By Tom Frangione/ Beatlefan Magazine:
Ok, Ok…. let’s get the obvious out of the way right now …… No telling of the Apple Records story could be told, or could even begin to be told, without mentioning some of the greatest songs The Beatles ever recorded, such as “Hey Jude”, “Let It Be”, “Something”, or “The Long And Winding Road”, as well as their classic albums of the period such as The Beatles (a.k.a. “the white album”), Let It Be and Abbey Road. Further, the individual band members made some of their best records in the period following the break-up while the label was still initially in operation.
There is another part of the story, though, that history neglected for far too long. From 1968 to 1974, Apple’s roster of recording artists was a true melting pot of musical influences and cultures. There was the made-for-radio pop of Badfinger; the pioneering “singer-songwriter” James Taylor’s classic first album; the gospel-flavored recordings by Billy Preston and soul of Doris Troy; precursors to what we today call “world music” offerings from Ravi Shankar and the Radha Krsna Temple (go ahead and laugh – they put two songs into the UK top 30); and of course, the angelic voice of Mary Hopkin. The many and varied musical forms among the rest of the stable included jazz, folk, early punk, reggae, classical, Dixieland brass, Cajun, and straight out rock-and-roll.
Unfortunately, when the label shut down in the mid-seventies, these recordings went out of print and remained so up until 1991 when a CD reissue campaign was launched. In between, Apple alumni such as Preston, Taylor, and even The Hot Chocolate Band went on to score major pop successes. Taylor even re-recorded several of his Apple tracks for inclusion on his later albums to reintroduce these gems.
The reissue campaign ran until 1996, with almost the entire catalog of albums being released, many with bonus tracks including non-LP b-sides and even a few unreleased cuts. However, the campaign was abandoned, leaving a few albums and several singles still out-of-print. The liner notes to the CD of James Taylor’s superb album, which contained no bonus tracks, made reference to an Apple rarities project that would definitely be “worth the wait”. The wait continues, and in the meantime most of the CD’s have gone out-of-print. Still, “new” Apple compilations have been done for Badfinger, and other recordings have cropped up in off-the-beaten path form. Rykodisc even licensed John and Yoko’s three avant-garde albums, and put Yoko’s singles on as bonus tracks. Going further, the label issued Yoko’s entire back catalog and even a boxed set.
Still, the label’s aura, created in no small part due to its utopian intentions and unbridled cronyism, remains. The upshot of Apple’s artist-friendliness, a true sign of the times, was that its founders wrote, performed on, produced, and/or sang on many of their label mates’ records. In a sublime twist of fate, the inspiration was reversed, with George Harrison nicking the James Taylor title “Something In The Way She Moves” for use as the opening line of his most successful composition. Others outside the fold took note of the Apple talent pool as well. Harry Nilsson took Badfinger’s “Without You” to #1 status worldwide and Mariah Carey took the same song to the top three on the charts twenty-odd years later. Small wonder Paul McCartney, who’s written a ballad or two in his day, referred to “Without You” as “the killer song of all time” in a VH1 “Behind The Music” special about Apple’s second favorite sons.
Fast forward to 2010’s reissue campaign, in both CD and digital download form, of a solid chunk of the non-Beatles Apple catalog. In all, sixteen original album titles were released, remastered and with bonus content. As an added bonus, a newly compiled label overview Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records simultaneously hit shelves. Still no word on that “rarities” set, but the compilation does veer a bit from a pure “hits” perspective to include some odd singles and b-sides, as well as tracks that initially saw very limited commercial release.
Examining the admittedly generous 21-title track list, I revisited a “do it yourself” project from years ago, which has provided many a good listening, a set I dubbed Those Were The Days. While I’ve amended some of the notes and source listings, the content is unchanged as an expanded alternate listening for those who love the Apple era.
While the contents are highly subjective (as opposed to having rigid criteria as applied on collections like The Beatles 1), presented here are all 23 charting singles, plus key album tracks (ok, and a few personal ‘guilty pleasures’) representing every artist but one (John Tavener) ever to have recorded for Apple. Not that I have an axe to grind with Sir John or anything, but his two albums contain just five orchestral compositions, the shortest of which, “Coplas”, runs nearly ten minutes. The others run as long as 23 minutes. You may know of Sir John from his composition “Alleluia”, which was broadcast worldwide as part of Princess Diana’s funeral procession, and is commemorated on the official BBC recording of this moment in history. A pretty high profile gig…another Apple alumnus made good.
And while it appears on the newly sanctioned Apple collection, you won’t find Brute Force’s “Fuh King” promo-only single on here either.
I’ve also chosen to exclude tracks that were merely licensed from other labels (hits such as “Love Is Blue”, “Games People Play” and “I Can Sing A Rainbow” which appeared on scattered Apple soundtrack albums) as well as anything from the classic Phil Spector Christmas album that Apple reissued.
The following suggested song selection includes the running times for each track. Similarly, if you want your compilation sequenced chronologically, knock yourself out, as the release dates for each track are included as well. Whichever route you choose, be sure to check the running times before doing any substitutions. In keeping with the fine “D.I.Y.” tradition, the discs have very little breathing room left over.
Except where noted, the best source for all tracks are the CD remasters, which came out in 2010. All chart data represents a single’s highest position reached on Billboard in the US, and Melody Maker in the UK.
DISC ONE (TOTAL RUNNING TIME = 78:42)
Those Were The Days – Mary Hopkin (released 8/68, running time 5:08): A #1 single in the UK and #2 in the US, this record introduced the Beatles’ new label to the world.
Something In The Way She Moves – James Taylor (12/68, 3:02): A standout album track. JT later rerecorded this track for his mid-70’s greatest hits collection on Warner Brothers.
No Matter What – Badfinger (10/70, 3:00): A perfectly crafted Mal Evans production, this was a top-10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Inconceivably not included on the forthcoming Apple retrospective.
Sour Milk Sea – Jackie Lomax (8/68, 3:53): Written by George Harrison during the white album period. While the single made it to #117 in the U.S., you can’t help but think the Fabs had higher aspirations for this native Liverpudlian. His lone Apple LP Is This What You Want boasts three Beatle-sidemen.
Sweet Music – Lon and Derrek Van Eaton (3/72, 3:44): This gorgeous song, produced by George Harrison, recalls his own “Isn’t It A Pity”. While this track can currently be found on the CD Give A Little Love, issued privately by the Boy Scouts Of America and is planned for the Apple compilation as well, the duo’s album Brother remains unreleased on CD and is criminally not part of the current reissue plan.
That’s The Way God Planned It – Billy Preston (7/69, 5:33): A good example of Preston’s gospel tinged records of the era, and a show-stopper at the Bangla Desh concert. Seemingly typical of the chart disparity of many Apple singles, this went into the UK top-10, but went only as far as #62 in America.
The Jasmin Tree – Modern Jazz Quartet (12/68, 5:12): This established and well renowned combo recorded two albums for Apple.
Baby Blue – Badfinger (3/72, 3:35): Produced by Todd Rundgren for the superb Straight Up album, this song went to #14 in America. As with “No Matter What”, a major omission from the forthcoming commercial “best of” collection.
The Ballad Of New York City – David Peel and the Lower East Side (4/72, 4:01): Part of John and Yoko’s entourage of neo-radical hippies of the era, the couple can be heard chatting at the start of this record. Tolerable enough to include here, it gets extra credit for the ‘lets go Mets’ chant during the fade out. Curiously, the album from which this hails, The Pope Smokes Dope, was issued on CD in Europe on Peel’s own Orange Records (Apples and Oranges, get it?), not to be confused with the bootleg label bearing the same name. However, it is not part of the current reissue program at press time.
Golden Slumbers / Carry that Weight – Trash (10/69, 4:13): Issued within a week of the Beatles own Abbey Road original, this is pretty much a straight forward copy job, right down to the string arrangement. Made it up to #112 in the US.
Que Sera Sera – Mary Hopkin (9/69, 3:06): This one DID crack the top 100, going up to #77 stateside. Curiously, this did not chart in the UK where her singles generally fared better than they did in the U.S.
Carolina In My Mind – James Taylor (12/68, 3:38): A #68 single in America, this was another one JT revisited for inclusion on his greatest hits album.
Thingumybob – Black Dyke Mills Brass Band (8/68, 1:55): Coupled with “Yellow Submarine”, this was the group’s only Apple single.
Jacob’s Ladder – Doris Troy (8/70, 3:02): One of the few artists signed to the label who had prior chart success, her single “Just One Look” made the top-10 in 1963.
Try Some Buy Some – Ronnie Spector (4/71, 4:19): Wife of producer extraordinaire and former Ronnette, her lone Apple single climbed to #77. Keeping it all in the family, George liked this one so much he used the same backing tracks and overdubbed his own vocal for later release.
Day After Day – Badfinger (11/71, 3:10): Another track from Straight Up, and a top-10 hit in both England and America, where it earned the group their lone gold record. Features George Harrison on slide guitar and Leon Russell on piano.
Without You – Badfinger (10/70, 4:43): Never a single, but featured on the group’s album No Dice. A worldwide hit for other artists as detailed earlier, this was a composite of two separate compositions by its co-authors, Pete Ham and Tommy Evans, in the best Lennon-McCartney tradition.
Govinda – Radha Krsna Temple (3/70, 4:43): One of two top-30 hits the chanting zealots scored in England.
Remember Love – Yoko Ono (7/69, 4:05): This gentle ballad, with only Lennon’s acoustic guitar accompaniment was the flip side to “Give Peace A Chance”. Available in pristine form as a bonus track on the Rykodisc CD reissue of the Two Virgins album.
Local Plastic Ono Band – Elephant’s Memory (9/72, 2:16): Keeping with the Lennon motif for a moment, this reggae tune contains lyrical references to the band’s label champions and producers, John & Yoko. The band recorded one self-titled album for Apple, which was not part of the 90’s reissue series on CD, and appears to be suffering a similar fate this time around as well, so you’ll have to use the original vinyl LP for this one.
Goodbye – Mary Hopkin (3/69, 2:24): A nifty little acoustic ballad composed by Paul circa the white album, this was a #2 single in the UK, and made it to #13 in America.
DISC TWO (TOTAL RUNNING TIME = 79:14)
Maybe Tomorrow – The Iveys (11/68, 2:52): Pre-Badfinger, before Joey Molland replaced Ron Griffiths. A moderate hit, going to #67 in the US.
Come And Get It – Badfinger (12/69, 2:22): The one that broke the band internationally, this song was commissioned for the film The Magic Christian. Penned by Paul McCartney, the band did a note-for-note performance of his self-produced demo. A top-10 hit in England and America.
Living Without Tomorrow – The Hot Chocolate Band (10/69, 2:28): Actually the b-side of their “Give Peace A Chance” single (which is slated for the forthcoming Apple “Best Of”), this simple quasi-reggae tune is quite infectious. The band recorded their lone single for Apple before scoring pop successes in the ‘70’s with “Every 1’s A Winner”, “Emma” and “You Sexy Thing”. The original 45 was the sole source for the Apple sides, until their inclusion on the band’s A’s & B’s & Rarities collection.
My Sweet Lord – Billy Preston (9/70, 3:22): Actually released BEFORE composer George Harrison’s classic version, this one peaked at #90 in the US.
Knock Knock Who’s There – Mary Hopkin (3/70, 2:33): Another major UK hit for Hopkin, going all the way to #3, but not fairing nearly as well stateside, where it stalled at #92.
The Eagle Laughs At You – Jackie Lomax (8/68, 2:24): Originally the b-side of “Sour Milk Sea”, this subsequently charted on its own, but fared little better, getting no further than #125 in America.
All That I’ve Got – Billy Preston (1/70, 3:36): Originally a non-LP single, this appeared as a bonus track on the Encouraging Words CD on Apple and is slated for inclusion this time around as well. Interestingly, again keeping it all in the family, this song was also recorded by co-author and label mate Doris Troy. Preston’s version charted at #108 in America.
We’re On Our Way – Chris Hodge (5/72, 3:02): A classic “whatever happened to…”, Hodge seemingly disappeared after recording four strong sides for Apple. Gets the nod over the equally strong “Goodbye Sweet Lorraine”, as it just missed the U.S. top-40, peaking at #44. While this will be on the forthcoming “Best Of”, his four Apple sides are available on the iTunes set 18 Songs (wonder if the folks at Apple know about that?).
Just Like A Woman – Bob Dylan (12/71, 4:51) and
Jumpin’ Jack Flash / Youngblood – Leon Russell (12/71, 9:35): While neither artist was signed to the Apple label, these live recordings are among the highlights from The Concert For Bangla Desh, currently available on CD. These appearances are exclusive to the Apple label – consider it part of the extended family thing.
Saturday Night Special – The Sundown Playboys (9/72, 2:16): This zydeco-flavored single was the group’s only label appearance. A rare 45, the a-side will resurface on the forthcoming Apple compilation.
Temma Harbour – Mary Hopkin (1/70, 3:21): Once again, the UK and US charts differed wildly on this one. A #4 single in England, it barely cracked the top-40 in America, going to #39.
Night Owl – James Taylor (12/68, 4:16): This song has an interesting history – stemming from JT’s pre-Apple sessions with his group The Original Flying Machine, it was subsequently recorded by his (then) wife Carly Simon.
God Save Us – Bill Elliot and the Elastic Oz Band (7/71, 3:16): A peculiar single, inspired by the Oz obscenity trial (“Oh, God save Oz…”), the b-side was John Lennon’s “Do The Oz”. Lennon’s version of this song, and its b-side, appear on his ‘Anthology’ box set. Elliot later recorded with the band Splinter, on Harrison’s Dark Horse label.
Ain’t That Cute – Doris Troy (2/70, 3:52): Co-written with George, and featuring a guitar solo by a young Peter Frampton, this was the lead-off track from Troy’s self-titled Apple album.
Rainy Day Man – James Taylor (12/68, 3:00): Another one with its origins in The Original Flying Machine, Taylor revisited this one a decade later for inclusion on his album, Flag.
Think About Your Children – Mary Hopkin (10/70, 3:00): The disparity continues…this time a #20 single in the UK, but going no further than #87 in America.
Liberation Special – Elephant’s Memory (9/72, 5:40): A good example of this New York based band’s tight rock and roll, again unavailable on CD, so the original LP is the best place to find this one.
Joi Bangla – Ravi Shankar (8/71, 3:23): Issued right around the time of the Bangla Desh campaign, it remains available only on the original 3-track single.
Hare Krsna Mantra – Radha Krsna Temple (8/69, 3:34). Wow…how many other chants go as high as #11 on the pop charts?
Listen, The Snow Is Falling – Yoko Ono (12/71, 3:24): Originally appearing on the b-side of the classic “Happy Xmas” holiday single, this one is available in best quality on the recently reconfigured Lennon/Ono Sometime In New York City disc .
Apple Of My Eye – Badfinger (11/73, 3:06): “Oh I’m sorry but it’s time to move away….” laments this farewell single from Apple’s most promising protégé’s. A fitting swan song, it got no higher than #102 in America.
The beauty (and fun) of a “D.I.Y.” such as this is that pretty much, anything goes. If you want to replace the Bangla Desh performances with a Tavener track, go ahead, be a purist.
No one said putting this together on your own would be easy. Several of the tracks only ever appeared in their original vinyl form, were not part of the previous CD reissue campaign, and are long out of print. Seasoned collectors may have these, but don’t plan on walking into your neighborhood Best Buy and picking up “Joi Bangla” anytime soon.
Label compilations such as this are now commonplace in the CD boxed set era. What is not commonplace is a label with the diversity and cultural significance of Apple, making this (or a similar type) compilation worthy of the current label heads’ consideration. That said, oddities like non-LP Jackie Lomax cuts might be better suited, together with the “digital download only” bonus material for that long overdue rarities set, and affording room on the “Best Of” set for tracks like “No Matter What” and “Baby Blue”. While some might contend that’d make the disc to Badfinger-heavy, well folks, “facts is facts”; they were the biggest act on the label apart from the Beatles themselves.
As it stands, “Best Of”, while absolutely a long overdue and worthwhile endeavor, proved unsatisfying given its “mostly hits, with some oddities thrown in” approach, rather than a more appropriate in depth look at the labels legacy.