Since 1978, Beatles fans have been relying on Beatlefan magazine as a prime source of information about the Beatles. The magazine is celebrating its 200th issue with its current issue. We took the opportunity to interview editor Bill King about the magazine's past and present.
Q: How different is the Beatles fan culture now than from when you first began?
Bill King: “It's very different, as our longtime right hand man, Al Sussman, discusses in the 200th issue. When my wife Leslie and I published the first issue of Beatlefan in December 1978, all four Beatles were still alive and the possibility (though not the probability) of a reunion was still very real — and a fan obsession. Before Beatlefan, fanzines were mostly created on typewriters (we were the first to be professionally typeset) and were mostly issued sporadically.
“Aside from major events that made major headlines, news of what the Fabs were doing sometimes took months to make its way around fandom. Email did not yet exist outside the scientific community, and so our correspondents sent us newspaper and magazine clippings from around the world (which, again, took quite some time to arrive). In order to meet up with others interested in The Beatles outside their own community, fans had to attend conventions. Now, we have the Internet, texting and social media like Facebook and Twitter.
“As a result, fans around the world can stay constantly connected, and news spreads almost instantaneously. When Beatlefan started, music was bought on LPs, cassettes and, yes, even eight-tracks. CDs didn't come along until a few years later and digital downloads weren't even a fan's dream. Rare video was collected by fans on Beta and VHS tapes. I well remember groups of us getting together and connecting our machines to exchange our latest finds. Now, it's all on YouTube. Also, most fans when Beatlefan started had firsthand memories of The Beatles as an ongoing group or, at the very least, Wings. Now, we have kids following the band who were born after the Threetles reunion sessions!
“What hasn't changed, though, is fans' interest in The Beatles and their music, both group and solo. The way that interest is exercised may have changed drastically, but it's still all about those four guys and their tunes.”
Q: What's your most memorable moment in the years you've been doing the magazine?
Bill King: “I'd say getting to interview McCartney just prior to the release of his 1984 "Give My Regards to Broadstreet" film. I was one of half a dozen reporters who sat down with him for an hour in New York City. We ran that interview split over two issues. Another memorable moment was sitting with my friends (and Beatlefan contributors) Allan Kozinn and Ken Sharp at a table right in front of the stage when Ringo and the Roundheads performed at the Bottom Line in New York in May 1998. That was pretty special. And tearing up a nearly completed issue of Beatlefan in December 1980 to get out the first fanzine tribute to Lennon is another big memory.
“And then there's the day we broke the news of the Threetles reunion recording sessions for "Free As a Bird". That was a world scoop first reported by us and soon picked up by the New York Times and the wire services, and a couple of hours after putting an EXTRA! with the news into the mail, Leslie went into labor. Our daughter Olivia was born the next morning!”
Q: What's at the top of your Beatles catalog wish list?
Bill King: “Well, of course, I'd love to have "Let It Be" get the same sort of expanded DVD release that "Magical Mystery Tour" recently received. And I'd also love to have "The Beatles at Shea Stadium" finally released. Plus the long-awaited McCartney outtakes/demos collection. More of George Harrison's unreleased stuff, too.
“But I think my Holy Grail of Beatles releases is a well-done compilation of all the original Beatles promo films, including all the different versions plus outtakes, along with bonus features like interviews with Paul and Ringo and those who were involved in making them. That's what I've wanted most over the years.”
Q: How will the fact that some of the Beatles songs are now in the public domain in Europe affect their future?
Bill King: “I doubt this is going to have a major impact in terms of the official catalog, because a revised law that will extend recording rights in Europe to 70 years is due to take effect in November. So only a few singles and the "Please Please Me" album will be affected. And only the original recordings released in 1962-63. And only in Europe. In the U.S., recordings retain copyright protection for up to 95 years.
“Plus, we're only talking the recordings themselves. The publishing rights to the songs themselves are not involved. So we'll probably see some unauthorized releases, as we already have with "Love Me Do," but I doubt this is going to be anything that fans who already have the authorized recordings will have much interest in obtaining.
“What's more interesting is the current European law's use-it-or-lose-it provision, under which outtakes from that period also could fall out of copyright if they haven't been previously released. That's why Columbia recently snuck out an ultra-limited edition of Bob Dylan outtakes from that time, to establish their copyright. Most of the more interesting Beatles outtakes from that time period already have been issued in the 'Anthology' series, but I suppose someone may compile other 1962-63 outtakes and alternate takes that have leaked out from EMI over the years and legally release them in Europe before November. We'll see.”
Q: What are the plans for the magazine in the next five years?
Bill King: “Well, we plan to continue publishing Beatlefan as long as there's enough readership support for it. Whether the actual printed magazine will still exist in five years or whether it will morph into some sort of electronic product online or be downloaded for reading on tablets, I have no idea. But whatever form it takes, it will maintain the essence of what we set out to do in 1978: Publish a magazine about The Beatles that was written and assembled by fans for fans using the same professional standards that apply in the rest of the magazine world. We pioneered that approach among fanzines of any sort, and we're very proud to still be doing it 200 issues later.”
Related: Read our previous interview with Bill when he celebrated 30 years as Beatlefan editor.
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