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Monsters of rock go digital

AC/DC's Verizon deal echoes a past deal with MSN, but Led Zeppelin's reported agreement with iTunes will mark a first for that band.

Among last week's digital music news was the item that seminal hard rock band AC/DC has taken a tentative step on the information highway (as opposed tothat other highway). AC/DC's deal with Verizon was notable because the band chose to bypass industry leader iTunes, and because the band is selling only complete albums (for $12 apiece--higher than the current price of their CDs on Amazon!) rather than individual singles. Another oddity: most of AC/DC's catalog will be not be downloadable over-the-air to Verizon phones; instead, users will have to download the albums to their PC first, then transfer them. (The sole exception is the song "You Shook Me All Night Long," which is probably the one track that most non-AC/DC fans have heard and might be willing to download.)

Something about this story sounded familiar, so I did some digging. Sure enough, AC/DC helped Microsoft launch its MSN Music download service by offering a similar exclusive nearly three years ago. That deal was also for albums only. But the MSN Music download service was a casualty of the company's Zune initiative. Instead of making Zune compatible with the PlaysForSure program, which allowed multiple online stores to work with multiple devices, Microsoft followed Apple's model of tying the Zune to a dedicated store, the Zune Marketplace. Microsoft didn't want the cost and complexity of licensing music for two stores, so MSN Music got the axe. Apparently, the AC/DC exclusive went with it.

More exciting was the still-unconfirmed reportthat Led Zeppelin will be offering a new greatest hits collection, Mothership via iTunes. The Zep has never approved its music for digital download, although you could always find it via unapproved sites like MP3Sparks (the replacement for, which was shut down by the Russian government earlier this year).

Even more interesting, however, was the revelation of a new official band site, (The old familiar is still up.) There's nothing there today except for the four logos from the band's fourth album, the release date of Mothership...and a link to sign up for updates. What sort of updates could they possibly deem important enough to create an e-mail list? Most fans already ahve all their albums or one of their earlier hits collections, and if we (yes, I'm a fan) really want this one, we know when it's coming out. Could the band be planning that long-rumored reunion tour with their original drummer's son? I can just imagine their reaction to the recent Police tour: "Those guys got $225 a ticket?"