but nowhere near as high as those for Pearl Jam's "Vitalogy" CD, which was released on the same day and outsold the Beatles by more than 2 to 1.
Since then, "Live at the BBC" has moved more than 4 million units, a figure comparable to sales for the Eagles' reunion album, "Hell Freezes Over." But unlike the Eagles album, which remains in the Top 10, "Live at the BBC" has slipped to No. 93 on the current Billboard albums chart -- hardly a testament to reborn Beatlemania.
Moreover, recent solo work by McCartney, Harrison and Starr has been greeted with indifference by the album-buying public. Not even the lure of 11 remade Beatle songs was enough to draw listeners to McCartney's last album, "Paul Is Live." Add in the increasing number of reunion tours in recent months -- including such '70s stalwarts as the Eagles, Steely Dan and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant -- and the novelty of bringing the Beatles back together begins to pale a bit.
Still, that's not to say that "The Beatles Anthology" itself won't rekindle passions. According to early reports, the series will include a tremendous amount of previously unseen footage of the Fab Four, and that will almost certainly attract the many millions of Beatles fans across the globe -- in addition to earning the group new listeners.
As for the rest, we'll just have to wait and see. But seeing as some Beatles fans have been waiting since 1970 for new music by the group, what's a few extra months?