Breaking Down The Beatles' First Week on iTunes

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

The Beatles might not have broken any records with their first week on iTunes, but they did shatter notions about how music fans in the 21st century view their body of work.

Two weeks ago, longtime digital holdouts the Beatles released their entire catalog on iTunes. Since then, the band has sold over 2 million songs and more than 450,000 albums. Not bad for a band that broke up forty years ago.

Still, those numbers are nothing ground breaking. Dr. Luke, the songwriter and producer responsible for the garbage warbled by the likes of Ke$ha, took pleasure in the fact that his flash-in-the-pan tune was outselling The Beatles’ songs when he tweeted, “Even with the Beatles now on itunes Ke$ha still #1…. WE R WHO WE R !!!!!” Not only is that one of the dumbest tweets in the history of Twitter, but it completely misses the point. The Beatles’ hits compilation, 1, was the best selling album of the 2000s, and the band sold more albums last year than everyone except Michael Jackson and Taylor Swift. Even setting sales figures aside, the Beatles don’t have to prove themselves to anyone.

Releasing the group’s entire catalog online at once wasn’t about first week sales, but it did provide a market test of how the public views the Beatles songbook four decades down the road. The results were surprising.

The best selling song was “Let It Be”, perhaps one of the most anthemic songs the band recorded. The second best seller wasn’t so predictable. Written by George and never released as a single, “Here Comes The Sun” doesn’t seem like one of the most obvious top sellers, but it ranked second. Even more surprising is the third place ranking of the Rubber Soul track “In My Life”. Although the song receives love from critics (Mojo named it the best song ever in 2000), it’s hardly one of the Beatles’ most memorable songs.

“Hey Jude” and “Come Together” came in fourth and fifth respectively, and like “Let It Be”, these songs seem like predictable top sellers. In sixth was “Yesterday”, another Beatles classic. Considering that “Yesterday” is their most played and covered song though, it’s shocking that five other songs sold better than it.

Here are the top ten best selling Beatles songs last week along with the number of digital downloads sold and the year they were originally released:

1. “Let It Be” – 63,000 – 1970
2. “Here Comes the Sun” – 55,000 – 1969
3. “In My Life” – 45,000 – 1966
4. “Hey Jude” – 38,000 – 1968
5. “Come Together” – 38,000
6. “Yesterday” – 35,000 – 1965
7. “Blackbird” – 32,000 – 1968
8. “Twist and Shout” – 30,000 – 1964
9. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – 27,000
10. “With a Little Help From My Friends” – 26,000 – 1967

We can better understand why some of these songs sold so well by checking out the tracklisting of the aforementioned 1 album. The album has sold over 11,700,000 copies, so a lot of iTunes users already have those songs on their iTunes. Not surprisingly, six of the top ten selling songs weren’t on 1. It makes sense that a lot of consumers were using the $1.29 song downloads to fill gaps in their collection as opposed to new fans cherry picking songs.

The line-up of Beatles albums was also interesting. Growing up, I was always under the impression that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was without question, the greatest album of all time. All the rock journalism I read, including Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, taught me that. It seems that the whole Sgt.-Peppers-is-God movement is facing a backlash from a younger generation as the record was only the fourth best selling one of the week. The top seller was the only album whose cover has become more iconic than Sgt. Pepper’s, 1969′s Abbey Road. With songs like the No. 2 best-selling “Here Comes The Sun”, another George Harrison penned track, “Something”, and “Come Together”, it seems like it would fare pretty well, but I’m baffled that it outsold more obvious picks like Rubber Soul and Revolver.

The second and third best sellers are surprising because of their cost difference. Most of the albums were priced at $12.99, but the double disc White Album which sold for $19.99 was the No. 2 best seller. In third place was In Stereo, a $149.00 box set of the entire Beatles discography. Soundscan counted it as its own album, but it could have easily added 13,000 downloads to each of the 13 Beatles albums included in the set.

There is a definite bias towards the latter end of the Beatles career with albums from the late 60s selling better than earlier ones. Even the 1967-1970 (Blue Album) greatest hits outsold the 1962-1996 (Red album) one.

Here are the top ten best selling Beatles albums:

1. Abbey Road – 1969
2. The Beatles (the White Album) – 1968
3. In Stereo – 2009 (In Stereo was a box set of the entire Beatles discography released last year)
4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – 1967
5. 1967-1970 – 1973
6. 1962-1966 – 1973
7. Rubber Soul – 1965
8. Revolver – 1966
9. Magical Mystery Tour – 1967
10. Let It Be – 1970

Oh, and Dr. Luke, “We R Who We R” might have outsold “Let It Be”, but six Beatles albums (including a $149.00 one) outsold Ke$ha’s Animal. Eat it.


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