LONDON - The Beatles are back, sounding better than ever, and Britain is embracing them one more time.
It's not exactly 1964 - no fainting teens or visible signs of feverish Beatlemania - but the long-awaited release of the remastered Beatles CDs and the Rock Band video game has again brought the Fab Four to the top of the British charts.
Or, as John Lennon liked to say, "to the toppermost of the poppermost."
It was B-Day in much of the world Wednesday as the new versions of the old classics finally became available in Britain, the United States and elsewhere and many fans celebrated by flocking to Abbey Road, the studio where the Beatles recorded many of their hits.
Uma Nolan, an Irish nurse visiting London, came to the landmark recording studio to be photographed at the pedestrian crossing near the building made famous on the "Abbey Road" album cover. She plans to buy the entire set of 17 remastered CDs - even though she already has all the songs in collection.
"I will absolutely go out and buy them," she said. "I'm a huge Beatles fan and have every single LP in original first edition copies. They were the first real pop group. The entire generation was waiting for that to happen. They sent worldwide pop culture off into orbit."
Nolan, 50, said remastering the Beatles albums will introduce their masterworks to a new generation.
"It brings them up do date and modernizes their music," she said. "You're enhancing what was really to begin with, so that can't be a bad thing."
High prices are apparently no deterrent - online retailer Amazon.co.uk reported Wednesday that pre-orders for the Beatles box set, priced at 170 pounds ($280), put the Fab Four on top in terms of CD sales.
The robust sales are expected to add to the already considerable wealth of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the "thank my lucky stars" drummer who joined the band just before it had its first hit, as well as Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, the widows of the late John Lennon and George Harrison. Court records publicized last year put McCartney's net worth at about $800 million.
The critically praised Rock Band video game also is expected to sell well, even though McCartney told the New Musical Express magazine in a rare interview that he hasn't road-tested the offering because he's not much of a videogamer.
He said he was aware some purists would be offended by the licensed use of the Beatles music in a video game but felt it offered the long-defunct band a chance to reach a new, younger audience four decades after it split.
"For me, the most interesting thing is that it will introduce the Beatles music to people who might never have heard it because they game all the time, they don't listen to the radio, and they haven't got much of a record collection," said McCartney.
The New Musical Express, which targets younger music fans, is using the releases as a chance for a major critical review of the band with the goal of getting a new generation to listen to the Beatles with fresh ears, said reviews editor Hamish MacBain.
"If we can get a bunch of 14-year-olds in 2009 to really hear them, that's a very good thing," he said, admitting that it takes "a certain kind of nerd" to appreciate the sonic changes offered by the remastered editions.
MacBain said many fans will shy away from spending 170 pounds for a complete new collection of songs they already have, but said the Beatles have more devoted fans than any other musicians.
"It takes a certain class of fan to replace things time and time again," he said.
"But the Beatles have a lot more of these kind of fans than any other band in the world. And having heard all the remasters, I can say that if you do have 170 pounds in your pocket there are worse ways to spend it. It made me appreciate the band more."
Not everyone agrees. Rory Mulcahy, a retiree visiting Abbey Road, said he was not convinced he needed remastered CDs.
"I appreciate the songs and I love the Beatles, but I'm happy enough with the CD collection I've got," he said. "I think there is a bit of moneymaking in there."
The Beatles aren't the only golden oldies making a nostalgic return to the charts. A collection of Dame Vera Lynn's greatest hits from World War II has risen near the top of the UK album charts, challenging the top spot held by the much more contemporary Arctic Monkeys.
"It occurs to me that when she was in her heyday during the war she meant much the same as the Beatles did in their day," said author and historian Jan Morris.
Associated Press Writer Karolina Tagaris in London contributed to this report
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