Beatles fans in frenzy over box set

Catalog, 'Rock Band' keep Fab Four on top

The Beatles faithful were lined up about 25 deep in front of Amoeba Records’ Hollywood store at 10 a.m. on Wednesday — known in fan shorthand as “9-9-09,” the release date for the Fab Four’s remastered CD catalog.

The Amoeba fans were a sampling of aficionados who lined up for hours at stores around the country to lay hands on the much-in-demand boxed sets of the Beatles’ mono and stereo recordings. They are believed to be in short supply after online retailers’ stock evaporated well in advance of the street date.

Individual stereo versions of the group’s 13 original albums and a two-disc collection of non-album tracks went on sale simultaneously, as did Harmonix’s new “The Beatles: Rock Band” videogame.

It was apparent that many of the kibitzing, trivia-swapping fans would have waited in line even if EMI Music’s limited stock hadn’t taken retailers by surprise.

David Jacks, a 53-year-old music supervisor at Comcast Entertainment Group, was first in line at 5 a.m. and walked out with a mono box. “I warned my boss last week, ‘Next Wednesday I’m going to be a little late,’ ” Jacks said. “I’m an old fart. It’s old school – you have to be there at the store and lay your money down.”

“When I was 13, I got to see them at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and I’ve been a Beatles fan forever since,” said Barbara Hernandez, 61, who queued up at 5:30 a.m. for her mono box.

Younger fans also made the trek. Michael Betancourt, 19, and Brian Reyes, 16, took their places at 7 a.m. Betancourt, who wore a “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” T-shirt, said, “Our parents, man, they listened to the Beatles when we were little kids. And we’re musicians and the Beatles are so fundamental to music.”

Betancourt admitted that his younger friend was cutting school to pick up a mono box. “He saved up for his and it’s an early Christmas present for me,” he said.

Justin Lui, 35, showed up at 5:20 a.m. in a continental-cut suit and Cuban-heeled Beatle boots, his hair coiffed in a classic Beatle cut. “This is a way of participating in a collective experience,” he said.

Jimmy Henderson, co-owner of the three massive Amoeba stores in L.A. and Northern California, amped the event with an auction of Beatles memorabilia and a set by disc jockey Chris Carter, host of the weekly “Breakfast With the Beatles” show on L.A. station KLOS. “It’s going to be a constant flow,” Henderson said. “We have events throughout the day.”

While some observers have claimed that today’s Beatles promotion represented some sort of last stand for record retailers, he scoffed at the notion.

“The rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated,” Henderson said. “See you in two years for the (Beatles) vinyl.”

Nonetheless, Wednesday afforded a rare spurt of real excitement for music retailers, who have benefited from months of heavy promotion by EMI and developed the Beatles rerelease into an in-store event.

Veteran Portland retailer Terry Currier said his store opened an hour early and served “breakfast with the Beatles” to some 40 people who lined up for entry. “It was pure mania for the first hour,” Currier said.

Currier ordered heavily on Beatles titles, but he said some skittish merchants declined to stock up after the deluxe 2007 DVD of the Beatles’ film “Help!” failed to sell as anticipated. Many were stuck with stock that was sold as “one-way,” or non-returnable, goods.

Like others, Currier was frustrated when he received only half of the 100 mono boxes he ordered. By midday Wednesday, he had sold all 50 mono sets, plus 50 of the 60 stereo boxes he received. He added that individual stereo releases were also moving briskly.

Carl Mello, music buyer at 28-store Newbury Comics chain in Brighton, Mass., said his company began selling the individual stereo Beatles titles on Tuesday after unnamed big-box competitors put them on sale.

“We saved the boxes for today, because people were running their weeks around when they were coming in,” Mello said. “They’re selling like crazy today… It’s a nice shot in the arm.”

John Kunz, owner of Waterloo Records in Austin, said, “We just sold our last stereo box (at 1 p.m.). We sold our last mono box around noon.”

Kunz said he held back a significant quantity of the 45 mono sets he received for in-store sale. “I wanted people to experience the excitement of standing in line next to somebody who’s as much of a freak as they are,” he said.

Like most, Kunz was not shipped everything that he ordered. “I think everyone was caught short,” he said.

Brick-and-mortar outlets aren’t the only ones who felt the pinch. reportedly sold out of both the mono and stereo box sets a day prior to the release date. A quick scan of Amazon’s early Wednesday afternoon revealed that Beatles titles, topped by the stereo box and followed by the mono package, held 16 of the top 25 slots. Of the individual titles, “Abbey Road” placed highest, having already logged 62 days in the top 100 due to preorders.

Retailers agreed that the Beatles were probably the last act that would draw customers into stores with refreshed titles on CD.

Mello said, “Who else has not been remastered to death? Without new megastars being built, there’s very little out there that’s as transformative.”

On line in front of Amoeba, 43-year-old Frank Palumbo said, “It’s the last great Beatles thing you can participate in.”

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