Magical Mystery Tour ends for Neil Aspinall.

I have to say, we have all been speculating a lot the last two days.  We have been hit with the announcement that longtime Beatle family member and Apple CEO Neil Aspinall has stepped down.  This week has been overrun by announcements and rumors.  However, no one has been able to get to the core of the matter.  Why?  It seems that our friend Allan Kozinn over at the NY Times has been able to piece together the tale, and provide us with some reasons behind the sudden changes at Apple. 

I can’t say that Neil’s departure comes as a surprise.  I just thought that he’d have one major Beatle release left under his direction.  As one of our readers put it, this is the beginning new era for The Beatles and Apple.  Time will tell.

Here’s what we’ve read.

There has been a good deal of irrational exuberance in the virtual world of Beatles chat sites since Tuesday. That morning Apple— the Beatles’ company, not the computer maker — announced that Neil Aspinall, its chief operating officer nearly from the start, “has decided to move on,” and that his chair would be filled by Jeff Jones, a vice president at Sony/BMG whose focus over the past dozen years has been catalog reissues.

To read some of the comments posted on the Internet, you would think that Mr. Aspinall has single-handedly delayed everything from upgrades of the standard Beatles catalog to the release of video projects like the restored and expanded versions of “Let It Be” and the 1965 Shea Stadium concert, which have languished on Apple Corps shelves since the 1990s.

But that’s not how it is. Mr. Aspinall is answerable to Apple’s board, which is to say the Beatles or their representatives (who in turn are answerable to the Beatles who appointed them), and he could not move forward on any of these projects without their approval.

He was the Beatles’ alter ego, often the bad cop to their good cop. The Beatles themselves could publicly say anything: that everything anyone could want to hear would eventually be released or that they enjoyed collecting bootlegs themselves. But the Beatles have the last word on what will be released, and when and whether to pursue bootleggers or even authors who write about bootlegs. Mr. Aspinall and Apple’s lawyers simply do their bidding.

That’s why the wording of the announcement was so odd. Saying that Mr. Aspinall “has decided to move on,” with none of the usual platitudes about spending time with his family or pursuing other interests, makes it sound like something’s up. Did he suddenly quit? Was he fired? Was there something to the illogical rumors that the Beatles were dissatisfied with the February agreement between their Apple and the computer company?

People close to Apple say that Mr. Aspinall is simply retiring. He turns 65 in October and had heart problems in the 1990s. Perhaps, having spent 46 years at the Beatles’ beck and call, he wanted to reduce his stress.

For Mr. Aspinall, his work with the Beatles has been a handful — literally at first. He became the group’s road manager in 1961, which means that he has been part of the Beatles entourage longer than 50 percent of the surviving Beatles: Ringo Starr didn’t join the group until August 1962. (Mr. Aspinall came to the Beatles through Mr. Starr’s predecessor, Pete Best, and remained with them after Mr. Best was booted out.) When the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1988, George Harrison said that if anyone deserved to be known as the fifth Beatle, it was Mr. Aspinall.

Having driven their van and hauled their equipment during the touring years, he became a sort of general factotum when the Beatles stopped touring in 1966. When the Beatles, holed up in the recording studio till the wee hours, needed anything from tea and sandwiches to arcane noisemakers, it was Mr. Aspinall’s job to round it up. The Beatles’ decision to start Apple Corps led to all sorts of turmoil, which was exacerbated by their growing internal divisions: not least among them, who should run the company.

When the smoke cleared, Mr. Aspinall had been thrust behind a desk as chief executive officer and put in charge of a number of thankless tasks. First there was a stack of lawsuits among the Beatles themselves, and between the Beatles and EMI, that needed to be settled. That took 20 years.

In the meantime Mr. Aspinall began assembling film clips for a history of the Beatles, originally to be called “The Long and Winding Road.” There was no possibility of doing much with this project until the lawsuits were settled, but when they were, in 1989, Mr. Aspinall revived the project and persuaded the surviving Beatles (and Yoko Ono, representing John Lennon to sign on.

The result was “The Beatles Anthology,” which turned out to be a huge trove of previously unreleased audio and video material as well as a book. The six discs of the CD “Anthology” (1995-96), taken together with the double CD “Beatles Live at the BBC” (1994), just about doubled the size of the Beatles official catalog.

Mr. Aspinall’s accomplishments notwithstanding, Mr. Jones’s appointment may be a good sign. If there’s one thing the Beatles need, it’s someone savvy about reissues and how to properly remaster, package and market them.

But another thing Apple needs is someone who comes to the job without the baggage of 46 years of subservience to the Beatles. We can probably assume that someone like Mr. Jones, who has been in the record business since the 1970s, did not just hear of Apple and the Beatles last Wednesday and knew all about how demanding the Beatles and their representatives can be. If we can assume that he has negotiated a measure of independence and freedom to navigate, his tenure may be refreshing.

How many Beatles collectors, after all, have looked at the Sony Legacy reissues of recordings by the Byrds, Janis Joplin and Miles Davis and thought, “If only the Beatles archive were treated this way”?

Source: NY Times


2 Responses

  1. i really like that this article clarifies Neil Aspinall’s reasons for leaving. It’s a great article and really explains everything well.

    – we’ll miss neil, and good luck Jones

  2. All I can say is “Have a GREAT vacation, Neil! You’ve earned it. Then go do something you’ve always wanted to do.”

    No one has ever fulfilled a youthful committment with more loyalty and hard work. I have no intention of second-guessing his efforts and decisions if for no other reason then that I’m sure that, as always, he did the best he could manage.

    Hail and farewell and thanks for all the music.


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