RELISHING THE FRUITS OF THEIR LABEL The Beatles & Apple Records

The Fab
Four’s
other legacy lives on
in Apple’s re-harvested releases.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

The saga that was Apple Records was relatively short-lived,
but its legacy lives on, not only in the careers it fostered, but also in those
artists whose brief tenure at the top of the charts provided its momentary
triumphs. Like Island, Immediate, Motown,
Virgin and Elektra — vanity labels driven by a singular view — Apple began as
the Beatles’ extravagant indulgence with a core star stable and eventually
ended up a reliable imprint that would resonate long after the first flush of
triumph faded. Now re-mastered and recast, and available in a 17-CD box set or
as individual releases, the complete crop of Apple releases sound sweeter than
ever.

 

***

 

Rating:
9 out of 10 stars
Various Artists
Come and Get It: The Best of Apple
Records

Call it the perfect primer on the brief but
distinguished history of Apple Records. Actually, even those who deem
themselves Apple enthusiasts will crave this comprehensive collection featuring
the songs that gave the label a lingering chart presence throughout the
entirety its existence. Many are already well known – James Taylor’s “Carolina
in My Mind,” Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were the Days,” both “Day After Day” and the
title track courtesy by Badfinger – but a host of lesser-known entries by
Jackie Lomax, Chris Hodge, Ronnie Spector and The Sundown Playboys provide an
additional source of fascination. Apple was a diverse organization, but its
intriguing, if eccentric, entries — among them, Brute Force’s questionable
“King of Fuh” (referenced as the “Fuh King” in the lyric), Hot Chocolate’s
reggae reading of “Give Peace a Chance,” Radha Krishna Temple’s “Govinda” and
the Black Dyke Mills Band’s circus-like instrumental “Thingumybob” – showed it
had a quirky streak as well.

       Still, this is
a collection that reinforces the fact that Apple was a formidable presence,
albeit briefly. Billy Preston’s “That’s the Way God Planned It” reflects a
Gospel greatness that’s as powerful and moving now as it was at the time of
inception. Likewise, Trash’s cover of two tracks from the Abbey Road medley,
“Golden Slumbers/Carry the Weight,” becomes a mini tour-de-force that’s nearly
as impressive as the original. Suffice it to say that anyone with even a
passing interest in the history of British Rock circa the ‘60s would be well advised
to follow the advice suggested by the title… specifically, to come and get it. DOWNLOAD: “King of Fuh,” “Come and Get It,” “That’s the Way
God Planned It”

 

9
Jackie Lomax
Is This What You Want

Of all the Apple releases, this one-off effort from Jackie
Lomax may be the most auspicious of all. In many ways, it’s the closest the
Beatles actually came to representing themselves in surrogate form, given the
fact that three of the four Fabs – Paul, George and Ringo – are present on the
album and that the single that emerged from the sessions, “Sour Milk Sea,” was
not only written for the Beatles (prior to the recording of the White Album),
but also one of Harrison’s most bracing songs as well. Eric Clapton lends some
searing solos and the overall output is first rate, from its furious rockers to
its soulful ballads. Like his musical mentors, Lomax was a product of the
Liverpool scene, a would-be R&B singer whose previous solo ventures and
tenure in the otherwise obscure Undertakers and the Lomax Alliance offered
little hint of the brilliance that would blossom under Apple’s auspices. Six
worthy songs serve as bonus tracks on the CD, including three later singles
offerings, “New Day,” “How the Web Was Woven” and the Coasters cover, “Thumbin’
a Ride.” Another four extras are available via download – three mono mixes of
songs from the album and the otherwise obscure B-side, “Going Back to Liverpool.” DOWNLOAD:
“Sour Milk Sea,”
“Fall Inside Your Eyes,” “Is This What You Want”

 

7.5
Mary Hopkin
Post Card

Mary Hopkins’ debut was, in many ways, as much a spotlight
for producer Paul McCartney’s whimsical intents as it was for the shy Welsh
teenager’s musical prowess. Culling contributions from Donovan, Harry Nilsson
and American masters like the Gershwin brothers and Irving Berlin, he molded an
album more suited to mums and dads than the Beatles’s traditional teenage
following. “Those Were the Days” proved a perfect case in point, a worldwide
smash that helped etch Apple’s initial imprint. Among its other entries there are
several songs contributed to various film soundtracks, with a version of
“Someone to Watch Over Me” showing Hopkins’
ability to confidently stake out the middle of the road. A spate of previously
released bonus tracks add to the wealth of riches, chief among them the
McCartney composition “Goodbye,” a typically jaunty serving of Macca
sentimentality. The accompanying digital offerings are less essential,
consisting of four variations on “Those Were the Days” remade in French,
German, Spanish and Italian, but with 19 tracks on the physical disc alone, Hopkins’ Post Card provides an apt memento of
idyllic intents. DOWNLOAD: “Those
Were the Days,” “Goodbye,” “Sparrow”

8.5
Mary Hopkin
Earth Song, Ocean Song

Mary Hopkins’ second offering for Apple may have lacked the hit potential of
her debut, but it was, in fact, more representative of her folkier
inclinations, and in many ways, the better of the two. Boasting contributions
from Ralph McTell (the immortal “Streets of London”) and the budding team of Gallagher
and Lyle, borne from the band McGuiness Flint (the lovely “International”), as
well as Tom Paxton and Cat Stevens, it was an album of pure folk finesse,
delicately arranged and showcasing Hopkins’ beguiling waif-like vocals. It also
marked her initial union with producer Tony Visconti, later to be her husband.
All but overlooked initially, it proves a timeless treasure, and the CD’s three
add-ons – “Kew Gardens,” “When I Am Old One Day” and a
somewhat maudlin “Let My Name Be Sorrow” make for worthy additions. The digital
entries – two versions of the latter, sung in French and Japanese, and a
rollicking B-side named “Jefferson” — are
less consequential, but still provide worthy additions to her cannon. DOWNLOAD: “International” “Streets of London,” “Jefferson”

 

6.5
Badfinger
Magic Christian Music

Recorded during the transition that would take them from
their first incarnation as the Iveys into their prominent role as Apple’s
ultimate band, Magic Christian Music coalesced around the Paul McCartney composed “Come and Get It,” the track that
became Badfinger’s first signature song. The rest of the album certainly showed
promise, with songs like “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Dear Angie” pointing the way to
the sound that would follow. The reissue juxtaposes earlier Iveys songs as
add-ons, further illuminating that missing link between these two key phases of
the group’s career, while also revealing a debt to their Brit Rock forebears.
The band takes an unexpected turn towards prog on “I’ve Been Waiting,” while
“Storm in a Teacup,” an original entry on Apple’s initial promo disc, shows the
obvious influence of the Small Faces. Likewise “Arthur,” a jaunty tale of a
dissatisfied suburbanite, could have been culled from the Kinks’ catalogue. All
in all, Magic Christian Music proves
more a charmer than a triumph, although it does bodes well for greater glories
yet to come. DOWNLOAD: “Come and Get
It,” “Maybe Tomorrow,” Storm in a Teacup” (digital download) 

 

8
Badfinger
No Dice

Easily the best band Apple had to offer – and for that
matter, one of the only actual bands on its roster aside from the Fabs
themselves – Badfinger rivaled their mentors in terms of their consistently
compelling pure pop sound. No wonder then that initially there were those who
suspected Badfinger of actually being the Beatles in another guise. As it was, No Dice marked an early milestone for
this pre-fab four, and although it didn’t achieve the heights of commercial
success and critical acclaim reaped by its successor, Straight Up, it moved the band forward into the upper echelon of
pop rock contenders. With a wealth of songs that affirmed both their stirring
dynamic and sure-footed melodic prowess, the album boasted several songs that
were to become Badfinger staples, notably, such feisty rockers as “I Can’t Take
It,” “No Matter What” and the soon to be standard, “Without You,” later a hit
for Harry Nilsson. Those particular tracks are repeated here as alternate takes
and demos in three of five bonus tracks gracing the reissue. Two download, an
instrumental take on “Love Me Do” (no relation to the Beatles tune of the same
name) and an unreleased rocker dubbed “Get Down,” also provide added incentive.
DOWNLOAD: “Without You,” “No Matter
What,” “”I Can’t Take It” (unreleased extended version)

 

9.5
Badfinger
Straight Up

As was the case throughout their rollercoaster of a career, Straight Up was borne from a mix of
triumph and tribulation. Recorded under the auspices of no fewer than three
producers – George Harrison, engineer Geoff Emerick and Todd Rundgren – the
album was over a year in the making and fraught with difficulties, among them,
Harrison’s sudden decision to abandon the project in favor of organizing the
concert for the ravaged Bangladesh, and the group’s subsequent personality
clashes with Rundgren, who was hired to salvage the sessions at the eleventh
hour. Nevertheless, despite these calamities, Straight Up remains Badfinger’s greatest accomplishment, the one
that’s stood the test of time. It’s certainly their most consistent collection
in terms of memorable melodies, “Day After Day,” “Baby Blue,” Money” and
“Perfection” chief among them. And despite the shuffle of personalities in the
production chair, the arrangements remained immaculate, culling the best
elements of Badfinger’s pristine harmonies and richly orchestrated
instrumentation.

       A listen now to this superb re-mastered version only
reinforces that conclusion, and in light of the oft-told back-story, the wealth
of bonus tracks, both on the disc and the accompanying digital download – ten
extras in all — shed further light on the album’s awkward trajectory. Most
represent Emerick’s interim efforts at crafting the album together, boasting
the brass and string embellishments he grafted to the original arrangements. In
addition, a total of four unreleased songs, each a worthy entry in its own
right, makes this one of the best bargains of the newly re-harvested Apple
orchard. DOWNLOAD: “Day After Day,”
“Baby Blue,” Money,” “Perfection,” “Sing for the Song” (previously unreleased)

 

7.5
Badfinger
Ass

If the title alone was any indication, it would seem that Ass was about to herald in a new phase
in Badfinger’s once sweetly-stirred sound. Indeed, with production by Chris
Thomas and a more tempered, no-frills approach, the band clearly shed its
carefully crafted studio embellishments and opted instead for a more
rock-steady style. A handful of big ballads – “Apple of My Eye,” “When I Say”
and “I Can Love You” chief among them — still found their way into the
repertoire, but it was the spunky little rockers like “Get Away,” “Cowboy” and
“The Winner” that would predominate.

       Unfortunately, it was their last album for
Apple, and recorded in the midst of the company’s unfortunate disintegration,
it failed to approach the heights of their earlier triumphs. Ultimately, it
marked the beginnings of the group’s ignominious decline, and, sadder still,
the eventual suicides of two of its members. For the time being however, Ass was a well-intentioned attempt to
retrace former glories, and not a bad album to boot. Extras include replays of
album tracks produced by the band themselves, demos that vary little from the
finished versions.  The real prize comes
in the form of two unreleased bonus tunes, both of which bear little resemblance
to Badfinger’s patented template. “Piano Red” is an obvious attempt at borrow
from the Blues, while “Regular” recalls traditional English music hall fare
generally associated with British brethren like the Kinks or Herman’s Hermits.
It’s lightweight fluff, but intriguing sidebars nevertheless. DOWNLOAD: “Apple of My Eye,” “When I
Say,” “Blind Owl”

 

7
Billy Preston
That’s the Way God Planned It

Billy Preston was the only musician who could legitimately claim the crown of
“Fifth Beatle,” given his credits on the Beatles’ Let It Be album and the billing accorded him on the subsequent
singles culled from those sessions. His favorability factor within Apple’s
inner circle resulted in a pair of albums that helped jump start the second
phase of his career (he was playing in Little Richard’s back-up band when the
Fabs first met him in 1962) and preceded the wider success he’d have in the
‘70s while recording for A&M. “That’s the Way God Planned It,” the lead
single from the album of the same name, still ranks as one of the telling
singles in the entire Apple catalogue, a sprawling, celebratory ode to the Lord
that features Apple’s usual A-list — in this 
case George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Ginger Baker. The
rest of the set list naturally pales in comparison, but even a stripped down
version of the title track, included as a bonus entry, allows enough momentum
to carry the album as a whole. DOWNLOAD: “That’s the Way God Planned It,” “Something’s Got to Change” (bonus track,
previously unreleased)

 

6.5
Billy Preston
Encouraging Words

Preston’s second Apple album reinforced his
gospel fervor, building a solid set around songs that somehow managed to mesh
faith with funk. Although largely overshadowed in the wake of his
aforementioned big breakthrough and the triumphs he’d tag on later, it still
holds up nicely by virtue of the religious rock theme he mastered so adroitly.
Two Harrison covers, “My Sweet Lord” and “All
Things Must
Pass,” recorded well before Harrison
himself, fit the concept well, and indeed, in Preston’s
hands, they come across as if they were his originals. An extra add-on in the
form of “All That I’ve Got (I’m Gonna Give To You)” (a co-write with label mate
Doris Troy) reinforces the notion that Apple could have gone on to be a credible
R&B label, while “Sing One For The Lord” ought to be noted by Beatles
completists, being that it marks one of Harrison’s rare co-compositions. DOWNLOAD: “My Sweet Lord,” “All Things
Must Pass,”
“Sing One For The Lord”

7.5
James Taylor
James Taylor

Of all the Apple offerings, James Taylor’s eponymous debut
was the one effort that proved most significant in terms of plotting a course
for the future. At the time, it was all but ignored, but as history was to
later bear out, it would be crucial to the career of an artist whose imprint
lingers more than 40 years on. It contributed a number of significant songs to
Taylor’s repertoire, many of which remain a staple of his set list – “Carolina
in my Mind” (its effusive chorus rounded out by harmonies from George and
Paul), “Something in the Way She Moves” (the lyric of which Harrison nicked for
his own “Something”), “Night Owl” and “Rainy Day Man.” Rounded out by add-ons
that include demos for “Carolina” and “Sunshine Sunshine” along with early
versions of later standards “Sunny Skies” (said to be an ode to his penis) and
“Let Me Ride” (with its prophetic line, “let it be”), the album still
resonates, given Taylor’s amiable aw-shucks delivery and an agreeable aura that
signaled a star in the offing. DOWNLOAD: “Carolina in My
Mind,” “Something in the Way She Moves,” “Rainy Day Man”

 

7.5
Doris Troy
Doris Troy

Doris Troy eventually found fame as a backing singer on the
must call list of every major producer setting up sessions from the late ‘60s
to the late ‘70s. However with Apple providing a rare solo spotlight, Troy basks in her
effusive meld of gospel and R&B. As always, it provided a good excuse for a
super star summit, in this case, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills,
Peter Frampton and Eric Clapton chief among the notables. Stills, Starr and
Harrison also earn co-writing credits on several songs, the latter for her
single, “Ain’t That Cute.” Even so, this marks Troy’s particular moment of triumph, a
showcase for the riveting rhythm and blues of which she proved herself such an
undisputed master. A rare but precious find. DOWNLOAD: “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Get Back”

 

7.5
The Modern Jazz Quartet
Under the Jasmine Tree/Space

The Modern Jazz Quartet may have been the most unlikely
signing to Apple’s roster if only for the fact that their reputation preceded
them. The group was already well known for their sophisticated urbane style,
first established during the jazz heyday of the postwar era when they initially
made their mark backing up the legendary Dizzy Gillespie. Their mesh of piano,
vibes, bass and drums further defined their incendiary sound throughout the
‘50s, and by the time they arrived at Apple a decade later, they had already
proved themselves as a band that excelled in melding melody and improvisation.
The two albums released by Apple maintained their traditional template, one
that was better suited to urban, upscale nightclubs than the freewheeling pop
pretensions of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. In fact, only a belated addition
of a sprawling instrumental take on “Yesterday” offers any concession
whatsoever to their new label or its famous masters. Rather, these two releases
– now grafted onto a single CD – shine the spotlight on their more melodic
sensibilities, with piano and vibes etching out the songs’ signatures and an
emphatic rhythm underscoring the music’s seductive sway. Graceful and engaging,
these albums still provide an unexpectedly exhilarating encounter. DOWNLOAD: “Three Little Feelings (Part
I, II, III),” “Yesterday”

 

6
John Tavener
The Whale/Celtic Requiem

On the other hand, the avant-garde English composer John
Tavener makes for an especially unusual choice for the pop proficient Apple.
Befriended by John and Yoko, he likely must have appealed to the duo’s
decidedly eccentric and somewhat obtuse leanings. The Whale marked his first full-length recording, and with the
addition of Celtic Requiem and two
additional pieces originally intended for inclusion in the latter, Tavener’s
stirring yet surreal vision is realized in all its epic grandeur. A sprawling
oratorio that utilizes strings, operatic voices, massed choirs and spoken word
narrative, its grand ambitions lean to the extremes of contemporary classical
music. Abstraction reigns at the heart of this mix, but those willing to brave
this spirited musical mix. Suffice it to say, it’s a sojourn that will likely
find a work unlike any forged in modern musical realms. It is, in every sense
the aural equivalent of a whale of a tale. DOWNLOAD:
“Melodrama & Pantomime,” “Nomine Jesu”

 

3.5
Radha Krishna Temple
Radha Krishna
Temple

Harrison’s fascination with Hare Krishna teachings reached
its nadir with the release of this self-titled collection of prayers and chants
by the London
chapter of those devoted to Krishna Consciousness. To secular outsiders, the
ritual repetition of Krishna meditation might
sound either irrepressible or insipid, depending on how often one’s forced to
listen; either way, preserved on record, it’s likely to be sampled no more than
once. Amazingly, two singles culled from the album, “Hare Krishna Mantra” and
“Govinda,” actually charted in the U.K. Chalk it up to either to the influence
of Harrison’s patronage or the search for all
things spiritual. Today, they seem no more than a novelty. Those were strange
times indeed. DOWNLOAD: “Hare
Krishna Mantra” and “Govinda,”

 

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