Mary Keesling stands in her kitchen in her Rubber Soul T-shirt and offers coffee in a John cup, a Paul cup or an Abbey Road cup. Your choice.
In the background, John Lennon is dreaming about Strawberry Fields Forever while Keesling shows off her Beatles collection. A tour through her living room, brimming with books, albums, CDs and cassettes of the Beatles, collectively and individually, can take hours. She has hundreds of collectibles.
More than 25 years after the group's breakup, Keesling, 39, is still a diehard Fab Four fan. And she's not alone.
She's one of thousands of collectors worldwide. While Keesling says she's selective, many will hoard anything that has to do with the mop-topped boys who wowed America on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964. These collectors rabidly amass photographs, rare vinyl editions, concert posters _ you name it. And while you're at it, name the price. After all, the value of an item is ultimately whatever it's worth to each collector.
The Beatles, the world's most famous and enduring rock 'n' rollers, still bring in the bucks, eight days a week.
It is reported the group will earn more than $100-million this year alone. Fact is, though, only time will tell how much the three surviving Beatles _ all still rockin' in their 50s _ will bring in this year. Even London-based Apple Corps, which represents the Beatles and is no relation to Apple Computer, won't hazard a guess.
That's because the group is back on center stage, and many expect their return to fuel a brand-new boom in the Beatles business.
It all starts with The Beatles Anthology. ABC-TV _ or, as it's now touting itself, "A Beatles C" _ reportedly paid Apple Corps $20-million for the U.S. rights to broadcast the special in three segments, beginning Sunday. The show will feature never-seen-before historical footage, home movies and new interviews.
Then there's the new album, The Beatles Anthology, Vol. 1, which will feature 60 previously unreleased tracks. Its centerpiece is Free as a Bird, a new song that the remaining Beatles finished using a tune recorded by John Lennon before his death in 1980.
If there's any question whether the market can bear a new wave of Beatlemania, just look at last year's Live at the BBC. That double CD, which didn't feature any new songs and was released with very little hype, has sold 2-million copies in the United States alone.
Some folks expect the Anthology to do even better.
"The big appeal of this new anthology is that these are all tracks you haven't heard before," said Ron Jackson, owner of Rock Island CDs, Records & Tapes in Tampa's Carrollwood area. "So you may know the song, but you haven't heard the track before, at least not quite that version.
"For years that kind of stuff circulated on bootleg, but this is the first time the release is official."
"Official" means the new album and special are coming with innovative advertising, funky packaging and hoopla bigger than the first Beatles invasion.
More than 80 percent of the commercial time for the ABC broadcast was sold in three weeks, said Robert Cagliero, executive vice president of ad sales for ABC.
The national spots are now all sold out, with some 30-second commercials going for more than $350,000. While that fee isn't as high as the $1.1-million a 30-second Super Bowl commercial fetches, this is a onetime gig totally reliant upon hype for getting viewers to tune in.
And hyped it is.
Posters plastering construction sites and movie theaters around the country are begging for viewers with the tag line "Help, I need somebody." There are loads of radio and magazine ads, along with spots on the Sony Jumbotron at Times Square in New York. And watch for '90s comic stars like Tim Allen and Ellen DeGeneres offering their Beatles memories on ABC commercials.
But all that's mundane compared to the four Los Angeles and New York buses turned into Yellow Submarines by pop artist Peter Max.
It's not just the Beatles and It's not just the Beatles and the advertising industry that will make money off this extravaganza, though. There's also Sony Corp.
Pop singer Michael Jackson recently sold the music publishing rights for about 250 Beatles songs and other titles to Sony for roughly $95-million.
Meanwhile, Sony Signatures, the licensing arm of Sony that this month acquired the licensing rights to all classic images of the Beatles from Apple Corps, plans to cash in with Beatles mugs, board games, greeting cards and T-shirts. It hopes to sell $200-million worth of Beatles stuff over the next two years.
Viacom Inc. has a stake in this, too. Its Blockbuster Music stores will offer sneak previews of five songs from the new album starting Tuesday. The previews won't include Free as a Bird, but the promotion will get customers in the store, where they might order the album.
Music stores are already well aware of the power of the Beatles, the world's biggest-selling group, with 1-billion CDs, tapes and records sold.
"We have to restock Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper and and "the White Album" (The Beatles) at least once a week," said Gabe Echazabal, manager of south Tampa's Vinyl Fever Discs & Tapes. "And it's real common for people to come in and buy every single CD at one time."
"Last year's release (Live at the BBC) took everyone by surprise and just blew out the doors," said Dennis Cummings, manager of Music Revolution in south Tampa. "So we're expecting big things with the Anthology."
Of course, it all comes down to the fans. And it appears that many are ready and waiting to spend more cash on their favorite group.
"I'm a minimalist compared to other fans," says Land O'Lakes resident Keesling. "There are some collectors who would laugh at my paltry collection."
Keesling's "paltry" collection is worth, conservatively, about $2,000. She has an autographed picture of McCartney, limited-edition albums and rare Beatles trading cards. Butshe wouldn't sell any of it.
"I'd have to be a bag lady to sell this stuff," Keesling says as she turns on a bootleg copy of the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth takes of I Saw Her Standing There. Paul _ as Keesling calls McCartney _ is upset because his mates are playing the takes too fast.
For Keesling, the music is upbeat and about a happy time, her youth. But the enduring quality about the Beatles _ the factor that gives them massive marketing cache _ is that their fans aren't just the survivors of the '60s, but music listeners of all ages, including teens just discovering the Beatles.
Afer all, the '60s are still hip. Take Jerry Garcia's overanalyzed death and the Rolling Stones' tours, coupled with the resurgence of marijuana and heroin as popular drugs, throw in movies like Forrest Gump and the fashion industry's replay of chunky heels and miniskirts, and you've got flower power all over again.
Then check out popular bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket or Candlebox, which are now covering Lennon tunes. Typically, teenagers don't want to consider anything their parents do, say or listen to as cool. But if today's teen heroes love the band, then maybe the Beatles are "fly," even though Mom and Dad dig 'em, too.
So it's no surprise that fans of all ages are looking forward to the upcoming ABC special and the album, which may offer more insight into the Beatles and their music. Getting an inside look at the story of John, Paul, George and Ringo is one of the primary points of collecting Beatles relics.
Take Keesling's copy of the 22nd through 24th takes of Hold Me Tight. George Harrison and Lennon are working the background harmony, and it all sounds familiar, at first.
"Hold me tight ... Let me go on . . ." coos McCartney. Then: "Oh, bloody hell," he cusses.
"That's what we fans like about them and why we collect this," Keesling says. "They're human. It makes you realize, "Gee, they're like us.' "
Well, maybe. These lads from Liverpool still can't walk down a street unnoticed, speak unquoted or sing unrecorded.
They may be human, but they're also legends.
_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.
THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY
What: The Beatles Anthology is six hours of pure Beatlemania. It will include never-seen-before historic footage and new interviews.
When: The program airs from 9 to 11 p.m. Sunday on ABC, locally on WFTS-Ch. 28. Part 2 will be shown from 9 to 11 p.m. Nov. 22, and the third installment will be from 9 to 11 p.m. Nov. 23.
The album, volume 1
What: The Beatles Anthology, Vol. 1 will feature 60 previously unreleased tracks, including Free as a Bird, a new song the Beatles finished using a track recorded by John Lennon before his death in 1980.
When: The official release date is Nov. 21.
Price: Varies depending on format (CD, album or cassette) and store. Average is $22 to $32.
Next up: Anthology, Vol. 2 is due out in February, complete with another new Beatles tune, Real Love. And Anthology, Vol. 3 is expected to hit the stores in April.