HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA — It's been about a year since the launch of the first official Beatles website. At the time, the purpose of the site was to promote "1" - the greatest hits album that gave the band yet another number-one seller, 30 years after said band ceased to exist. The site hasn't been changed since then, but even though it's more a "1" site than "Beatles" site, The Beatles.com is still worth the time of any fan of the Fab Four.
The reason for this relevance beyond the 'promotional' derives from the album's contents. 1 is a collection of the Beatles' 27 number-one singles, so you'll know the music whether you bought last year's CD or not. (Whether or not you bought any of their recordings for that matter. As my brother -- my other brother -- says, "The Beatles are everywhere," and if you listen to the radio, watch TV, go to the movies, are a fan of any of the hundreds of artists that have covered their songs, or shop anywhere that plays Muzak, you'll know their work.) And, while more serious followers may want to know-behind-the-scenes details of the most obscure events in the band's history, for most of us -- who simply know the Beatles by their hits -- this site makes for an entertaining retrospective.
After a few paragraphs of introduction, the Beatles.com index page opens with a collection of orbiting song titles (click on a title to take you directly to that song's page) and a "New Features" index, which, while it describes special interactive attractions created for each title, still takes you to the same pages that the orbiting titles connect to. (So regardless of your path, you won't be missing anything.) The layout of each song's homepage is identical, though every one has a distinct color, and once you've reviewed your first title, all the others can be accessed through a scrolling menu at the top of the page.
Choose a favorite song, and its homepage offers a text 'bio' of the release, along with contemporary photos and a full collection of the single's various packaging strategies. (Here, the trivia-hungry can find the record sleeve for the 1976 Czechoslovakian release of Yesterday, or compare the mop-top styles of the West German Yesterday sleeve to the Sgt. Pepper attire on that nation's reissue of the same title). Other offerings include Audio (discussing the origins of the songs) and Video (original promo films) files, Recording and Publicity documents, and, each title's New Feature.
These Features, representing the only original content on the site, are a series of Shockwave interactives - in some cases tied thematically to the song (We Can Work It Out offers jigsaw and audio puzzles) in some cases...not. (At least I couldn't make the connection between Lady Madonna and pinball.) If you've got the time, (given bandwidth and net traffic conditions) they're all worth viewing, and display an admirable variety of executions.
Yesterday features a daily (actually, 'Yesterdaily') webcam record of what is probably the world's most famous crosswalk - seen on the Abbey Road album cover. Ticket to Ride offers a video game, The Long and Winding Road, an interactive retrospective collage, and Get Back, a 3-D interactive recreation of the rooftop performance on Saville Row. Almost as impressive is the fact that the Features are accompanied by full-length versions of the related songs (including all 7+ minutes of Hey Jude) rather than brief sample clips.
While some of these Shockwave extravaganzas moved a bit sluggishly on my computer, I expect the cause is more likely to be the advanced age of my processor than any bloated coding. In fact Beatles.com goes out of its way to be as accommodating as possible - with audio and video clips in QuickTime as well as Media Player formats, and videos posted in four file sizes, digestible by everything from dial-up modems to T1 connections. You can also access an HTML version of the site, though some features (most notably, the New Features) are only available at the enhanced site.
And the enhancements are worth the effort. Whereas lots of websites have bells and whistles, to all intents and purposes, Beatles.com is bells and whistles. Commercial imperatives and the quest for filthy lucre notwithstanding, this site is supposed to be fun, and it succeeds better than most at that goal. Plus, you just can't lose with this material - how often does the average surfer sing along with a website?.
The Beatles.com can be found at http://www.thebeatles.com.